'Shtetlizing’ our students

How on earth did we get here? This is my own community, and I couldn’t be more disgusted and ashamed.

March 17, 2018 22:11
4 minute read.
'Shtetlizing’ our students

‘THEY BRING banners, flyers, events, falafel stands and fun festivals to campuses – but is that what we need in order to combat hatred?. (photo credit: REUTERS)

San Francisco State University is perhaps one of the worst schools for Jewish students in North America. There have been numerous antisemitic incidents there, from public calls to murder Israelis by a university student, to antisemitic graffiti “Zionists not welcomed”, to the most recent event in which the university president refused to say in an interview that Zionists were welcome on his campus, only to apologize later.

Members of the campus anti-Israel group, which includes both students and professors, named the president’s apology a “declaration of war.” They further responded to the university president’s apology by vandalizing school buildings with “Zionism = Racism” and “Zionists are not allowed on our campus.”

This was the snake’s nest I walked into last week when I spoke at SFSU, after the Israel student group I-Team invited me through CAMERA on campus.

I definitely expected pushback from the anti-Israel group on campus, but I couldn’t have predicted the other roadblocks I faced. As I arrived at the facility for Jewish students, where my talk was supposed to take place, I was greeted by two passionate and motivated Jewish students who spoke to me about how bad their campus atmosphere had become. They also told me about the restrictions that this campus Jewish center had implemented in the past year. The leadership of the Jewish center had requested that there be “no Israeli flags” on campus (according to their Facebook page, the last time an Israeli flag had been shown on campus was four years ago) and stated that students “better not to hand out flyers about the event so we won’t get protests.”

When I told the Jewish center’s staff that I wanted to head to campus and engage in conversation with students, I was called to the office of the Jewish center’s director. It was more like an ambush. The director and his two senior staff members told me how the students were “not ready” to deal with hard questions about Israel, and how they can’t and shouldn’t fight back. The director told me that I shouldn’t go to the campus because it might create a provocation. I told the director how I had been attacked in the past, and that such things didn’t worry me. Moreover I reminded him that I was here for the students, and would go with them to the campus if that’s what they wanted.

As I heard the Jewish professionals speak, all I could think about was how on earth did we get here? This is my own community, and I couldn’t be more disgusted and ashamed. Anti-Israel groups have been trying to shut me up for years, but now the pushback was coming from my own.

The director told me that he would like me to speak to the only Jewish students, and “inspire them to be proud of who they are.” I answered that I couldn’t – because how could I tell them to be proud of who they are if I myself was “hiding” from hate groups targeting me for who I am? I left the meeting upset, but later the director approached me to apologize and invited me back to speak on campus, but it was only a symbolic gesture.

At my event that night, I shared my story with the students and told them about the incident with the director. The students were extremely supportive, and told me how determined they were to fight back and that they were desperate for someone like myself to inspire them.

Because of this experience I realized that there are so many hasbarah (in Hebrew: “explaining”) Jewish groups on college campuses, all working to promote a positive image of Israel. They bring banners, flyers, events, falafel stands and “fun” festivals to campuses – but is that what we need in order to combat hatred? How come we fail to address and take on the Jew-hatred emanating from the anti-Israel boycott groups? Why is it that with all these organizations, things seem to be getting worse? The time has come to stop hiding in the shadows, to stop “playing it safe,” because this approach will only lead to defeat. Repeating the same actions and hoping to get a different result is not the way to combat hate. Only with strategy and properly trained students that are willing to fight back will we prevail.

Falafel stands won’t help us. It’s too late for that.

The time has come for offense, and the sooner the Jewish community understands this, the better. I ask you to join me today. I will take the hate, I will take the name calling, the online shaming, the protests and attacks against me. All I ask for is that you speak up and support me and the brave Jewish students that are under attack.

There are young Jewish students who are sick and tired of the abuse, the attacks, and want to fight back, but are told by Jewish professionals that they should not. We must remember that it didn’t start with violence, it started with intolerance and hate speech; when people stop caring, they become desensitized and turned a blind eye.

The author is an Israeli writer, public speaker and strategic communications consultant from Tel Aviv.


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