In the 1970s, I became the first Orthodox Jew elected to the New York City Council. It was an educational, and at times humorous, experience. Being somewhat different, I was quizzed about various matters. Did Orthodox women always have to wear long sleeves? Is it true that I would not ride or write on the Sabbath?
Nevertheless, everyone on the Council accorded me respect. During the winter, Majority Leader Tom Cuite even allowed me to vote first at some Friday meetings so I could arrive home and prepare for the Sabbath. There was no question that I was accepted, even admired, by my colleagues.
Today I cry with great anguish at the denigration and harassment Jewish college students across America experience, motivated by extreme leftism and emboldened by Middle East Studies professors who encourage the disparagement of Jewish identity, promote BDS activity, and openly praise those who deem Jews an abhorrent people worthy of hate and even harm.
What makes Jewish students so vulnerable? Their persecutors are organized, well-funded, unconcerned with facts, and cabled to a set of well-indoctrinated libelous political beliefs about Jews and Israel. Young Jewish students, meanwhile, are totally unprepared for this onslaught. They come to college ignorant of Jewish history, let alone modern Israeli history or current events.
Any idealized thoughts they have been carrying about Jews and the specialness of Israel is quickly obliterated as they hear about Israel’s supposedly vile behavior. Jews come to college expecting to expand their horizons, make new friends, hear new ideas, and hopefully tread on a pathway to their desired profession. They are shocked that they have to confront the reason for their existence as Jews and defend Israel. Isolated and dismayed, American Jewish students start self-annihilating by distancing themselves from Jews and Israel or, worse, turning against them.
Brand Israel, a survey group, found that among American Jewish college students, support for Israel plunged 32 percent between 2010 and 2016 as many non-Orthodox Jews believe supporting Israel is inconsistent with their liberal and progressive values. At this point, Israel is in danger of losing the next generation of committed Jews it needs to support it. And American Jewry is in danger of losing friendly campus environments since anti-Semitism will only continue to flourish if it isn’t stopped. Cries of liberalism and progressivism will not shield even the most leftist Jews.
What can be done? Jewish high school students must be made aware of Israel’s history and must be prepared to answer any libelous claims against Jews or Israel. They must be organized on college campuses to be able to withstand calumnies and attack back with strength, courage, and knowledge.
More importantly, college presidents – some of whom openly support the cancelation of speeches by Jewish, Israeli, or conservative speakers – must be taken to task. They must be subpoenaed before Congress and, under oath, be required to explain why they allow anti-democratic behavior on campuses. Are they corrupt? Afraid? Or do they just hate Jews and conservatives? Exposure before the American people can only bring positive results.
College authorities have two important weapons they can use to combat destructive behavior on campuses. They can enforce the Code of Conduct students promise to adhere to when they enter university. They can even expel students for violations if necessary.
And they can stand tall in defense of the First Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment protects our natural right to speak freely and to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
We must act now.