Elliott Hartstein

Selective Amnesia and call for Action on Campus Protests

Selective Amnesia and call for Action on Campus Protests

Seeing the outbursts and protests on college campuses and recently at high schools as well, is disturbing and makes me fearful for what Jewish students are having to cope with and what my grandkids may have to confront when they arrive at college campuses soon. Though there may be a lull after some of the recent commencements, it seems that the seeds have been planted and can easily erupt. It is sort of like the COVID pandemic, knowing it has not gone away and can reoccur in another strain at any time. Sadly, antisemitism has been like a pandemic for endless years, but the strain we have seen since October 7th has been one of the worst I have witnessed in my lifetime. Ignited by the Hamas horrific attack on Israel and Israels response in Gaza, the current reactions we have seen, seem to have lost sight of how we got to this juncture. In COVID there were those who did not want to believe in science, but in this antisemitism strain there are all too many who don’t want to recognize history. In these demonstrations, we have seen possibly some students who may have been initially motivated by empathy for Palestinians in Gaza and getting humanitarian aid to them, hijacked by others who have deep seated anti-Israel feelings and others who have an antisemitic bent blaming all Jews for what is happening in Israel or and the Middle East. We have seen too often any empathy overshadowed by hate, hateful words, and hateful conduct creating an atmosphere and environment that has been disruptive and made it difficult for many Jewish students to feel safe walking across campuses to the classes they were there to attend. Any intended compassion for Palestinians has evolved into rallies in support of terrorist Hamas, calling for destruction of Israel or as incubators of antisemitism.

It seems there has been a chronic case of selective amnesia by those who have been involved in or who have incited these demonstrations! It seems all have forgotten the brutal attacks and rapes and taking of over 200 hostages and killing 1200 by Hamas on October 7, and that many of hostages have been killed and too many remain captive. It seems all have forgotten that Israel had made Jewish settlors leave and relinquished Gaza to Palestinians as long ago as 2005, and that there was a ceasefire in effect when Hamas chose to attack. It seems all have forgotten that Hamas has for years lobbed rockets and mortars at Israeli communities and continues to do so. It seems all have forgotten that in their charter after the Oslo peace accords Hamas has disavowed all negotiation and has called for jihad and wiping Israel off the map. It seems all have forgotten that Hamas has vowed to return after October 7th to continue to work toward the goal of their charter. It seems all have forgotten that Hamas has absconded with and taken millions of dollars intended for Palestinian humanitarian aid, and used it to build tunnels and buy rockets to lodge attacks at Israel. It seems all have forgotten that Hamas has imbedded itself in Palestinian homes and institutions and used Palestinians as human shields. It seems all have forgotten that when Israel was formed by the UN in 1948 and the Arabs and Palestinians were offered their own land, they chose not to accept it but rather attacked Israel as they have in repeated wars. It seems all have forgotten that in countless peace initiatives where the Palestinians had an opportunity to begin to formulate their own state they would not agree to terms. It seems all have forgotten that the Arab nations surrounding Israel refused to take Palestinians that left Israel when it was formed and forced them into refugee camps. It seems all have forgotten that after years of persecution and unbridled antisemitism wherever they lived and after over 6 million Jews were slaughtered by Nazis during the Holocaust, Jews were given a refuge and Jewish homeland and Israel, and the Jewish state was formed. It seems all have forgotten that they have a right to defend themselves and protect themselves from those who would seek to destroy that homeland and disrupt their daily lives. It seems that all have forgotten that Oct 7 was and is the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. It is also significant that those who promote divestment from Israeli companies have forgotten that thousands of Palestinians have been employed by many of those companies to help them better their lives. I am hopeful that that those who have participated and all who might consider joining any demonstrations in the future, wakeup and become cognizant of the total picture and important facts and recognize that this this is not a binary situation where one can only support one side or the other. One can care about Palestinians and their right to have a better life and care about Israel and its right to have peace and security and likewise recognize that neither the Palestinians nor Israel would be in this current complex war but for the brutal terrorism and commitment to same of Hamas along with the sad nature of all wars in which many innocent people get killed. This is compounded by the immoral tactics of Hamas in using Palestinians as human shields and the miles of tunnels they have created to make this war more challenging and difficult than any other major war we have ever witnessed. I know that this is a hard war to wage to ensure Hamas does not remain in control and does not have the ability to remain a constant treat to Israeli security, and I know that as a matter of policy Israel as much as any nation is committed to minimizing civilian casualties. It is important however that Israel, as they continue this war to do what they deem necessary to defeat Hamas, that they be as strategic as possible to minimize the impact on civilian noncombatants and recognize that how the war is conducted has an affect not only on Israel, but in the world in which we live, on Jews around the world including Jewish kids on campuses everywhere. They must do their utmost in that regard to not allow Hamas to continue to manipulate the narrative of this conflict.

As for the demonstrations we have seen, there are also important questions about the catalysts for these outbursts on antisemitism and propping up of terrorist Hamas on our campuses, and how Administrators have dealt with them.

There have been statements by some officials that outside agitators with links to extremist Palestinian groups and funding have had a hand in organizing some of the demonstrations, and that may be true in some instances. Listening to students  interviewed on many campuses a common thread however is that all too often, anti-Israel rhetoric coming from Professors in their class rooms has been cited as laying the foundation for the tone and slant of many protests and the threats and hate hurled at Jewish students or those who support Israel. Such seeds for agitation coming from faculty is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in any institution. The parroting of unverified death statistics from bureaus controlled by Hamas daily by most media has added fuel to the fire. Even the UN which has its own bias, in the last week acknowledged that it was clear that that the number of women and children’s deaths are likely one half of the number that has been touted by the Hamas controlled entities. It is also significant that the death numbers which have been spread around fail to note that their numbers include combatants and Hamas supporters. Of course, all should have empathy for real innocents who are killed in any war, but to blindly repeat unverified death tallies coming from a terrorist-controlled entity should be seriously questioned on an ongoing basis by all media reporting on this conflict.

As for the actions of administrations, the maintenance and securing of a safe and secure learning environment for all students including Jewish students is their responsibility. That means that all students including Jewish students should not have to be fearful of intimidation and threats as they attempt to cross campus to get to their classes. They need to make sure their faculty are not using their classrooms to espouse anti-Israel propaganda and need to ensure that their programs and classes give an objective and complete understanding of the history and complexities of the Middle East. They need to ensure that that all students and others are held accountable when they engage in hateful and threatening or antisemitic conduct or disruptions which affect the safety and learning environments for all students. As part of equity and anti-prejudice education they need to include education in their faculties and student bodies on antisemitism along with their Diversity Equality and Inclusions policies. This lack of understanding of antisemitism is a serious deficiency and has been overlooked too long. In dealing with protestors who cross the line in promoting hate or disrupting the campus they need to hold such participants accountable and not reward them in negotiations for their conduct as we have seen in several instances in recent weeks. They need to fully support and work with Institutions that provide a support system for Jewish students like Hillel or Chabad centers, which likewise deserve support from others. They need to maintain security staff who understand and act when members of the student body or others cross the line and become a threat to other students’ ability to feel safe on campus. They need to promote and foster opportunities for civil dialogue on the perspectives and disagreements and possible paths for resolution of the conflicts between Israel and Palestinians.

Let us all hope that we see proactive commitment to creating a better and improved learning and safe environment for our kids and grandkids where they can get a foundation for their futures. We cannot afford to see anything that falls short of that commitment, and we must all actively push all colleges across the nation to address these concerns. Our High Schools where we have seen spillover of these protests also need to be more proactive to ensure that they do not become incubators of hate and antisemitism. It should be stressed that this is not and must not be a partisan issue, but one in which a unified approach is required devoid of political theater and grandstanding, where people of all political stripes come together to demand educational environments be created that are free of hate and hateful conduct and actions for a better future for all our kids and grandkids.

About the Author
Elliottt Hartstein is an attorney and a former mayor of Buffalo Grove Illinois, lived in Israel for 3 years when he was young and has been to Israel on numerous Missions, through JUF, through Young Leadership Cabinet and through the Wexner Heritage Foundation and also wrote a regular Op-Ed Colum for the Northbrook Daily Herald and is a long standing member of the Government Affairs Committee of Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and a member JAC.
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