For years those engaged on the pro-Israel side of the battle for hearts and minds of American college students have watched in horror as anti-Israel forces – whether they call themselves “pro-Israel” or not – metastasized on campuses.
The Israel-demonization events, the infiltration by Israel vilifiers into what were formerly at least moderately pro-Israel institutions, and the disruptions of Israeli or pro-Israel events, were met almost always with either complicity or a hands-off response from the academic administrations, faculty, and often eventhe organized Jewish leadership on campuses.
Things were so bad that Arab Israeli journalist Khaled abu Toameh famously wrote that on his speaking tours of U.S. campuses, he found more sympathy for Hamas than he does in Ramallah.
This is how abu Toameh analyzed the ugliness spread across American academia:
What is happening on these campuses is not in the frame of freedom of speech. Instead, it is the freedom to disseminate hatred and violence. As such, we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.
But things were beginning to look quite different in 2013.
There has been a sea change on U.S. campuses this year, carried out by those who refused to back down when false claims of Palestinian Arab victimhood or Israeli brutality were raised.
Hallelujah. So we are fortunate to be able to write a list of Top Twelve Pro-Israel Bright Lights on U.S. campuses. What follows is the first installment. Part II will run later this week.
1. Far and away the most significant example of this refusal to accept the tired meme of Israel As The-Worst-Human-Rights-Abuser -And-Biggest-Enemy-of-Peace is The Backlash to the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israeli Academic Institutions. We now know that 95 universities across the United States have rejected and publicly condemned the ASA boycott of Israel.
That includes the most prestigious private schools, state schools, schools at which anti-Israel activity had been flourishing, and almost every other kind of American academic institutions. Condemnations poured in from the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Yale, University of Chicago, Penn State, Northwestern, Goucher, as well as industry-wide associations of professors and of universities. Several schools, such as Brandeis, Penn State, Kenyon and Indiana University summarily withdrew their membership in the ASA because the boycott so clearly reflected a loss of the association’s mission, an affront to academic freedom and a discriminatory singling out of a single nation for condemnation.
2. and 3. A tie for second place goes to two relatively new leaders of at least nominally Jewish institutions, each of whom staked new ground, rejecting their predecessors’ policies for tolerating abusive positions towards Israel.
Eric Fingerhut became president and CEO of Hillel International this past summer. For years, many Hillels across the United States have chosen an aggressively passive response to anti-Israel events on campuses, choosing to have their own quiet events instead of confronting viciously anti-Israel events filled with misinformation and lies about the Jewish State. Hillels have even welcomed some of the worst offenders into their buildings or even their own events, in the hopes of showing the enemy that they are really good people. It’s been a disaster.
This past fall the Hillel group at suburban Philadelphia’s Swarthmore College decided it would publicly challenge the pro-Israel guidelines set by Hillel International. Students bridled against being forbidden the “right” to invite speakers who engage in “demonization, delegitimization or applying double standards to Israel,” or support the economic and legal warfare movement known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel. Swarthmore Hillel students voted unanimously to reject the guidelines and declare theirs an “Open Hillel.” And then they received a surprise.
Fingerhut sent a calm, but unequivocal response.
Hillel recognizes, of course, that ‘organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice’ violate these guidelines may well be welcomed on campus, according to the policies of the particular college or university. The Hillel on campus, however, may not partner with or host such groups or speakers. This is entirely within our discretion as an organization, and we have clearly stated our intention to make these important decisions to protect our values and our critically important mission. Just as the university decides who will teach classes, and what organizations it will allow on campus, so Hillel will decide who will lead discussions in programs it sponsors and with whom it will partner.
Wow. A Hillel head who sets limits regarding support for Israel, demands compliance with those limits and sticks to the limits he set. A miracle happened in 2013.
Joining Fingerhut on the 2013 hit parade is Fred Lawrence, the newpresident of Brandeis University. For years Brandeis has partnered with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian Arab school in eastern Jerusalem.
Brandeis was founded by Jews to counter the heavy quota restrictions on Jews in elite American universities in the late 1940’s. Yet recently it has reveled in holding hands with an Arab Muslim university, especially one with a president – Sari Nusseibeh – who is a well-known Arab intellectual with academic degrees from fancy American schools. The fact that Al-Quds University also harbored terrorist supporters and officially glorified mass murderers of Jews and Americans had no impact on the Brandeis administration’s relationship with Al-Quds.
But two years ago Lawrence was installed as Brandeis’s president. Lawrence, like his predecessor Yehuda Reinharz, is a distinguished academic. But Lawrence responded in a way that surprised many Brandeis watchers when Al-Quds University was publicly outed as hosting a demonstration on its campus on Nov. 5 that glorified the murderers of civilians and supported terrorism against the Jewish state.
Lawrence requested an explanation from Nusseibeh for the Nov. 5 demonstration. The response, which blamed “Jewish extremists” for inciting a campaign of vilification against Al-Quds, was in Lawrence’s words: “unacceptable and inflammatory.” Lawrence suspended – at least temporarily – the relationship between the two schools. Within a few days, Lawrence also removed Nusseibeh from the board of advisers of the Brandeis Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.
It wasn’t only new leadership of national Jewish organizations or universities that exhibited pro-Israel leadership in 2013.
In fact, one bright star on the American pro-Israel campus scene is not even Jewish.
4. Before entering the University of New Orleans, Chloé Simone Valdary read the book, Exodus. The book moved Chloé to do extensive research into the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and the treatment of Jews and Israel. What she learned remained with her. As a sophomore, Valdary founded UNO’s Allies for Israel and their kickoff event, with Daniel Pipes as their keynote speaker, was held January 28, 2013. Chloé has become something of an international sensation since first hitting the spotlight earlier this year. She’s already been to Israel several times, attended an AICPAC conference, been lauded by several pro-Israel organizations, and has published opinion pieces in multiple pro-Israel media outlets. Go Chloé!
5. One of the organizations on campus that helped Chloé found and run UNO’s Allies for Israel is the CAMERA Campus Activist Project. CCAP has been instrumental in working with several of this past year’s pro-Israel campus activists. CCAP’s mission is to help students create pro-Israel student organizations on college campuses across the country, and enables them to present speakers and host pro-Israel events, as well as to organize in response to anti-Israel activities on their campuses.
6. CCAP brought Lt.Col. (Res.) Anat Berko to speak at the University of Florida, Gainesville this past October. Berko was slated to present important information about her years-long research based on direct interviews with Palestinian Arab women and children who had been involved in with suicide terrorism in Israel. Berko is the author of several books about suicide bombers, the most recent of which is The Smarter Bomb. When Berko was interrupted by activists chanting “Israel is the real problem, not Hamas” from Students for Justice in Palestine – a gimmick long endured by so many Israeli and pro-Israel presenters on campus – everyone was surprised by Berko’s response.
First, Berko told the students to sit down and listen to her, that they could raise any questions they wanted during the question and answer session. When the protesters would not stop interrupting, Berko launched into an animated lecture on why the protesters should be in Syria, protesting the gassing murders of babies by the Syrian regime, if human rights is their concern. The protesters actually shut up, and left the room. With that, Berko continued her lecture on the motivations for women and children (that’s the “smarter bomb” Berko means) to want to kill themselves. The audience was finally able to hear Berko’s hand observations and watch video clips of many who attempted to be smart bombs.
7. Another on-campus pro-Israel group which got its sea legs from CCAP is Future Leaders of Israel. This group started out as the brainchild of a few pro-Israel students in Florida. They realized there was a dearth of student-driven pro-Israel organizations and decided to create one, initially called Florida Loves Israel. The two pro-Israel conferences FLI held in Florida for in-state students was so popular and because requests came in from schools outside of Florida asking to be included in their next conference, the student organizers, Ron Krudo and Daniel Ackerman, realized they were sitting on something bigger than just Florida. The organization’s name was changed to more accurately reflect the nationwide distribution of pro-Israel student leadership across the U.S.
FLI will hold two conferences this March, one at Florida Atlantic University, and the other, FLI’s first conference outside of Florida, at the University of Pittsburgh. FLI’s approach to pro-Israel campus activism is unique. An in-depth article about FLI will appear in The Jewish Press before those conferences.
There are five more pro-Israel highlights from 2013. They will be described in the second in this series of articles in The Jewish Press.
The next part in this series will include: legal action undertaken by pro-Israel students who were wronged by official action and a flawed investigation by a university; a faculty-led effort to fight anti-Semitism on California campuses; a successful campaign to name, shame and remove virulent anti-Israel activity by faculty and other campus leadership; the efforts of a faculty member to protect pro-Israel students from malevolent protests on campus; and another new student-led organization to combat anti-Israel misinformation on campus.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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