By Nathan Moskowitz, Breaking Israel News—
The BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement which masquerades as a humanitarian bulwark against the evils of “occupation” is ostensibly nothing more than the most recent incarnation of old-fashioned, hard-core, pernicious anti-Semitism. BDS has created a toxic environment for Jewish students on many campuses. Students, who show pride in their Judaism and support for Israel, face social exclusion, verbal abuse and even physical assaults. This has the short –term, two-pronged effect of both intimidating and gagging pro-Israel students, whilst recruiting unknowledgeable and/or unaffiliated Jewish students to join this pseudo- noble, “Tikkun-Olam”-sounding cause. In the long term, the insidious gnawing away and depletion of future pro-Israel Americans will have devastating political consequences for Israel, which is of course the ultimate goal of BDS on college campuses.
The perils of BDS have caught the attention of Jewish leaders and communal organizations who over the past decade have invested large sums attempting to help Jewish students combat this anti-Semitism. For the most part these attempts have been unsuccessful. Most recently a $50 million Maccabee Task Force funded by Sheldon Adelson, and headed by David Brog was created in order to more effectively combat BDS.
Brog has accurately identified the problem: “Our students are compassionate, multi-cultural and disgusted by racism. If they knew the truth about Israel, they would automatically admire this bastion of their highest values in the most brutal of neighborhoods. But before they learn the truth about Israel, they are mugged by the lies of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”
His solution is to “boldly share the truth that Israel is one of the most moral, multi-cultural and compassionate countries on the planet… The Maccabee Task Force will track every project we fund. Together with our partners we will distinguish between what worked and what merely made us feel good. And then we will share these best practices with our larger community of partners”.
If we are to interpret these words correctly this new Task Force will attack and defeat BDS by informing friends and foes alike the undeniable truth about Israel. The ultimate success of this gallant approach is predicated on an unbridled Messianic Jewish optimistic belief in the ultimate goodness inherent in humanity, certain that if only people can see the light, and hear the truth, the lion will lie down with the lamb. It would be very nice to cheer on the Maccabee Task Force and hope they succeed, but if history, and the reality of human nature is any guide, the probability of their success is unfortunately, probably low.
The problem of Anti-Semitism is very old, and the Jewish responses to it, be they successful or not, have been diverse, and generally fall into two broad categories: adaptation (via dialogue or assimilation) versus separation. The adaptation strategy of dialogue sometimes can be partially or totally successful in the short and/or long term. For example, historically recent and ongoing inter-faith dialogue with the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations can be considered somewhat successful.
Historically when dialogue fails, then the only two remaining viable choices are between assimilation and separation. The assimilation strategy involves conversion to the faith or ideology of the particular anti-Semitic oppressor at that time, thereby allowing Jews to blend into the bland hostile background, and not draw any attention. This physical survival strategy was, for example, somewhat successful, during the time of the theologically motivated Spanish Inquisition, but not during the racially motivated Holocaust.
For those Jews who do not find assimilation a viable choice, and pine for Freedom of Religion and Thought, and are not content with mere physical survival, the alternative adaptive strategy involves physical separation from the source of discrimination. Thus, for example, when Theodor Herzl realized that all the dialogue and assimilation in the world would not cure European or global anti-Semitism, he proposed a nationalistic separation, and the formation of separate independent home for the Jews in Israel, the Altneuland, (Old-New land). This separation strategy proved to be a very effective lifesaver, then and now.
On a much smaller scale, in the nineteenth century when Americans were excluded from organizations and institutions based on discrimination, they formed their own separate organizations and /or entities. Thus, for example when hospitals overtly discriminated against Jewish patients and Jewish Doctors, to combat these challenges, separate Jewish hospitals were instituted. The first one, Jews’ Hospital, later renamed Mount Sinai Hospital was established in 1852. Likewise many Catholic Hospitals sprouted up in the United States at the same time in response to Catholic discrimination. This separation strategy proved to be quite effective protecting minorities from discrimination.
Currently there is rampant resurgent anti-Semitism in the majority of Europe, and France in particular. What kind of strategy should be adopted to combat this anti-Semitism? One could theoretically invest millions of dollars, in an attempt to educate French Jews on how to respond to this threat, and via a combination of dialogue and Jewish –oriented programs, attempt to diminish anti-Semitic feelings harbored by many French citizens. Does anyone really believe that this kind of approach could or would be successful? Is it plausible to think that the visceral ideological/theological/racist hatred of the swelling numbers of French immigrants and citizens can be altered by any rational dialogue? This skepticism was voiced by the Chief Rabbi of Brussels, Albert Guigui, following the Paris terror attacks and the Belgian lockdown who stated: “There has been aliyah to Israel as well as emigration to Canada and the U.S.; people understand there is no future for Jews in Europe.”
The French and Belgian Jews have analyzed their situation, and concluded that separation, not dialogue, and not assimilation is the most realistic option for vouchsafing their security and way of life. Any emotional or financial investment in altering the swelling numbers of European anti-Semites’ opinions and acts, are realistically recognized as entirely futile.
Likewise, how likely is it that infusing huge sums into programs such as the Maccabee Task Force to fight BDS on college campuses will be successful? Even if they are capable of influencing a few Jewish students who are on the fence, they are incapable of altering the opinions of a rapidly growing number of students and Professors who are irrationally and ideologically inimical to Israel.
We must realize that Jews are an ever diminishing minority, and that the pro-BDS students, and anti-Semitic, hard-core liberal Anti-Israel Professors, are the majority, and like in France, continue to swell, numerically overpowering Jewish students. The fact that some of these hostile students and Professors whose minds are already BDS-hardened, are Jewish, doesn’t help. These people will not be convinced by love and/ or logic to change their minds, irrespective of how much money is thrown at this futile pursuit. The sooner one faces up to this reality, the sooner philanthropic money can be re-channeled to a more viable solution that has a far greater prospect for success.
We should re-examine the successful Jewish survival strategies of institutional separation of the past, and consider whether and how this can be applied to this newest iteration of Anti-Semitism. If safe spaces on college campuses are available for every conceivable minority except for Jews, then why can’t safe spaces be established outside of these campuses? In other words, philanthropic efforts should focus on the establishment of multiple new Jewish undergraduate and graduate universities, throughout the U.S. which can offer the full spectrum of liberal arts and science degrees. These new universities, founded with a Jewish mission, can be non-sectarian and open to all people. They would constitute safe –zone educational institutions espousing true liberal principals , where pro-Israel and pro-Zionist views, as well as opposing views are tolerated , and not denounced .
These universities would enable students and faculty to thrive, where they would not fear reprisals for their pro- Jewish/ Israel views, and tenure would not be denied for espousing the wrong political view point. This solution is not too dissimilar from the establishment of Jewish hospitals in the early nineteenth century in the face of American anti -Semitism, which provided safe healing havens for Jewish patients and physicians.
These universities should aim to achieve the highest standards, and be beacons for freedom of thought. There are currently four universities that are 100% Jewish: Yeshiva University, Touro College, List College/Jewish Theological Seminary and American Jewish University. The first two universities are orthodox, the third is conservative. Therefore these institutions though they do not suffer from internal BDS-anti-Semitism have theological ideologies that may not be attractive to the bulk of American Jewry.
The fourth institution, American Jewish University, was founded in 1947 by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan and others with the mission to prevent assimilation. It is a non-sectarian, predominantly Liberal Arts College which may not offer the full spectrum of Science and Engineering courses for those students that are so inclined. American Jewish University can be seen as a kind of liberal arts model for the creation of many other new universities that should be established with the full spectrum of arts and sciences curricula.
There are many private and public universities that despite having relatively high numbers of Jews are still not spared exposure to vile anti-Semitism and a noxious BDS culture. Brandeis which was founded on a Jewish mission, with a 50% Jewish population is home to some of the most vicious anti-Israeli protests, and pro- BDS activities.
Other colleges that have relatively high Jewish populations that are similarly afflicted include Columbia, Harvard, UCLA, Rutgers University and others. Thus having a relatively high number of Jewish students, in and of itself, does not guarantee a safe retreat from this new cultural assault.
Applying an old-new model to combat an old-new problem by creating tolerant, non-sectarian Jewish full-service universities would offer a safe separate space for students and faculty and enable them to thrive in the absence of anti-Semitism, and overall intolerance. Initially a small number of prototypical universities should be established in strategic geographic locations. If they are successful l in their mission, additional like-minded universities can be incrementally instituted across the United States.
This solution is not without precedence in the Jewish community, or for that matter other select groups who have historically been educationally disenfranchised or victimized. African Americans, over the years, established 107 historically Black colleges, and there are currently approximately 43 active women’s colleges. These colleges, originally established to combat distinctive forms of discrimination, still exist, and thrive despite progress in race and gender equality since their founding.
One could criticize this plan, and argue that any new university that is created can’t compete for Jewish students with the Ivy League and other well know institutions. This might be accurate, initially. Taking current uncomfortable trends into consideration, if universities of higher learning become increasingly belligerent to Jews, more students will choose these old-new institutions out of social necessity, so long as they have equally high standards.
Because America is a welcoming place to all peoples, most Jews do not have an existential need or desire to make Aliyah. Nevertheless, proud Jewish students just like all other ethnic students should not have to face discrimination at any unwelcoming American college campus, and should have the opportunity to choose a viable alternative i.e. a university tolerant to their faith, culture and political viewpoints.
Initiating expensive, wishy-washy outreach programs at multiple colleges across the country which attempt to reach Jews before they are exposed to hatred, and to somehow alter the minds of a tidal wave of incoming pre-programmed hateful students and Professors, is an exercise in futility, and therefore, a prescription for failure.
Philanthropic money directed at combating college campus BDS should be spent on realistic viable solutions that have a high probability of success. By acknowledging reality, as ugly as it may seem, and by learning from our own long history, we can overcome this new, warmed-up, repackaged ancient hatred.