What Revolution? As American Campuses Roil, Israeli College Students Crack Open the Books

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election has set off a wave of hysteria across American college campuses. From “The West Wing” levels of righteous indignation before Election Day, the zeitgeist settings at many institutions of higher learning have since been ratcheted up to a DEFCON 1 nightmare scenario.

Dear reader, just take a look at what’s passing for higher education today: the banning of “controversial” speakers, a failed attempt to ban hummus from campus dining halls in order to avoid “cultural appropriation,” the creeping trend of “bias response teams” that are thinly veiled thought-police thugs, and the filing of a legal brief by nearly 20 U.S. universities against President Trump’s executive order suspending travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

And, to quote Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer,” “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”

While young Americans are being exposed to toxic levels of illiberal education, their Israeli peers are quietly slogging through their studies without the benefits of frat parties, safe zones or such illuminating courses as The Art of Walking and The Joy of Garbage.

Many American campuses are warping liberal arts education so as to indoctrinate today’s naive students into becoming tomorrow’s social justice warriors. And while approximately 60% of all freshmen college students in Israel major in the social sciences or humanities, college life here isn’t widely perceived as an ideological training ground for cultural revolution. Rather, Israelis tend to regard higher education as just another stage on the long rite of passage from youth to adulthood, nestled somewhere between serving in the Israel Defense Forces, a post-army trip to India and starting one’s own family.

Why is there such a discrepancy between the respective attitudes to higher education in the United States and Israel?

“Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains,” Winston Churchill said. And indeed, age may be a factor in how Israeli and American college students approach their education.

According to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study, Israelis are the oldest students in the developed world. The study shows that in Israel, the median age for obtaining an undergraduate degree is slightly above 27, compared with an OECD average of just over 23.

The good news is that students who tend to be more mature and serious than peers abroad has resulted in Israel having the second-highest percentage of adults with a post-high school degree among OECD member states. However, there’s trouble afoot in Israel’s halls of academe. The country’s higher education system is fossilized, operating with outdated methods and at an inadequate academic level, ultimately sending many students out into the workforce unprepared.

This disconnect between academia and employment is a problem Israeli students share with their American counterparts. In the United States, enrollments at colleges and universities nationwide peaked at more than 21 million in 2010, but have been sliding ever since. Out-of-control tuition, ballooning student debts and shrinking opportunities in certain professions are three probable reasons for this decline.

If history is an accurate guide, many of today’s student radicals on American campuses will outgrow this acting-out phase and go on to assume prominent roles in business, the arts and, of course, politics. Meanwhile, Israeli college graduates will probably have to pursue a good, stable life after receiving their diplomas while under periodic threat of armed conflict. The former group is hell-bent on wreaking chaos, while the latter can’t avoid it.

However, whether guided by dreams of social upheaval or social mobility, today’s world-beaters will eventually come to realize the wisdom of John Dewey’s words: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

About the Author
Gidon Ben-Zvi, former Jerusalem Correspondent for the Algemeiner newspaper, is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone in 2009. After serving in an Israel Defense Forces infantry unit from 1994-1997, Ben-Zvi returned to the United States before settling in Israel, where he and his wife are raising their four children to speak fluent English – with an Israeli accent. Ben-Zvi's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (