It took a trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, a deadly hate crime in the Kansas City area, and the upcoming Passover holiday to make me realize that today, we are faced with the second greatest anti-Semitic propaganda wave in modern history. This is the story of how I came to this epiphany on BDS:
On a nice sunny Sunday afternoon, I was a part of a group of six college students who traveled an hour away from Claremont, CA to the home of Los Angeles Jewry. Pico Boulevard is home to several synagogues, Israeli food establishments, Jewish schools, and stores owned by predominant Jewish members of the community. At the corner of Pico and South Roxbury Drive lies the Museum of Tolerance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s educational museum designed to examine the issues of racism, prejudice, and the origins of hatred. Out of all the places that we could have gone in Los Angeles, our mission was to walk through the museum.
As members of Claremont Students for Israel, one of the pro-Israel groups in the renowned Claremont University Consortium, it was important for us to confront the very roots of prejudice. As Zionists, we face a small but vocal opposition on our campuses due to our unwavering support of Israel. Faced with outspoken professors and students with anti-Israel agendas, some of us have made it our mission to declare our right to be heard and to openly discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with our ideological opponents. Though I have started to engage in meaningful conversations with specific individuals, I am still faced with crusaders hiding behind a screen and a keyboard who refuse to meet with me. Nevertheless, the cries of Israel’s intention of mass murdering Palestinians and individuals encouraging BDS keep permeating student newspapers and social media.
Thus, it was important for me to be reminded of the issues of committing double standards and making war cries against the Jewish state. When my fellow Zionists convened at the Museum of Tolerance, we went through the Holocaust wing. It starts with going through the life of Germany in the 1920s, describing the political and economic tensions following the country’s crushing defeat in the First World War. The aftermath of the war caused a loss in national pride, and it left a nation looking for a scapegoat for the troubles. When Hitler came into prominence, it was at point where Germans could grasp onto any explanation for their diminishing sense of nationalist unity. His anti-Semitic agenda was ubiquitous in German news sources, his anti-Semitic book was a best seller, and eventually he got himself in a position of power due to his influence. As Joseph Goebbels stated, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” By the time the Nazis held power in Germany, the average German truly believed Hitler’s war cries against the Jewish people. That was how one person’s opinion became a nation’s agenda.
As we walked through the Holocaust wing, we went through the systematic nature of the Final Solution’s implementation: mass executions, ghettos, and eventually, the gas chambers. Other nations turned their back away from the Jews, preventing them from immigrating and seeking asylum. The ignorance of these countries kept the Jewish people from finding a means to escape. The Jews just slowly became sheep waiting for slaughter, with nobody fighting to save them from damnation at the hands of the Nazis. There was Jewish resistance against the Germans, and though they were mostly to no avail, the human spirit endeared for a handful of martyrs. Some would rather die fighting than from starvation, from disease, from execution.
The most poignant moment of the Holocaust wing was the recreation of the gates of a concentration camp. After you pass through the gate, you see two corridors: one marked “able bodied” and the other “mothers and children.” It did not matter which tunnel you walked through, the destination was the same: a replica of one of the shower stalls where Jews were thoroughly gassed and executed at Belzec, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I sat down inside, listening to stories of people who eventually entered these chambers. After the stories ended, nobody wanted to leave. The echoes of Hebrew chants bounced off the walls of the replicated death trap for millions of human beings. I was the first person to stand up, and I walked through the exit, tears nearly about to fall down my face.
To add insult to injury, I turned on my phone only to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds explode over the shooting at a JCC in the Kansas City area. Three innocent souls were taken, and two more were in critical condition. The culprit: an active KKK member. As he was being seated in the back of a police car, he uttered the most dreadful words I could have heard on this day: “Heil Hitler!” It was the day before the first Passover Seder of 5774, the holy festival of redemption and freedom, and here I was wondering when I would be redeemed and freed from the existence of anti-Semitism. My people died due this same irrational hatred, fanned by continuous lies in the media and false propaganda. Then it finally hit me: I am a witness to the second greatest anti-Semitic propaganda wave that the Jewish people have ever experienced.
How is it possible that individuals that I called friends could possibly fall under the false guises of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement? How can they not see the true double standard that is pulled against Israel and not against other countries that commit atrocities that would truly make Adolf Hitler himself proud? The answer was right in front of me: if you listen to a lie for long enough, people will start believing it. Goebbels’ infamous statement not only describes how the German people rationalized anti-Semitism, but it also depicts why liberally minded people who believe in human rights support the BDS movement. Due to the greater access of the Internet and social media in the world, more people can spew false propaganda against the state of Israel. The more it is repeated, the more people start believing in it. I waited for too long seeking an explanation on how this was possible, and the Museum of Tolerance opened my eyes to it.
What does this trip mean to me as a Zionist activist? It means two things. One is that I can no longer cast any doubt that the BDS movement is the reincarnation of traditional anti-Semitism and that despite its inevitable failure, the movement is still very attractive and should be rendered illegitimate. The second is that I can finally make a case for my consortium to stop the ASA boycott, prevent any BDS movement from ever arising, and ensure that the pro-Israel and the Jewish community no longer have to worry about anti-Zionist activity from the false advocates of social justice.
The task is larger than myself, but I have an entire year left in my college career to do something. It may be easy to believe a lie, but if I can spread the truth and reiterate it numerous times, then Claremont will become a safer community for Zionists and for the Jewish community than it has been since I first came to the consortium. It will be an uphill battle, since the BDS supporters have remained determined. However, all it takes is one unwavering Zionist activist to change the course of the conversation. I have already called for open, respectful dialogue on these campuses, but the ball is in the court of the opposition. Will they stand up to the challenge? I am ready to take on the BDS leviathan.