As President of the Yeshiva University College Republicans, I recently had the pleasure of participating on a panel at an Israel event at YU. Organized by various political and pro-Israel clubs on campus, the event primarily addressed what college students like those at YU can do to help the overall Israel cause, on campuses in particular. Among the questions asked to the panel, one particularly stood out to me. The moderator asked: “What is the greatest threat on campuses in America? BDS, SJP, JStreet…?” There are simple ways of answering the question, such as demonstrating the various tactics employed by groups like SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) and how they harm the pro-Israel cause. Most of the other panelists took this route, but in doing so, severely missed the boat. The biggest threat to the pro-Israel movement on campus is the pro-Israel movement (or lack thereof).
Pro-Israel Jews often forget that SJP really isn’t a problem, per se. SJP represents the views of those who are pro-Palestinian. Are Palestinians not allowed to have supporters? The Palestinians represent the opposition. They cannot be viewed as the problem to the pro-Israel cause. That would be akin to saying the the problem for Republicans is the Democrats (instead, say, of some inherit ideological or tactical flaws). This, of course, would be absurd to say. No, SJP is not the problem. Nor are those who support BDS. The problem is the complete lack of emotional mobilization on the part of the Jewish student body.
Let us compare the two student movements at hand: pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. The former sets up cute booths distributing pamphlets. I’m sure they host various speakers in closed classrooms. They smile, they’re quiet, and they lose. The latter, on the other hand, engages in outrageous conduct. They transform the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to the Blood Bucket Challenge. In NYU, they post “eviction notices” on Jewish students’ dorm doors, mocking the IDF protocol of alerting Palestinians of incoming destruction. In Columbia, during “Israel Apartheid Week,” they construct mock security fences on campus to illustrate the Israeli “apartheid” system. They scream, they harass, and they win.
I want to throw out another comparison–– this time, between the general Jewish student body and Muslim student body. Imagine a situation where a university, say either Columbia or UC Berkley, proposed a ban on Halal meat on campus (specific types of permitted meats under Islamic law). I think you know what would happen. The Muslim student body would burn the campus down. They would engage in behavior similar to that of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) during Vietnam. In other words, they would engage in behavior normal to someone who actually cares about the cause for which he fights. Now let us examine the analogous situation with the Jews. The university now decides to ban shechted meat (meat that is fit for consumption under Jewish law). Aside from the Chabad Rabbi writing an article in the school paper condemning the motion, there would be no reaction, no outrage. In fact, I submit it would have been Jews who pushed for such a proposal!
I think I have accurately portrayed the discrepancy. The Jews lack the emotion, self-pride and self-respect necessary in swinging public opinion on campus. Why aren’t Jews more like SJP if SJP knows how to win? Why don’t Jews employ tactics similar to those of SJP? For example, Jews could publicly burn a Palestinian or Hamas flag. They could construct fake rockets and leave them at the doors of the student body. They could set off alarms on campus to remind those of the pain and misery the Israelis deal with during Palestinian rocket-attacks. They could shout. They could take over buildings. But no, the Jews will never do that because it may be against campus policy and after all, such activities are simply not what a nice Jewish kid engages in…
Well, if that is the mentality, that’s fine. But do not get upset when you lose to SJP. Do not get upset when pro-Palestinian movements are successful in swaying opinion and gaining favor among the mostly undecided student body. The Jews must realize that one cannot gain respect if he does not have self-respect. The Jews lack the sufficient self and national pride that the Muslims have. When is the last time Jews have fought vehemently for a Jewish cause? We know they did a hell of a job opposing Vietnam and apartheid South Africa, and supporting Civil Rights and LGBT efforts. However, when it comes to their own brothers and sisters in their homeland, they seem to be rather complicit and incredibly opposed to employing the very tactics they employed for their other crusades.
The Jews have no one to blame but themselves. They need to call for a truly emotional mobilization, like their Muslim counterparts. National pride continues to allude the Jews, and as long as it does, they will sway no one. No one is impressed by a constantly guilt-ridden, apologetic and frightened political/social movement. No one. Especially a college student who wants to see heart and soul. Emotion is what works on campus, not necessarily tidy rational political argument. The pro-Palestinian movement understands this. The Jews simply do not.