Response to College Student Protests Against Israel

Response to College Student Protests Against Israel May 11, 2024

Responding to College Protests Against Israel

My heart is heavy because I have trouble convincing a young college student not to support Hamas against Israel. I am in shock at the sympathy being offered to Hamas after the mass atrocities Hamas committed on October 7. The outrage from American college students and some of my fellow liberals against Israel is hard for me to comprehend. The reality of Jewish students feeling endangered on a United States university campus leaves me in tears. When I see the signs and hear the chant, “From the river to the sea” as a hateful slogan for reducing the Jews to a defenseless minority within Palestine, I am bewildered.

On the other hand, I am proud of American college students having the courage to protest. Ever since English tea was dumped in Boston’s harbor, protest and dissent have been as American as apple pie and baseball. I am not protesting the protests or the protestors. I am dissenting from what I see as a lack of historical perspective.

What disturbs me the most is the anti-Semitism hiding behind, what I’m am sure, is genuine compassion for the Palestinians. Speaking last month on Palestinian TV, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas sought to explain the origins of the Holocaust. The Nazis, he said, were not antisemitic, but opposed the Jews “because of their role in society, which had to do with usury, money… In [Hitler’s] view, they were engaged in sabotage, and this is why he hated them.” In other words: the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves.

People seemed to understand Abbas is an antisemite. Yet his answer reasonates with university students and many progressives in their protests against Israel. They are claiming Israel provoked the Hamas massacre with its occupation of Gaza. They are claiming Israel is racist, colonialist, and apartheid simply because of its existence in the Middle East.

The college student with whom I am in deep disagreement wants me to believe the Jews have brought this tragedy on themselves. Somehow the Jews deserve the hatred they are now receiving.

Israel Flag
Photo by Ciric Nemanja

The young college student fails to appreciate the complex history and narrative of Israel. She doesn’t know that blaming Jews for their own suffering has always been a part of the history of antisemitism. First, the Christians labeled Jews as the Christ-killers. Then Hitler branded Jews as the race-defilers of Germany. The purpose was to claim Jews deserved their fate.

Once again, those who target Jews believe they have the moral high ground and are responding to Jewish provocation.

A movement, and these college protests are a movement of sorts, must have an enemy. It must have its devil to attack. Our youth should pause in the face of naming Israel as the devil.

In case my college student doesn’t recognize the strategy of making Jews the enemy, I will point out this was exactly the bad medicine packaged and sold by Adolf Hitler. He selected the Jews as the “international” devil – universal, international, catholic. He materialized a religious patter as his favorite weapon of propaganda. So, we have, as unifying step No. I, the international devil materialized, in the visible, point-to-able form of the Jews.

When Hitler was a young man, living in poverty in Vienna he confessed he gradually began to hate the Jews. He speaks of the “internal happiness” that descended upon him when his hatred was filled to the brim. This was the time in which the greatest change I was ever to experience took place in me. Hitler remarks, “From a feeble cosmopolite I turned into a fanatical anti-Semite,” and thence we move, by one of those associational tricks which he brings forth at all strategic moments, into a vision of the end of the world—out of which in turn he emerges with his slogan: “I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator: By warding off Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work” (italics his ).”

How can university students, who a semester ago were friends with fellow students who were Jews, suddenly embrace a position that corresponds to Hitler’s anti-Semitism? While there may be some sense of self-righteous satisfaction in hiding the anti-Semitic nature of the protests under the umbrella of empathy for Palestinians, the anti-Semitism still shows it ugly, tortured, immoral face.

These protests fit the historical pattern of antisemitism in the ease with which the students have ignored the Israeli understanding of the conflict and how we got to this point. Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, says, “A systematic and astonishingly successful campaign on the left has negated the Israeli historical and political narrative.  As a result, one of the world’s most complicated moral and political dilemmas has been turned into a proverbial passion play, in which The Israeli plays the role of Judas (in place of The Jew), betraying his destiny as noble victim and becoming the victimizer.”

And never doubt for a moment the existence of a history. There is the history of Israeli peace offers and Palestinian rejections. There is a history of the homecoming of an uprooted people, a people who lived with the deaths of 6,000,000 fellow Jews. As they immigrated to Israel they came as refugees from destroyed Jewish communities. Israel, in its dispersion, was Palestinian before the Palestinians. The history of Israel is not apartheid because this is a political and national conflict and there has been much interaction of Arab and Jews throughout Israel.

To blame Israel for the conflict ignores the vulnerability of Jews in a hostile region. It is to turn a blind eye to the Iranian, Lebanese, and Syrian-allied terror groups on Israel’s borders.

This history doesn’t excuse Israel for helping sustain the conflict, a conflict now ongoing for more than 75 years. Perhaps our college students are not aware of how the most extreme fundamentalist religious and political parts of Israeli society are now the official policymakers of Israel. Nor do they know how long citizens of Israel have been gathering to protest the actions of the Israeli government. On April 1, tens of thousands of Israelis thronged central Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government protest since the country went to war in October. Protesters urged the government to reach a cease-fire deal to free dozens of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas militants and to hold early elections.

The crowd stretched for blocks around the Knesset, or parliament building, and organizers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule. Thousands also demonstrated Sunday in Tel Aviv, where there was a large protest the night before.

American college students actually have more in common with progressive Israeli citizens than with supporters of Hamas. The reality is Hamas is working for the destruction of Israel; Netanyahu is working to annex Gaza and destroy Hamas.

I am convinced that American college students are promoting the goal of Hamas – its genocidal plan for an Islamist state from the river to the sea. “This is the face of the one-state solution being promoted on Western campuses.”

When the American protestors jumped to the conclusion that an Israeli missile had destroyed al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on October 17, they played into a propaganda campaign of misinformation. Even after Israel provided compelling proof that a stay rocket fired by an Islamic Jihad cell, university students insisted on maintaining the false narrative blaming Israel.

There were media retractions, but the damage had been done. Students still believed the false report and even suggested Israel was guilty because bombing a hospital was the sort of thing Israel would do because they had decided Israel was a criminal state.

Perhaps I have been overly harsh in ascribing anti-Semitic motives to college protestors. IF they are not anti-Semitic, they are collaborators in a history of antisemitic sentiment.

I confess the parallels to Nazi Germany are complicated by the reality that Israel does now have power. The Israelis are no longer innocent. They are occupying Gaza. Civilian casualties are high in Gaza. Israeli settlements and the invasion of Gaza do undermine the possibilities for a two-state solution.

If American college students and progressives continue to attempt to turn Israel’s self-defense and use of power into a symbol of human depravity, the friends of Israel and Israel will deal with the fallout. It is too late to ask Israel to just sit there and take it when Hamas launches a terror operation. In a world filled with genocidal enemies dedicated to the annihilation of Israel, powerlessness and passivity are sins.

The moral issues here are complex and not given to easy solutions. I applaud our college students for protesting. After all they are just carrying on an old family tradition. I am a child of the 1960’s, but our protests against injustice and the war had a different moral tenor to the one now condemning Israel and not condemning Hamas. I pray my college student will reconsider all the angles of this tragic war.


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