December, 2009


On November 14th I attended a talk by Jehuda Reinharz, the president of Brandeis University in Boston, at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. The subject was on the disturbing growth of Anti-Zionism on campuses and the relentless pursuit of defining the State of Israel as “evil” while recognizing that the Palestinian people deserve to have a home where Israel now stands. As someone who has experienced this phenomenon first hand as an older student returning to the university after many years, I jumped at the chance to hear what he had to say. I was not disappointed.

Because the university is where the best, the brightest, and the most influential reside, Dr. Reinharz  pointed out that certain “Arab governments have figured out that the university is a good place to propagate their views.” These can cover a wide range of interests not the least of which is the demonization of Israel and advocating its demise.

Convince a clip talking, bow tied, Ivy league prof, to condemn Israel and people will listen. A perusal through published theses, dissertations and journal articles show a preponderance of anti-Israel bias. Some of these papers are so malicious that it is hard to find the scholarly points that the writers are supposed to argue. Still, they are passed on by thesis committees and are published as books; end up in newspaper articles, in historical documentaries and of course, text books that grade school students learn from.

“Often to be progressively liberal today means to be anti-Zionist.” One of the great contributors to Israel’s demonization on campuses is the growth of the Left. The political Left wing, unbelievably potent in most history, English and political science departments,  views the State of Israel as a tool of American imperialism, a colonial outpost of European Jews which have no right to be there. They basically hold that 1948 was a great mistake.

Allowing the Jews to create a homeland in Palestine never should have happened.  They defend a moral equivalency between terrorism against innocent Jews and what Israel does to defend against it. They support a two state solution, not as an end to the conflict, but as a punishment for Israel because of perceived crimes as an occupying power. This perception of Israel runs very deep in the academic community. Speakers on campuses supporting terror against Jews are allowed under the guise of free speech, and actions against Jewish students and offensive anti-Semitic  slogans during anti Israel demonstrations are not discouraged.

The advocacy of the Left has no place on the university campus. Dr. Reinharz was clear on this point, “universities should not be in a position of supporting advocacy groups.” As Jews we are particularly sensitive to this matter because the “advocacy” promoted here is the destruction of Israel, and the Jewish return to a non sovereign status in world affairs.

So, what do we do about it? Professor Reinharz had several good suggestions.

The careful administration of endowments is very important. Funding in small amounts and getting to know the faculty Dr. Reinharz insists is key in understanding how your money is spent. “You cannot demand what to teach with the money you are giving them,  but you can minimize the risk of it going to anti-Israel causes.”

Talk to department heads, ask them how they will teach classes associated with your endowment. Read the catalogue to get a feel for the classes and what is taught in them.

While sitting there listening to him I thought of a couple more on my own. Before you endow, read the schedule of classes for that particular semester. Research the department heads and the professors teaching the classes. Reading their curriculum vitae is an excellent way of determining how a particular professor leans politically and whether that leaning affects what he or she teaches.

The professor also called for the establishment of Israel Study Centers. Study centers are interdisciplinary programs run by the university to further study on a wide range of subjects. Study centers dedicated to Israeli culture, sociology, history, politics etc., can be great educating bases for compiling scholarly arguments among the world’s academics about the problems in the Middle East.

Birthright, a program that completely subsidizes young Jews to Israel, provides an excellent source of education by providing first person looks into what is happening on the ground. Of the many programs that are available to send young Jews to Israel, Birthright ranks at the top of the list in popularity. For a two week trip, air fare, and accommodations including meals are all paid for in full. Spending cash is up to the individual. While those two weeks don’t provide a lifetime of education on the Arab Israeli conflict they at least give young people some time on the land itself. They become connected, and form lifelong attachments with the State of Israel.

Even the most erudite professor would have a hard time disseminating misinformation to someone with this experience. Birthright Israel is an important step in turning this problem around.  It would be wise to expand on this program to be able to send more young people to Israel than is now possible.

The problem of anti-Zionism on college campuses is one that is not going away, it’s getting worse. Even with Jewish involvement, it provides a springboard for an anti-Semitism  that has not been seen in the world since the Nazism of the 1930s.

One has only to experience an on campus demonstration against Israel’s existence to understand its virulent nature. Dr. Reinharz provided some excellent ways to begin to reverse the tide. It’s time the Jewish community concerned with Israel’s survival get involved and channel their power to produce some balance in the university. Anti-Zionism nurtured by the Left and Palestinian community bent on destroying Israel have had a head start but they haven’t won.

Let’s get to work.


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