Students in a classroom [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The dominoes are falling one by one. The student governments of major and highly prestigious universities, comprised of giant Jewish student populations, are voting to divest from major companies doing business with Israel.
The latest to succumb is Stanford University, which this past Tuesday voted in favor of BDS. Stanford, with its large Jewish student body, is a particular blow seeing as it is such a very important university in the world in relation to hi-tech and the Internet as well as the large and influential Jewish presence in Silicon Valley and the Bay area.
How can this be happening, especially when the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) groups who loudly influence the passing of these resolutions usually number fewer than a hundred members at their respective universities? Take UCLA, which voted in favor of BDS a few months back. There are over 3,000 Jewish students there. Could they really have allowed their elected student government to vote so unjustly? There’s an old joke about the professor who was asked, “What is worse? Ignorance or apathy?” To which he replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
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Ignorance and apathy are infecting the Jewish student body politic and allowing Israel to be defamed on campus. Let’s begin with apathy. Many Jewish students take it at face value that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and that there may therefore be some merit to BDS.
What they don’t know is that there never was a Palestinian state on the West Bank to occupy. It was land that was part of the British mandate that was seized illegally by Jordan in 1948 and annexed illegally, with only three governments, Britain, Pakistan and Iraq, recognizing the annexation. When Israel conquered the land in a defensive war in 1967 (and no one disputes that King Hussein’s attack of Israel in the war was wholly unprovoked) its status continued as a disputed territory.
True, the oft-cited United Nations Resolution 242 called for the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” But it did not say from which territories (Israel has already given land back nearly four times its size in Sinai and Gaza).
It also said that such withdrawal had to be linked to a comprehensive peace settlement. Clearly, with Israel’s neighbors calling for its annihilation, and with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority financing and sending terrorists to murder Israelis, there has been no peace agreement.
In the wake of the Oslo accords, there has been political autonomy for 97 percent of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, which begs the question of how Palestinians are faring under PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ rule as compared to Israel’s. Certainly, the lack of any Palestinian democracy – Abbas is in his tenth year of a four-year term – and the harsh penalties for speaking out against Abbas, including imprisonment for criticism of his kleptocratic dictatorship, with hundred of millions of dollars going to him, his sons and his cronies, is a serious violation of Palestinian rights. And certainly the Palestinians living under Hamas control are up a creek, what with its brutal assassinations of all political opponents, honor killings of women and executions of gays, among countless other human rights abuses.
But even if we were to take the most extreme definition of occupation, the question would arise as to why there is no BDS movement against, say, China, which has been occupying Tibet since 1950, 17 years longer than Israel has supposedly been occupying the West Bank. Here we get repeated lies from the likes of Abbas, who said at The Cooper Union to 1,000 mostly NYU students that “we are the only people living under occupation.”
Avi Shlaim, the Israel-Oxford academic, lied outright in my debate with him at Oxford in November of last year when he said that the Israeli “occupation” is the longest in the world. I quickly shot up to correct him and he admitted the error.
But why would Jewish students allow BDS resolutions against Israel when it has one of the most exemplary human rights records of any country on earth, especially given the level of existential threat it faces daily.
Where are the boycotts of Syria, which has killed more than 150,000 Arabs; Saudi Arabia, with its vile racism, misogyny and exportation of radical Islamic teachings across the globe; Egypt, which in recent years has sentenced hundreds of people to death in the wake of its revolution, including 183 people in just one day; or any of Israel’s dictatorial neighbors that trample on human rights in the most extreme way?
How about Jordan, which has maintained a policy of rejecting and deporting Palestinian refugees from Syria, while simultaneously allowing a few hundred thousand Syrian nationals to take refuge there? And what of Lebanon, which in 2001 stripped its few hundred thousand Palestinian residents of the right to own property or pass it on to their descendants and banned them from employment as lawyers and doctors along with over 20 other professions? Or how about Kuwait, which in 1991 uprooted some 250,000 Palestinians from their homes and expelled them from that country? The list goes on.
Is there no BDS movement for them? Is it just for the Jews? Which brings us to the question of Jewish apathy regarding the slander and demonization of the State of Israel, and the attempts to destroy it by any means possible.
How do we get Jewish students invested in protecting Israel, and understanding of the magnitude of the threat it faces? What is clear from the BDS resolutions currently riling American campuses is that the existing American Jewish student organizations are not equipped to fight BDS.
Many Hillel directors have approached us and candidly shared their conundrum: they fear that openly and aggressively defending Israel will alienate students not favorably disposed to the Jewish state. It is our responsibility to show them that, to the contrary, proud defense of Israel is the best way to inspire Jewish identity and commitment in students.
The Jewish community must launch large-scale and well-coordinated programs that can turn the tide on campus and reclaim the narrative. Campus Maccabees, if you will – PR black belts trained in improving the public perception of Israel. It must begin with “An Israel Defense Bible,” a short manual that gives students concise, clear and comprehensive information to fight back.
We at This World: The Values Network are committed to creating this handbook. Already, This World has carved a unique niche for itself in global pro-Israel advocacy by hosting world-class events, large-scale media campaigns, live debates, lectures and conferences, garnering international attention and recognition.
The time has come for each one of us to stand up and defend Israel, the Jewish people, and the universal Jewish values that underpin the Western world. Campus is ground zero.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is an award-winning columnist and the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. He is founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization defending Israel in the media. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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