Upon graduating high school I deferred my studies at University College London (UCL) and took a gap year in Israel. That year resulted in the changing of the trajectory of my life. Ultimately, I never took up my spot in UCL and instead took the road “less travelled by” and made aliyah and served in the IDF. Whilst I served in one battleground, it is also true that another battle is taking place on the university campuses across the globe.
A war is being fought on campuses against Israel and Zionism that often descends to violence and crass anti-Semitism. If anyone thinks that this is an exaggeration, one only needs to see what took place at what could have been my alma mater, the venerable University College London last week where an anti-Semitic mob broke out in “protest” of the mere presence of an Israeli on the campus. The pro-Israel student event was attacked by violent protesters. The physical violence and intimidation forced the Jewish students to require a police escort to escape.
There are numerous college campuses in North America and Europe where similar scenarios are played out. Our embattled and besieged Jewish students need our help. They require our support as well as knowledge, correct information and tools to advocate for Israel. Natan Sharansky stated:
Today the battle which takes place on the campuses is one in which our enemies try to convince Jewish students that in order to be part of the world of justice and freedom, you have to disengage yourself from Israel and from your own identity.
These attacks and double standards and slander result in the fact that many young Jews do not want to have anything to do with their Jewish identity. Yet a positive Jewish identity and knowledge of our history and traditions is something that we have to bring to every young Jew. They need to understand that if one wants to be part of the world of freedom, justice and Tikkun Olam, our identity is our source of strength to fight for those things. Our identity, which is based on our history, on our traditions and of course on our connection to Israel is key to our Jewish pride. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks noted that,
There is nothing inevitable about the crisis of Jewish identity in the Diaspora. It is the result of a century of bad, if understandable, decisions – one above all: we neglected Jewish education. The result is that we know little about Judaism, and our children know less. They know about the Holocaust – about how Jews died, not how they live. They know about Israel, but that is somewhere else, not here.
Today’s young Diaspora Jews are the most secularly educated and Jewishly illiterate of all time. In the United States, four in ten will receive no Jewish education of any kind. Their knowledge of what previous generations of Jews lived and died for is negligible.
Since the Arab world, through its educational brain washing and its proxies at UNESCO, is trying to negate the Jewish historical claim to Israel it is vital for us and our youngsters to understand our historical and current claim to Israel. We need to focus on and comprehend our historical and religious connections in order to answer the question, “Why Israel?” For the sake of Zion and ourselves, we need to regain pride and strength. We become empowered through knowledge. Israel needs to be an integral part of our being all the time, not just in times of crisis.
Once Jewish students leave the protective bubble of school, home or intimate social group and enter the “real world” of a mixed college campus, sometimes hostile to Jews and Zionism, they often find themselves uncomfortable, on the defensive and unable to speak about Israel, in part because they lack the knowledge of and passion for Zion.
In order to respond effectively with a sense of self-respect and to be proactive, students need commitment and pride, as well as knowledge and tools. They need to have Zionist literacy and know about the heroic men and women who helped shape the Zionist dream. Most importantly a visit to Israel, preferably in a peer group educational touring program is the most effective method to develop a clear understanding regarding the achievements and challenges facing Israel.
As one can see from this dramatic news footage, these protestors on college campuses are not “pro-Palestinian,” they are anti-Semitic and anti the very idea of a Jewish state, not just it’s policies. Professor Gil Troy reminds us that,
“In the face of a vicious assault on Israel’s legitimacy, it is crucial these days to understand the depth of the Jewish attachment to Israel.
Dr. Tuvia Book is the Director for Education for “Write On for Israel” and the author of the internationally acclaimed, “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Studies” (JAFI: 2016)