We Hold the Moral High Ground: Rosh Hashanah Time to Reflect and Recharge

“In every generation there are few who stood up to the many – who fought in the daylight even when darkness surrounded them. We hold the moral high ground as we have through centuries.” – Avi

University and less so college campuses today are replete with acrimony, especially with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The anti-Israel narrative propagated by the Palestinian and Hamas ideology has been adopted as the discourse of choice mainly in arts programs. University faculty and student unions have become drivers, if not functionaries, of propaganda political agenda which aims to disrupt, if not destroy, the Jewish State of Israel.

Tools utilized to further what is often termed as radical leftist ideology against Israel manifest in multiple layers fomenting antisemitism and discord. Some include the mislabeling of Israel as an “apartheid state” or “racist state” and promoting a boycott agenda paralleling the South African experience, which rightfully brought down the apartheid regime in that country.

Jeremy Corbyn and many of his peers have been influenced and impacted in the last decade by this radical leftist agenda which zeros in and unfairly maligns Israel. It is quite unfathomable that he has attempted to edit the definition of antisemitism drawn up and approved by dozens of countries through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. More urgently, when forced by his own party to accept the full definition, he had planned on including a side letter which still said he has a right to make accusations against Israel. His party leadership rejected this letter.

Israel is a complicated nation state which must be understood in context of its neighbourhood and security situation. Despite its challenges (and there are many), Israel is the only democratic state in the region. Israel does not practice apartheid as proved through its liberal values of freedom, democracy and human rights. Israel is imperfect as any other democratic nation (including Canada), yet it is treated unfairly.

While Israel’s imperfections are magnified by its detractors ad-nauseam, those same imperfections are never highlighted regarding its often violent and oppressive neighbours – like Syria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia,Turkey and many others surrounding the tiny Jewish state. University academics and students are ready to point fingers at Israel – a country which celebrates gay and women’s rights among all others – but fail to point out gender apartheid and violence against LGBTQ and others in the countries enveloping Israel.

The purveyors of anti-Israel sentiment are kings of hypocrisy. They condemn Israel’s security separation barrier, yet aim to barricade Israel through economic boycotts. They support cultural and academic boycotts against the Jewish state – yet use free speech as a cover to protect their own ideological narrative. They fight for women’s rights and gay rights at home, but call it “pinkwashing” when Israel promotes these values. They were quiet about Syria’s massacre of its own citizens, but rage against Israel when it defends itself against Palestinian terrorism.

The list of hypocrisy is endless.

The case for Israel is clearer than day, yet university leftists have created an anti-colonial narrative against the Jewish state – even while Jews are indigenous to the land itself. Evidence of Jewish presence is littered throughout the land in ancient digs and ruins from the Golan to the very south and in between. There can be no greater testament to Jewish presence than archaeological evidence, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, written partially in Hebrew as far back as 150 C.E.

Rational expression on campus, however, does not bode well for the new humanities liturgy that replaced oppression warfare now considered mostly won. The new fight is against the Jewish state, for it validates the antisemites ensconced on campuses and protected by the sacred argument of “free speech.” That same argument has been promoted by white supremacist neo-Nazis for decades who have argued and fought for the right to say what they please about the Jews.

Free speech is indeed sacred and must be defended. But hostile speech on campus against the Jewish state is insufficiently balanced with a counter point of view. If higher education is supposed to teach critical thought and provide 360 degrees of analysis to arrive at a decent conclusion, universities are obligated to provide counter views; otherwise, it’s merely propaganda.

A recent exhibit at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) is a perfect case in point. The exhibit promoted a Palestinian narrative widely adopted on campuses without a counterbalance to the exhibit. The exhibit was described as “art” because it was showcased in an art gallery. But it was not art. It was propaganda that would promote anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment – because it showcased only one point of view.

OCAD defended itself by pointing to free speech. It explained away the possibility the exhibit fomented hate by stating it did not violate the criminal code. Worse, the university attempted to satiate criticism by suggesting that in the near future it would host Israeli artists.

The free speech argument is lost once there’s a failure to exercise a direct counter point of view – especially when material might be deemed inflammatory and one-sided. With respect to the criminal code, this would not be for the university itself or its arbiters to determine – but for the Attorney General of the province – and therefore a case can be brought against matters believed to conform to hate speech.

Pro-Israel students have the winning hand even while they may feel they are swimming against the current on campuses. In every generation there are few who stood up to the many – who fought in the daylight even when darkness surrounded them. We hold the moral high ground as we have through centuries.

It is said, “in every generation one rises up to destroy us, in every generation we must seek our freedom.”

Rosh Hashanah is a perfect opportunity for our community to strengthen its resolve because we are on the right side of history.

About the Author
Avi Benlolo is the President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Jewish non-profit human rights organization. Avi is a prominent Canadian human rights activist dedicated to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy and human rights.
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