Why the Jews?

There’s a joke that my father often tells about a Klan rally. The Grand Wizard yells “Who is responsible for all of life’s problems?” Everyone yells “The Jews,” but one man yells “the bicycle riders.” Puzzled, the Grand Wizard asks “Why the bicycle riders?” The old man replies just as puzzled, “Why the Jews?”

Yes, why the Jews? Why are we to blame for everything? We’ve been blamed for the Black Plague, we’ve been blamed for the Great Depression and we were blamed for Germany losing the war. And now, according to Students for Justice in Palestine, Zionists are to blame for high tuition at my alma mater of CUNY Hunter.

According to the Million Student March – Students for Justice in Palestine Contingent, the “Zionist administration” is to blame for higher rates of tuition because the colleges “invest in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, host birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine.”

So, because the college is allegedly investing in Israeli companies and allows Birthright to advertise under freedom of speech, tuition rates are rising? Those darn greedy Jews Zionists just want money for their evil plots!

Evil Zionists apparently are doing more than just raising tuition, they “reproduce settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education,” and “aim to produce the next generation of professional Zionists.” In other words, although students might think you are learning about sociology and nursing, they are actually being subtly inducted into the Cult of Ben Gurion and Begin on the sly. How very devious.

Paranoid rantings aside, the march itself has nothing to do with Israel. The Million Student March Palestine contingent (which at the time of the writing of this article had 31 people registered to come) demands tuition-free education, cancellation of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers. Israel has no party to this entire conflict, and many of my Israeli socialist friends would likely be supportive of all those policies!

So, why bring in the Zionism angle? I’d say that it has a lot more to do with the names on the CUNY board of trustees, names like Judah Gribetz and Barry F. Schwartz, both who sit on the board of trustees of CUNY. It has a lot to do with names like Jody Gottfried Arnhold, Cathy Weinroth, Ruth B. Newman and Sheila L. Birnbaum on the Hunter College Foundation Board of Trustees. It would be rude to say “Jews” after Auschwitz, but saying “Zionists” allows you to hate Jews and look progressive doing it. I’m open to hearing alternative theories, but so far, I’m not seeing any.

All around me, the same tropes appear. “Zionists” are evil, have no right to free speech, have no expectation of safety, and worse, cost the hard working public too much money.

One brief example. Last week, my friend Leora Eisenberg was intimidated at a lecture at the University of Minnesota, where an Israeli speaker, Professor Moshe Halbertal, was shouted off the stage. This denial of free speech was lauded by Meredith Aby-Keirstead, spokesperson of the Anti-War Committee, who boasted that an “apologist for Zionist war crimes spoke only sporadically, as his lies were interrupted again and again by protesters who refused to listen to his anti-Palestinian hate speech.”

Worse, Professor Halbertal is apparently to be blamed for “stalled contract negotiations with frontline union workers,” and for accepting a $5,000 honorarium to speak. One gets the impression that in Aby-Keirstead’s mind, the $5,000 honorarium would have magically become the millions required to settle a contract dispute. But alas, a Jew Zionist came and ruined everything with demands for money and education!

My friend Leora will go to college next year. Because she is a proud Jew who believes in Israel’s right to exist, she might be blamed for rising tuition, unfair labor practices, and for any other conspiracy for which “Zionists” will be blamed.

And that’s not right.

But who is going to do anything about it?

About the Author
Elke Weiss is currently an Israel Government Fellow, working in Biodiversity. In her spare time, she's the Content Director for Act For Israel, an Iengage Fellow for the Shalom Hartman Center, a Media Fellow for Chinese Media Center, a novelist and a rabble rouser.