The Marriage of Apathy and Anti-Semitism

As cliché as it may sound, the old saying is true; you are your own worst enemy.

Over the course of this past Passover, as is the case with every Passover, we recounted the miracle which was the Israelites’ exodus from the Egypt. Faced by an enemy much stronger than they, the Israelites escaped persecution with the help of G-d.

This case, one of the first of its kind for the would-be Jewish people, set an eerie precedent for the years to come. Over the course of a long and colorful history, the Jewish people have faced many enemies, none of whom have succeeded in their ultimate goal: destroying of the Jewish people. Be it the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Greeks, the Romans, or the Nazis, to name a few, no group who has attempted to annihilate the Jewish people has succeeded. The enemies were bound together by a uniform, an accent, a religion, or a common creed; they were enemies whose drive to destroy us and our culture drove us to defend ourselves. And once we and the members of the world banded together to confront these enemies, they faltered and failed.

What happens when we become our own enemy?

As is stated in my bio, I am one of the chairmembers and founders of a very successful Israel Advocacy Club. Because of this, I have had many wonderful opportunities over the past three years to network with other students who, like myself, dedicate their time to ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills-set they need to defend, promote, and appreciate Israel wherever they are. In many of the conversations that I have had with leaders of various Israel Advocacy clubs from across the country, both on a high school and collegiate level, there seems to be a recurring theme which pervades clearly in every discussion about the troubles that they have with Israel Advocacy on their campuses.

While anti-Semitism is a large part of this theme, anti-Semitism is only half the equation; the other half is apathy. Coupled with a lack of an interest, an apathetic view towards responding to anti-Semitism on the part of many Jewish and non-Jewish students who are Zionists, unchecked, casual anti-Semitism has emboldened anti-Semites as well as anti-Israel bigots to act freely without fear of opposition. Every new attack on the fabric of Jewish and pro-Israel life on campus seems like the one that preceded it. The marriage between apathy and Anti-Semitism has begun to cripple us; how can we not take the blame for part of this?

Now, before anyone reading this jumps to any conclusions about my personal beliefs, I’d like to make something abundantly clear: I wholeheartedly believe that Anti-Semitism is one of the worst issues on many of or campuses today. Many friends of mine are afraid to wear Kippot, a religious head-covering, due simply to the fact that there is a chance they will be discriminated against for being. Swastikas are spray-painted on the walls of Jewish fraternities. Rachel Beyda, a student at UCLA, had her ability to serve on a Judicial Board called into question simply because she’s a Jew. Anti-Semitism is running rampant on our campuses and, due to this, many students shy away from involving themselves in matters relating to Israel; many have lost interest in defending Israel because of Anti-Semitism, many are scared. Yet I believe that an apathy on the part of many Zionist students, coupled with anti-Semitism on the part of Israel’s detractors on our campuses has created an environment which condones, supports, and fosters Israel bashing.

Many wouldn’t figure this, but Americans statistically are more pro-Israel than not. According to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of Americans sympathize with the Israeli government, and roughly 62% sympathize with the Israeli people. Yet it seems as though there are far more anti-Israel students on our campuses than there are pro-Israel students. However with groups such as SJP and the BDS movement throwing nearly all ideas of morality out the window as two of the largest sources of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments on campus, it has become a case of a loud minority poised up against a quiet, somewhat apathetic majority.

In a conversation I recently had with one Elizabeth Frankel, chairperson of the Israel advocacy club at HANC (Hebrew Academy of Nassau County), I was told first-hand about how apathy has affected Israel advocacy at her school. “[My biggest issue is] finding ways to relate to people who don’t care … They (the students) think that they don’t matter in the large scheme of things. Whether they call a Senator or support Israeli products, they don’t think they make a difference.” It seems, based on this quote, as though a large part of the issue is that the students have lost interest in advocating for Israel simply because they don’t think they make a difference. As sad as this may sound, many students believe this to be the truth.

Another contributing factor to the rise of this type of poisonous environment is, as stated before, the lack of a response to anti-Semitism. It seems as though many students have become desensitized to anti-Semitism leading to, what Zak Kukoff, one of the presidents of TorchPAC, a Pro-Israel movement on campus at NYU terms as “casual anti-Semitism.” “I think it’s part of a bigger issue where Jewish students see anti-Semitism as “less bad” than other types of bigotry,” He recently told me. “I’m not convinced that it has to do with Israel apathy, but I think that casual anti-semitism does contribute to anti-Israel sentiment.” Having become so desensitized to the situation, people seem to let anti-Semitism slide by without even being looked at twice.  

Even in its most basic form, anti-Semitism is pure evil. However, when we sit on the side and fail to fight it, it only grows worse; we aid and abet the efforts of the enemy. For while there are many students who stand up are not afraid to fight, there are many more who are capable, just not willing.

?אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי? וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי? וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתַי

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

About the Author
Jordan Lustman, 18, is a High School student in Los Angeles, California. He is both a chairman and founder of the YULA (Yeshiva University of Los Angeles) Israel Advocacy Club, one of the most respected and recognized High School Israel Advocacy Clubs in the nation. He is both heavily involved with AIPAC, and an MZ Teen Intern for StandWithUs.
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