Having a conversation with a friend who lives in the United States is always interesting, but especially at times when the Jewish community appears divided in its perception of their country’s president. An avid supporter of the Democratic Party, she is part of the majority of American Jews who consistently vote Democrat, as happened again in the 2016 election when 71% of the Jewish vote went to Hillary Clinton.
Our most recent conversation was in the aftermath of Charlottesville, when my friend stated, “Trump fails to condemn outright the white supremacists and neo-Nazis – he says there are bad people on both sides.” There can be no question that pro-Nazi marchers, carrying swastikas and chanting Nazi slogans, must be condemned vociferously by all. However, does this mean that we Jews should fear the Right more than the Left?
The far-Right marchers are easy to identify with their graphic slogans and fascist rhetoric. The Left, however, frequently cloaks its antisemitism in anti-Zionism as a so-called concern for “human rights.” The target is always Israel, while what is happening in Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as to the Kurds – among many other nations and peoples – is of little consequence.
On campuses in the US, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel is aligning itself with “Antifa” protesters (those who fought against the Charlottesville white supremacists and pro-Nazi march), accusing Israel and its supporters of being racists and fascists. At the University of Illinois, the Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally that announced there was “No room for fascists, white supremacists, or Zionists at UIUC.” The advertisement for the event stated: “The confluence of fascism and Zionism is becoming more obvious by the day.”
At Tufts University, a “Disorientation Guide” prepared for incoming freshmen accused Israel of “white supremacy” and promoted “Israel Apartheid Week, which the Tufts branch of the SJP holds each spring. SJP activists at Columbia University were among the authors of the Columbia edition of the “Disorientation Guide” branding Israel “an apartheid state.”
New York University students published a “guide” in which the university is accused of “myriad racist, Zionist, and homophobic policies.” A campaign is in progress to end the NYU’s study abroad program at Tel Aviv University, claiming students of Palestinian descent are prohibited from studying at Tel Aviv. A totally false allegation, as personified by Omar Barghouti, a member of a well-known Palestinian family, who is both a founder committee member for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the co-founder of BDS, yet studied at Tel Aviv University, where he obtained a master’s degree in philosophy and where currently he is pursuing a PhD degree.
Prior to the start of the university year, swastikas were daubed at the universities of Stanford, Georgetown, Washington State, Brandeis, Avila and Drake. At the University of Maryland- College Park, four swastika incidents have been reported in the past eight weeks.
The US is not the only country where Jewish students are finding it increasingly difficult to confront the barrage of anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric. The United Kingdom’s National Union of Students’ report, published in April of this year, found that one in four Jewish students “fear antisemitic attacks on campus.” The immediate past president of NUS, Malia Bouattia, was condemned by the Home Affairs Select Committee for “outright racism” after she referred to the University of Birmingham as a “Zionist outpost.” She received a standing ovation when concluding her retirement speech with “Free, free Palestine.”
A report of Britain’s Henry Jackson Society informs us that, during this past year, 112 events featuring extremist speakers took place on UK campuses. It states, “The vast majority of the extreme speakers recorded in this report are Islamist extremists.” In most cases no effort was made to provide a counterbalance to these fundamentalist presentations.
At the recent UK Labour Party Conference we viewed young delegates (who appeared to make up a high proportion of the attendees) cheering and clapping Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a Jewish woman whose vitriolic anti-Israel speech welcomed the return of the insertion into the NPF Annual Report section on the Middle East – part of the Labour Party’s Manifesto – referring to “Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land.” She castigated the British for the Balfour Declaration, which “privileges Jews, such as me, over non- Jews.” Her speech, full of the vilest anti-Zionist hatred, received a standing ovation.
Wimborne-Idrissi is not alone.
At a fringe event entitled “Free Speech on Israel” – which she chaired – another Jew, Michael Kalmanovits, a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist network, called for the Jewish Labour Movement and the Labour Friends of Israel to be “kicked out” of the party. This proposal was met with thunderous applause.
Another speaker, Miko Peled, said, “Israel and Israelis should not be treated differently from white South Africans during apartheid or from Nazis.” It is against this background that Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn chose not to attend the Labour Friends of Israel meeting, which has always been addressed by the party leader during the conference. Conversely, the conference saw members of the Jewish Labour Movement being shouted down when they attempted to address the delegates.
Back to the beginning and my conversation with my American friend; for while listening to her tirade against Trump, I recognized, not for the first time, that I am coming from a different place – one in which I ask myself what’s good for the Jews. When I see young people, those at universities as well as those who now play a pivotal role within Corbyn’s Labour Party, drawn toward anti-Israel hysteria I feel afraid. What of tomorrow? Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.
Are we doing enough to equip our Jewish students for what they may face on campus? The answer is a resounding “No.” We must explore every avenue to ensure that our students are in touch with the real Israel. The time has come for a Michael Steinhardt or Charles Bronfman, co-founders of the 10-day free Birthright scheme enabling young people to visit Israel, to seriously consider a similar opportunity for pre-university potential leaders to spend a few months here absorbing the facts relating to Israel and its history.
This week we marked the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration – we have every reason to appreciate Britain, which set us on the road to the rebirth of the State of Israel. The tragedy for the Jewish people is that it took from 1917 until 1947 for the world to finally acknowledge the necessity for a Jewish state. Had Balfour’s letter of commitment come to fruition 10 years earlier, it might have prevented the annihilation of six million Jews who were murdered, not only because of Hitler, but because of the passive collaboration of countries whose gates remained firmly barred.
While continuing the debate as to whom we fear the most – the enemy from the Right or the Left – we take solace in the knowledge that today we have a State of Israel, the home for which we have yearned after 2,000 years of persecution.
On this Balfour anniversary, I can do no better than end with the words of Lord Jacob Rothschild, whose great uncle Walter Rothschild was the recipient of the Balfour Declaration.
“Today we find a democratic state (Israel) whose economy is one of the most advanced in the world. It has absorbed Russian and other immigrants on a huge scale. It has a free press, an independent judiciary, has revived the Hebrew language and is in the forefront of technological development.” The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.
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