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Heed the Omens

“If you’re Jewish and have any self-respect...there’s only one thing you should be doing: leave"


The Harvard Crimson proclaimed last week, “We are proud to lend our support to both Palestinian liberation and BDS — and we call on everyone else to do the same.” The editorialists congratulated themselves on their bravery, citing the “fact” that anyone who dares “to question Israel’s policies or endorse Palestinian freedom... will be shunned from the newsroom.” (That, incidentally, is a repeat of the familiar anti-Semitic trope that Jews control the media.)

Liel Leibovitz in Tablet ripped off that cloak of bravery. Far from dooming their future as journalists, the editorial writers were advancing them, he charged. They “were putting up a piece of performance theater that is crucial to finding later employment in the Borg that now runs this country... slimy twerps… advertising to their older and more moneyed kinfolk that they are ready for hiring.”

The Jerusalem Post tried to put a brave face on the endorsement of BDS by the student paper at America’s most selective school, suggesting that perhaps the authors don’t know that BDS stands for the destruction of Israel and that “free Palestine” means a Judenrein expanse “from the River [Jordan] to the [Mediterranean] Sea.”

It strains credulity, however, to think that a group of Harvard students never bothered to Google Omar Barghouti, leader of the international BDS movement, who has repeatedly stated that he totally rejects a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. Or failed to realize that “from the River to the Sea” leaves no room for a Jewish state. And indeed nowhere did the Crimson acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

At another world leading university, the University of Chicago — which in my day was described as the place where “the revolution came and was talked to death” — the student government passed a pro-BDS resolution, supporting “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” A Jewish student government representative and Jewish groups were excluded from the discussion at the urging of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

A coalition of eleven student law school groups at NYU Law School was even more explicit about its support for any and all terrorism directed at Jews in Israel, as Tal Fortgang, a current NYU law student, detailed at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense site. “Palestinian are not obligated to engage in racialized ‘non-violence theory,’ ” proclaimed the student coalition.

When Jewish students begged for reassurance that their “friends” would condemn firing an AR-15 at unarmed men, women, and children, a third-year quipped, “You don’t condemn an earthquake or lethal outbreak of flu.” In other words, the Jews of Israel are so heinous that Palestinians have no agency, no choice but to kill them. As Jews drinking beer at a bar in Tel Aviv were being gunned down, NYU law students were tweeting, “Long live the intifada,” and re-tweeting calls for more violence.

And remember, these events did not take place at Antioch or San Francisco State, but at elite schools, with large Jewish student populations. Schools that will produce the future movers and shakers and opinion-makers of America.

I FOUND THE RESPONSES of both Liel Leibovitz and Tal Fortgang to be important. Leibovitz counseled Jews supportive of Israel not to treat the Harvard Crimson editorial as an expression of opinion worthy of response, as if showing the editorial board the light with disquisitions on Jews’ millennial connection to the land, or Jewish persecution and suffering, or the laws of warfare, or Palestinian intransigence, failure to develop any indicia of civil society, or the diversion of vast international aid by their leaders, etc., will make any difference.

“If you’re Jewish and have any self-respect... there’s only one think you should be doing: leave. Leave right now. Walk away and don’t look back. Study Gemara. Read the Tanya. Polish your Hebrew. Go volunteer at the Jewish old-age home down the block.... Do something that’s meaningful, and sustainable, and Jewish, instead of investing in institutions that have made a clear and irreversible decision to hate you.”

And in truth, there is little constituting an argument in the Crimson editorial. The authors seek the frisson of being part of global movement of brave freedom fighters. “When oppression strikes anywhere in the world,” they write, “resistance movements reverberate globally. The desire for rightful justice spreads, like wildfire, moving us to act, to speak, to write, and right past wrongs.” (We will discuss below why, then, Israel is the singular focus of their concerns.)

The editors don’t have an argument; they have a theory. As philosopher Alan Finkielkraut notes, we live in an age of theory, in which the flimsiest theory trumps one thousand unruly facts. And what is their theory? That the Palestinians are virtuous because they are weak and darker-skinned than many Israelis. Nothing more need be known than that “there is an overwhelming power imbalance” between Israel and the Palestinians.

That is a variant of the charts on the New York Times front page comparing the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli deaths every time there is a conflict in Gaza. And the unspoken message is always the same: Israel must be guilty of war crimes. Look how few Israelis have died compared to the Palestinians.

Context is irrelevant. Who attacked whom? Who has spent billions to defend its citizens from rockets and who places its prime military assets among civilians to maximize the public relations value of its own dead?

Fortgang makes short shrift of the argument from weakness: “It’s black and white, powerless versus powerful, a Manichean struggle between the forces of good and evil, just like our racial politics here in the United States. Just like every conflict everywhere. (Except in China. That’s somehow always ignored.)”

Yet his response to his fellow law students is gratitude. Thank you for making clear exactly what you stand for: “A movement that justifies Jewish deaths, not incidentally or accidentally, but intentionally. Jew-hatred is not a by-product of the worldview that reduces everything to simple tales of oppressors and oppressed. It is central to it.”

Jewish deaths are not “systemic,” in the view of its celebrants, and therefore merit no place on their matrix of oppression. That Jews have been the most persecuted people in history, and even today, even in the United States, are the most likely to be victims of hate crimes, does not make attacks on them systemic. Somehow the Nazis were not systematic enough for those seeking the end of the Jewish state. (Ira Stoll, a former president of the Harvard Crimson, wrote to the current president about the nice touch of issuing the call for Israel’s destruction during Holocaust Remembrance Week.)

Fortgang closed with a warning to those Jewish classmates eager to act in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle: “Calling your fellow Jewish classmates racist white supremacists will not save you from the viciousness of this movement.”

NOTHING ESTABLISHES the anti-Semitism at the heart of the extreme criticisms of Israel so clearly as the singling out of the Jewish state from all nations on earth. China currently holds one million Muslim Uighurs in some form of concentration camps. Six hundred thousand Syrians have died in that country’s civil war to date, and ten million have been displaced. And the Damascus regime employed poison gas against its own people, almost all civilians, as did Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against its Shiite population. The number of casualties in the Syrian Civil War is well over six times all those killed in Arab-Israeli fighting since 1948.

Just over two months ago, Russia attacked neighboring Ukraine without provocation. Unable to achieve its military goals, Russia has resorted to terror tactics designed to maximize civilian casualties — missiles and bombs directed at apartment buildings, hospitals, and underground stations, the systematic rounding up, binding and killing of thousands of civilians, etc. And it has repeatedly threatened to introduce nuclear weapons into the conflict.

Yet nowhere in European cities or on American campuses have we witnessed huge ongoing demonstrations against Chinese concentration camps, or Syrian poison gas, or Russia’s deliberate efforts to maximize civilian casualties. No calls for academic boycotts of Chinese universities and bans on any students from China. Only Israel is signaled out, even though, as Colonel Richard Kemp, former chief commander of British Expeditionary Forces in Afghanistan, has repeatedly said, no army in the history of warfare has gone to greater lengths to prevent civilian casualties than Israel.

Only the stench of anti-Semitism can explain that radical difference in criticism and proposals to isolate Israel. And where that stench becomes more and more powerful, it is time for Jews “to polish their Hebrew” and begin to think about leaving.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 910. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com)

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