“You are oppressors.” “You are white supremacists.” “Your people aren’t suffering.” “Your families are murderers.” “Check your privilege.”
After hearing Palestinian and other minority students hurl those charges at me and my fellow Jews, Northwestern University’s student government passed a resolution to recommend that the university divest from six corporations that its authors say violate Palestinian human rights. The authors said that the resolution was a response to a Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a movement against Israel that’s sweeping college campuses across the United States.
For six hours, in a room jammed with 400 students, proponents of the resolution portrayed Jews as, in the charges cited above, “oppressors,” “supremacists,” and “murders” – and that I, as a white Jew, had no right to speak in this debate because I was never oppressed.
To be sure, the student body did hear from Jewish students who opposed the resolution. They gave solid speeches highlighting BDS’s dangers both internationally and on our campus, and they showed immense courage by speaking up in a room poisoned by anti-Israeli hatred.
But far too many of them didn’t confront the narrative that the Palestinians and their supporters propagated. Instead, many suggested that whether the grievances against Israel are justified or otherwise, the resolution would prove counterproductive by creating roadblocks to dialogue.
That’s not good enough.
With Israel under siege on a growing number of campuses, we Jewish students who strongly support the Jewish State cannot let Israel’s opponents portray Jews in ways that are historically inaccurate, betraying the humanistic values that lie at the heart of our religion and our culture.
Indeed, if we don’t confront this narrative, not only will we suffer more losses of the kind that I experienced up close in recent days at Northwestern University, but we’ll deserve to keep losing.
Days removed from that painful evening at Northwestern, I now know what I could have said when the moment arrived – and what I hope Jewish students on other campuses will say as well:
I could have told them that far from oppressors, Jews are among history’s most oppressed people. Jews lived in Israel over 2,000 years ago before their expulsion by the Romans. During their years without a state, Jews routinely faced persecution, oppression and death wherever the wandered. They were expelled from Spain, suffered pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe and were victims of history’s largest mass murder.
I could have told them that I’ve walked the grounds of concentration camps in Poland where six millions Jews were murdered in the Holocaust – including my grandmother’s family. I could have told them that my cousin’s brother fought in Gaza this summer against Hamas, a terrorist organization that is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. I could have told them about the recent high-profile terrorist attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen – and about so many others in Europe and elsewhere that haven’t received such attention.
I could have echoed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words in reminding Europe’s Jews who are facing rising anti-Semitism that Israel is their home – a home that the BDS movement doesn’t believe has the right to exist and that works toward its destruction.
I could have stood up for Israel when non-Palestinian minority groups on campus gave speeches supporting the resolution. They said that they sympathize with the Palestinian narrative in their fight against marginalization. We need to build coalitions with these minority groups because, as history shows, their fight is our fight too.
I could have told those groups that it was white Jews who marched with blacks during the Civil Right Movement in the 1960s. I could have told them about Menachem Begin’s decision to resettle Vietnamese refugees in Israel, granting them citizenship when no other country would accept them. I could have told them that Israel is one of only four Middle East countries that don’t legally forbid homosexuality. In fact, I could have told them that Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy more freedoms in the Jewish State than their brethren do in Arab countries.
I could have told them that Israel isn’t to blame for Palestinian suffering; the Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank and Hamas rules Gaza. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Hamas seized it from the PA in a bloody coup and turned it into an armed terrorist camp where Palestinian children are used as human shields to protect Hamas fighters who, in turn, shell Israel’s civilians, kidnap soldiers and murder Israeli citizens in their homes.
“Check your privilege,” one speaker in favor of the resolution told me? I say check our history.