Presence On Campus Matters

The semester may be coming to a close, but the problems Jewish students face in university have not gone away. As we know, campus anti-Semitism masquerading as criticism of Israel continues to be the norm, with the marginalization of Jewish students remaining the norm in student unions.

There is no shortage of stories of just the most horrific lies perpetrated against Israel. From “pink washing” to charges of forced sterilization, and of course to IDF personnel hunting down Palestinians for simply the thrill of the sport, the libels of wrongdoing levied against Israel seem to get more and more creative with each passing day. The most common of such libels is the claim that Israel fires missiles into civilian areas in Gaza unprovoked, for no other reason than to commit
collective punishment motivated by colonial supremacy.

I often compare the claims levied against Israel, such as the preposterous accusation that Israel loves killing Palestinians, particularly children, to the blood libels of the European Middle Ages. According to Phyllis Goldstein’s “A Convenient Hatred: The History of Anti-Semitism”, on Christmas Day in the year of 1235, the Jews of the town of Fulda, Germany were accused by the Christian population of killing 5 Christian children for the purpose of pilfering their blood. The bodies were taken to Emperor Fredrick II, who subsequently ordered an investigation. Naturally the accusations were baseless, and he found that both the Hebrew Bible as well as the teachings of the Talmud specifically prohibit the consumption of blood, much less command it. He decreed against charging the Jews with this crime, making it an offence against the state.

The similarities to the historic blood libels and today’s malicious slander of the Jewish State disseminated on university campuses masquerading as human rights in the propaganda campaign of BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) against Israel goes further.

Goldstein mentions the Church as the primary force in the lives of medieval Christians, and one of the only sources of instruction and stories, such as the stories of the blood libel against the Jews. It was the lower clergy, who presided over the matters of the local township who were spreading this libel, and the upper clergy, such as Pope Gregory in 1271, would issue statements refuting them.

Yet, despite this, accusations of blood libel were repeatedly levied against local European Jewry, and the immense suffering by order of Christian courts continued unabated.

Here is where the similarities to this historic atrocity and the contemporary libels against Israel go one step further. The reason the ruling of the upper Christian clergy was not heeded a was because of a very important factor: distance. The Europe of the time had no radio, no television and no social media. Distance was a major factor in everyday life, to both Jew and gentile alike. So when the upper clergy of made a statement, it mattered less and had less of an impact than the clergy in one’s own neighborhood.

This is roughly the same scenario on university campuses. While there does not exists the same relationship between the upper clergy (elected municipal, provincial and federal government) who denounce and condemn BDS and its Jew-hatred, and the lower clergy (“elected” student governments who promote a libellous narrative against Jews and Israel), distance is still a factor. It doesn’t matter that the Canadian government can dispel the lies told on campus, and categorically say that Hamas is using Palestinian people, including children, as human shields against Israel, and it doesn’t matter that the entire Ontario legislature unanimously voted to condemn Israel Apartheid Week. I do find that of some comfort, but the students who are susceptible to the anti-Israel lies won’t see or hear that.

They’ll attend the student-run “anti-oppression” workshops where Israel is constantly slandered with this contemporary libel. They’ll see the die-ins staged by “activists” in their campus rotundas. They’ll listen to the compelling rhetoric and fall for the lies.

That is, unless someone is actually physically there to counter it. And that’s why it’s so important to have a pro-Israel student presence. The university students in the middle of the conflict, who can, sadly, easily turn anti-Israel with some brainwashing, need to see a pro-Israel presence. They need to see the people, not the papers, talking about how BDS is nothing more than a 21st century incarnation of the Nazi boycotts of the 1930s. Most importantly, they need to know that Hamas is accountable for the suffering that happened this past summer, not Israel.

Statements, speeches and condemnations do have their purpose. One could argue that it gives our side the air of legitimacy it needs. But in politics perception is reality, and if something, like a vote in parliament condemning BDS, is out of sight, naturally it is out of mind. And on a bustling campus where getting drunk nominally is prioritized before international geopolitics, when die-ins, rallies and pro-Palestinian flash mobs stick out from the usual college experience, it leave an impression on the apathetic passer-by.

Only a strong presence in the realm in which anti-Semitism is flourishing- university campuses and student unions – will be useful in dispelling the lies told there. Only a group of Jewish and pro-Israel students proudly waving their flags and letting people know that there IS another side to this outrageously slanderous narrative can make a real difference in the minds of their peers, because that way the problem of distance is solved.

About the Author
Willem Hart is a social science and Jewish studies student at York University in Toronto. He is an active member in the pro-Israel scene, and a lifelong disabilities service worker and advocate.
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