Garbage in, garbage out: What passes for an Israeli-Palestinian debate at Harvard

On campus, Israel-bashing today is like wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt was 20 years ago – it’s tribal and trendy.

 ONE OF the posters advertising a Zionism lecture by Gil Troy in 2020 that was not ripped down in Harvard Yard, but was surrounded by anti-Zionist propaganda. (photo credit: GIL TROY)
ONE OF the posters advertising a Zionism lecture by Gil Troy in 2020 that was not ripped down in Harvard Yard, but was surrounded by anti-Zionist propaganda.
(photo credit: GIL TROY)

Two years ago, when Harvard students invited me to give a talk explaining why I am a Zionist, vandals ripped down the poster advertising the event in Thayer Hall, a freshman dormitory. When other residents taped the poster together, vandals surrounded the re-hung poster with pro-Palestinian propaganda. Sadly, few students were outraged – or surprised. Apparently, that’s what passes for intellectual debate at Harvard today. GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out.

With first-year students encountering such a lynch-mob atmosphere, who can be surprised that, two years later, their peers running the Harvard Crimson newspaper applauded Harvard’s intimidating, propaganda-spewing, cliché-ridden, Zionism-is-Racism-Settler-Colonialism-White-Supremacy-Apartheid Wall while endorsing the Jew-hating anti-Israel boycott movement?

On campus, Israel-bashing today is like wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt was 20 years ago – it’s tribal and trendy. It telegraphs your virtue and refinement. Back then, many hipsters unknowingly deified a killer who shot farmers he branded as traitors. Similarly, many Bash-Israel-Firsters overlook how their support encourages Palestinian terrorists, like the ax-wielding maniacs who murdered three dads, creating sixteen orphans Thursday. Nor do they confront the genocidal implications of Israel-eradicating slogans like “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.”

The Crimson Editorial Board has no such excuse. In endorsing BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – the editors should have researched their new allies. Wooing anti-occupation activists, the BDS bait-and-switch actually is antisemitic and anti-Zionist. BDSers do not want to shrink Israel’s boundaries to make room for a Palestinian state; they admit: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”

Calling BDS anti-occupation not anti-Israel is like old-fashioned male chauvinists claiming they read Playboy only for the interviews. And denying the Jew-hatred driving BDS is like a Ku Klux Klansman saying, “I’m not racist, I just like the outfits.”

 ISRAELI TOURISTS encounter a BDS stand at Dam Square in Amsterdam. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90) ISRAELI TOURISTS encounter a BDS stand at Dam Square in Amsterdam. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

“Jewish people,” the Crimson intoned, “like every people, including Palestinians, deserve nothing but life, peace, and security.” That statement contradicts their new BDS buddies who offer Jews nothing. Today’s students should understand that proclaiming yourself unbigoted doesn’t make you unprejudiced, especially if you enable haters who echo yesterday’s Jew-haters by obsessively demonizing today’s Jewish state.

Criticizing Israeli actions is legitimate. But, leading BDS activists don’t just criticize what Israel does – they repudiate what Israel is. Tapping into millennia of Jew-hatred, they try making the Jewish state the most-hated nation on earth. The editorial’s refusal to acknowledge that this single-minded, venomous, campaign against the Jewish State fuels the surge in campus Jew-hatred is delusional and irresponsible.

With Israel and Zionism central to modern Jewish identity, the assault on Israel becomes very personal. Jewish students are not hyper-sensitive; but Zionophobes across North America are extremely aggressive. One McGill student reports that “While on student council, I was harassed in my apartment building about my spring break plans to visit Israel and told I was supporting the killing of babies.” Another McGill student, who was banned from a club after visiting Israel, added: “The club had nothing to do with Israel but my peers thought I was a threat because they believed I was a Zionist.” Anti-Zionism powers today’s Jew-hating vortex, assailing Jews, Jewish identity and Israel.

Israel’s 8.1 % economic growth mocks BDS, showing its negligible economic impact. But, BDS is a guided missile aimed at the soul of young progressive Jews. It also blasts bridge-builders, especially on Israel’s Left. Boycotting anyone who even proposes talking to Israelis, Palestinians’ anti-normalization campaign chokes off the grassroots goodwill that has strengthened the Abraham Accords. These fanatics frame the conflict as a do-or-die war for survival not a border dispute subject to compromise.

Ultimately, the BDS movement, like Palestinian terrorism, is so 1970s. Stuck in the failed strategy of seeking Israel’s destruction, these bullies ignore the regional progress since 1979’s Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Rather than inflaming the conflict, students should help Palestinians walk the path of peace fellow Arabs have already trailblazed.

Of course, on too many campuses, such challenges to the Jew-hating anti-Israel orthodoxy cannot even get aired. On social media and in campus clubs, pro-Israel and Jewish students confront a hostile environment. Meanwhile in many classrooms, students encounter the broader problem of educational malpractice. Too many professors keep hijacking their teaching podiums, abusing them as political platforms – even partisan battering rams. These professorial propagandists take particular delight in Israel-bashing, the ultimate virtue-signal.

Educational malpractice is a consumer-rights issue for students and parents and a truth-in-advertising problem for universities; the universities are not delivering the thought-provoking, critical-thought-inducing liberal arts education they claim to be selling. Donors, administrators, and open-minded professors should recognize this problem for what it is – an assault on the university’s core mission.

Students should be free to express political opinions on social media, in clubs and through regular interactions, and professors should not feel muzzled. Focusing on educational malpractice exposes Israel-bashing as a quality-of-education question, not an academic-freedom issue. It should raise broader questions regarding the passive nature of so much university learning, the weak teaching skills of so many superstar researchers, and the growing gap between the experiences universities market and what students actually get, despite soaring tuition bills.

There is also a quality-of-life issue here – every university president should check-in with Jewish students. If many report harassment, reassure them with public statements, task forces, and proactive initiatives changing the tone on campus.

The Harvard Crimson editorial, therefore, reflects problems that go far beyond this cyclone of obsessive Jew-hating, Israel-bashing and Zionophobia so many bullied Jewish students endure. It exposes a rot undermining Western universities today.

The writer received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard in 1982, 1985 and 1988. He has written nine books about the American presidency and four books about Zionism. His latest book co-authored with Natan Sharansky is Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People.