An open letter to all pro-Israel, Zionist, and Jewish students (whether outwardly or not) on college campuses across the United States:
As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, your pro-Palestinian friends may have recently undergone a change. The absolutely despicable and disgraceful spectacle of your fellow students and classmates applauding for the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust is surely seared into your minds. Maybe you’ve been forced to endure letters from faculty – maybe your own teachers – excusing and minimizing the barbarity of this vile Einsatzgruppen-like massacre of innocent men, women, children, babies, the kidnapping of Holocaust survivors, the rape of female captives as if it was a just an expression of “anti-colonialism”.
Maybe you’ve been to Israel or have friends or family there and you look at everything above and don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. Or maybe you just ache for the pain and suffering endured by people who were subjected to a 24-hour attempted genocide. Maybe you’re discouraged and demoralized and you feel utterly and totally alone and betrayed by a society you thought you understood.
You are not alone. Many of us went through miserable time periods on campus in the 2010-2011 school year, as well as between 2000-2004 intifada period. It is true that this time, Hamas’s attack was so mind-blowingly hideous, but the reactions, the chants, the disgraceful behavior are all the same.
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. If history is any guide, and in this case it sadly likely is, expect the next two semesters at least to be absolutely out of control. I’m not telling you this to scare you, because there is nothing to fear. I am just telling you this because it is time to prepare.
Maybe you aren’t sad. Maybe you are feeling rage. You may be tempted to go and scream at these protestors. You may feel like you want to act out, maybe even do something destructive.
That is PRECISELY what they want you to do. They WANT you to confront them so they can whine and moan and post on social media how even in America they are victims of big, bad, bully “Zionists” (read: Jews). They WANT you to lose it and scream and get physical so they can point to you and say “see! They’re violent, they’re no better than we are, they are worse!”
You may think that you can convince them of the error of their ways. If only they could understand what you understand, know what you know.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME.
Many (although not all) of the ringleaders of these protests are professional agitators. Whether they get paid or not, this is what they do. They are not there to debate in good faith. In fact, most SJP groups have a strict non-normalization policy. They want nothing to do with you. They aren’t interested in the marketplace of ideas. They want to shut you down.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t win. You just need to keep your cool and remember these six things:
- Be PROACTIVE, not reactive. Do not feel like you need to respond to all of their provocations, instead spend your time planning your own programming that is geared at defusing them and debunking their pro-Hamas propaganda.
- Remember your goals. You’re not going to convince someone screaming “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” This is a waste of time. All that matters are how the other students walking around campus who are unaware of the situation perceive things. It’s their hearts and minds that matter.
- Smiling, being funny and clever, and being positive is way more attractive than rage. You may be boiling inside, but no one (who isn’t already hateful themselves) wants to participate in a hate-fest. Being smart about your counter-programming and capturing the attention of your fellow students, is how to win hearts and minds.
- BE CAREFUL when attempting to engage with a professor in class. Remember the power structure – they’re on the stage or the front of the class, you’re below them. They control how long the conversation/debate continues. They have been studying this conflict professionally full time, you may have seen something on Tik Tok that may or may not be accurate. Getting exposed on a technically is embarrassing and hurts your cause in front of the other students. It’s VERY hard to win a direct confrontation, but there ARE ways to challenge your teachers on your own terms.
- Be organized and have a clear set of rules of engagement. Don’t leave things to the last minute. Planning events takes time. Responding (when necessary) with counter-protests takes planning, and it’s way harder to do that when you’re furious or upset. Decide which of their provocations are worth responding to with clear lines (i.e. protest vs fundraiser etc) BEFORE they happen, and what type of response is appropriate (i.e. loud protest vs silent protest vs counter-programming etc).
- Remember there is a community of adults (although remember you are also adults!) that support you. DO NOT let your surrounding community dictate to you how to respond – it’s your campus and your situation. But also DO NOT be afraid to ask for help. We are here for you and are ready to assist with funding, connections, advice, and mentorship.
It will be ugly. It will be demoralizing. It may even make you feel unsafe. But you can get through this and even come out on the other side stronger, having made a difference both on your campus and beyond.
The biggest cliche in Jewish history is “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.” Maybe one day there will be a holiday commemorating this difficult time period as well. And maybe you’ll make the impact that someone tells their grandchild about someday.