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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Sharansky on Visiting US Universities

Forward also prints Natan Shransky's report of his visits to a few University Campuses.

When I sat for Sabbath dinner with 300 Jewish students at Columbia University in New York — together with Glenn Richter, who in 1964 at the university launched the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry — and I told them about those days, the events seemed to them all but unimaginable. Today, when Jewish activity on campus is directed almost entirely inward, when Jewish student organizations feel like walled fortresses in enemy territory, when pro-Israel students hardly dream of taking leadership positions in campus struggles for human rights, those days seem like a distant dream.

Years of massive investments of money and effort by Arab states and the Palestinians have changed the picture. One after the other, departments of Middle Eastern studies have been set up on university campuses, with generous Saudi funding — departments that worked to establish pseudo-scientific theories, presenting Israel as the last colonial state, a state whose very existence is immoral regardless of borders, a state that should not exist. Differing views are as a matter of course not tolerated. When Jewish community leaders decided in the last few years to begin investing funds to create chairs in Israel studies, they discovered there is no one to teach them. There are no experts, no writers. The field has been abandoned.

Not only in the intellectual arena have we abandoned the field. In the public relations field, too, the Palestinians have learned, unlike the Israelis, to appreciate the importance of the university as the shaper of the next generation, and to concentrate their efforts there. Articulate, effective speakers have been dispatched to campuses to mobilize the idealistic students for their own political interests.

They have been sent to explain that despite the fact that in the Arab nations, as in the autonomous areas of the Palestinian Authority, there are no rights for women, minorities, gays or nearly anyone else, that despite all this they are the true bearers of the banner of human rights; that all true seekers of justice should act on their behalf, and against Israel's.

The absurdity cries out to the heavens, but no one seems to notice. The banner of human rights, once identified to a great degree with Jews, has become a weapon against them. Liberal and democratic discourse on human rights serves mainly as a vehicle for attacks against Israel, and increasingly against Jews.
What's happening on campus is not any different from what's happening in National politics. Why Forward continues to lionize the Democratic Party is a mystery. In the face of continuing evidence that a large portion of its members are, in fact, working against Israel's interests and increasingly against Jews, one would think a thoughtful journal would be working to reverse the trend. Have they fallen for the moral relativists’ ruse? Mr. Shransky offers both hope and reason for grave concern:
For six days I traveled across the United States. I did not meet with administration officials or do any politicking. Just campuses. Meeting students, instructors, Jewish and non-Jewish activists. A marathon of 13 campuses in six days. I discovered an enormous thirst for knowledge, for straight answers about these supposed "human rights violations" and "war crimes." I learned that combining human rights, a popular, burning issue among students, and Israel, a very unpopular issue, works to Israel's advantage, because even the most pro-Palestinian students, including Arab students, had to back down when the discussion centered squarely and honestly on human rights and democracy.

But I also learned that every such victory was a limited one, like capturing a single hill in enemy territory. The overall picture is deeply worrying. On every campus I visited, Jewish students make up between 10% and 20% of the population, but no more than a tenth of them, by my estimate, take part in Jewish or pro-Israel activity. Another tiny but outspoken fraction serves as the spearhead of anti-Israel activity, for there is no better cover for hiding the racist nature of causes like an anti-Israel boycott than a Jewish professor or student eager to prove that he is holier than the pope. And the rest? The rest are simply silent. They are not identified, not active, not risk-takers. Nearly 90% of our students are Jews of silence.

To the credit of the activists, it must be said that they do impressive work. But they are few, and many are tired and discouraged. One student who was active in pro-Israel organizations told us that at a certain point he could no longer stand the peer pressure of those around him who viewed him as a pro-Israel obsessive


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