A “civil war” within the Jewish community has let the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel thrive on American college campuses with Jewish organizations, afraid of alienating either right- or left-leaning supporters, unable to come up with an effective counterplan.
“This is the Jewish civil rights issue of our time,” said Charles Jacobs, the founder and president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes “peaceful coexistence and tolerance in an ethnically diverse America.” He added that Jews should view the climate on the nation’s campuses as “a wake-up call.”
That rarely talked about war has resulted in Jewish students becoming targets of anti-Semitism, while in some cases, college administrators remain silent, Jacobs said. He showed APT’s new 70-minute documentary, “Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus,” at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick on Jan. 22 before an audience of synagogue members and Hebrew high school students. The film alleges university officials sometimes turn a blind eye because of massive donations of Arab oil money to American colleges and universities. It was partially funded by synagogue member Dr. Naomi Vilko of Princeton.
The film shows instances of anti-Semitism being made “fashionable” at universities across the nation through the academic deligitimization of Israel and normalization of hatred in the name of social justice.
“All of us mistook this assault on Jewish kids,” said Jacobs, a Newark native who said those behind the BDS movement have made their biggest inroads in liberal socially progressive circles by focusing on the falsehood that Israel is abusing the Palestinians.
However, the Israel Apartheid weeks, die-ins, and other demonstrations designed to show the dehumanization of Palestinians by Israelis are often thinly veiled anti-Semitism, ignoring such abuses as the killing of gays, slavery of blacks, pervasive diminishment of women’s rights, and “crucifixion” of Christians in the Arab world, said Jacobs.
Jacobs insisted that political divides within the Jewish community, which he described as “the white elephant no one wants to talk about,” have allowed the BDS movement to grow in recent years. While Jews often support socially progressive liberal causes, it is on the far left where acceptance of the BDS movement is most prominent, he said.
“We were good at fighting the neo-Nazis and skinheads,” said Jacobs. “We did that across the red-blue alliance. But we didn’t know what to do about the left. Our leaders have no strategy to fight the Muslim-left alliance against Israel. Right now we have a left-right fight.
“The Jewish organizations flee from the fight. The federations have to raise money for old age homes and Jewish day schools and they don’t know what to do because they have so many supporters on the left. As a result, we are paralyzed.”
However, Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey CEO Keith Krivitzky told NJJN, “That’s absolutely not true here. It’s painting with too broad a brush. Every federation has its own priorities and our federation is united in recognizing the importance of Israel, countering the BDS movement, and engaging the next generation on the importance of Israel.”
Krivitzky cited the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel Action Network to counter the deligitimization against Israel. Locally, federation helped bring in Jerusalem U programs to strengthen ties between young people and Israel, and works directly with students at Rutgers University.
During the 2010-11 school years when BDS tried to get a foothold at Rutgers, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations allocated $10,000 to Rutgers Hillel to mount a counter campaign portraying Israel in a positive light. There have been isolated incidents since then, but a coordinated BDS campaign has never returned to campus.
Although the film noted that BDS activity is most severe in California, it has also been an issue at such East Coast universities as Columbia, Temple, and Northeastern, said Jacobs.
On some campuses Jewish students have been subjected to physical abuse, harassment, and bullying if they show any support for Israel.
“The solution is we have to make sure Washington, D.C. extends the same protection that other kids get,” said Jacobs.
The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, which passed the Senate in December, would have defined some anti-Israel sentiment as anti-Semitism. However, Congress adjourned before a House vote and the bill will have to be reintroduced in both houses of the new Congress
Joshua Safeer, a junior at East Brunswick High School, said he found the program “eye-opening.”
“I’ll be going to college in a couple of year and it’s a problem I’ll have to deal with,” he said. “I’ve heard about this before but not as in-depth.”