A Zionist Student’s Account at Columbia University

The following was written by Sam Millner, a Junior at Columbia University in New York City studying international relations and francophone studies. Sam grew up at my synagogue (Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles) where he was a student in our Day School.

“There has been a lot of news about a rise in anti-Semitism around the world. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudice are very present at Columbia. Coming from a liberal Zionist background, I consider myself progressive and forward-thinking. I studied Arabic in high school and I study Middle Eastern history at Columbia, so I was eager to engage with the many international students at my university who hail from Arab countries. The illusion of engaging in productive dialogue, however, evaporated quickly when I realized that many who claim to be pro-Palestine are also virulently anti-Israel. They want to dismantle the Jewish state.

These anti-Israel students have no clear vision for what would come after the destruction of Israel. Wrapped in vitriolic dogma fed to them by such groups as Students for Justice in Palestine, they are fixated on promoting the downfall of Israel. In doing so, they overlook the fact that there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel since the time of Abraham. They ignore the many Israeli contributions to the betterment of the world in science, medicine, agriculture, hi-tech, bio-tech, and cyber, and they deny the Jewish people’s right to a state of our own. The misinformation and anti-normalization policies in the anti-Israel camp are destructive to mutual understanding and the promotion of tolerance among students from around the world.

I want to be clear that I believe that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank also have a right to a state of their own alongside Israel. For me, to be pro-Israel means also being pro-Palestinian.

I have lost friends at Columbia who told me they are “anti-Israel.” My little sister at Barnard was told by a friend that she would stop talking to her if my sister went on Birthright-Israel.

This militant aversion to genuine intellectual engagement is a unique characteristic of the “anti-Israel” camp at Columbia and Barnard. These anti-Israel students have declined good faith offers from campus Zionist groups to hold joint events and therefore learn from each other. At the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) summit at UCLA last year, students were asked upon entry if they are “Zionist.” If they answered yes, they were barred. One of my high school friends is using Trump’s Executive Order on anti-Semitism to sue UCLA for discrimination because of SJP’s prejudicial screening.

At Columbia, an Israeli general studies student claims that he was discriminated against by Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, who reportedly denounced students who served in the Israel Defense Forces as “killers” in a student lecture. Dabashi has written for Al Jazeera claiming that Jesus was a “Palestinian refugee.” When a student shared the article on Facebook, I publicly noted that “Palestine” didn’t exist in Jesus’ lifetime (he lived in Roman Judea). She blocked me. Good riddance to her ridiculous propaganda feed. Yet, her attitude and actions prevent mutual understanding and the development of respect between students who hold different positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is a shame that academic environments that hope for honest debate have become so dysfunctional. Once there was potential for future leaders to create mutual understanding on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but now the hatred endemic in the Middle East has spilled over onto many college campuses.

My being a vocal Zionist at Columbia means getting stared down every day by people who advocate for the genocide of the Jewish people in Israel. Jews also have been increasingly isolated from campus intersectional movements and branded as “white” bogeymen.

The hostility that pro-Israel Jewish students face at Columbia is daunting and tiring. At the end of the day, I find strength and purpose when I think about how far the Jewish people has come since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For me, being surrounded by anti-Semitic social justice drones has pushed me ever closer to Zionism and the Jewish people.”

About the Author
Rabbi John L. Rosove is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) available at Amazon.com. His new book "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" will be published in November, 2019 (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press) and will be available at Amazon.com. John has written a series of 8 Jewish Life Cycle Guides that are posted on the Temple Israel of Hollywood web-site (http://www.tioh.org). The Guide “Preparing for Jewish Burial and Mourning” also appears on the web-site of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. (http://hillsidememorial.org/jewish-lifecycle-guide/). John writes a regular blog that appears at the Times of Israel at ​https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/john-l-rosove/. His Facebook site is www.facebook.com/RabbiJohnLRosove John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (age 34) and David (age 29). Daniel is married to Marina Javor Rosove. John and Barbara have one granddaughter.
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