Sue Fisckoff writes in the JTA about the off season preparations of Team Israel, aka Hillel, the Jewish student organization. The article highlights the very real panic the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement has caused and its automatic equation with anti-Semitism in the minds of some.
Amanda Boris is nervous about what she”ll face when classes resume at the University of Wisconsin later this month. “There”s an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism on my campus,” said the incoming senior.
We begin with some descriptions of actual anti-Semitism, namely an ad denying the Holocaust and anonymous internet posts, which sound bad if not exactly a groundswell of hatred. But within a sentence, we move to an unnamed professor charged with “making openly false statements about Israel.” No examples are given, but the professor whoever she or he is, is now in league with neo-Nazis and people who believe Jews had it coming. Whatever the real threats this student faces are now conflated with political views that differ from hers, and it sounds like Hillel”s trainings on Israel advocacy are doing nothing to sharpen that distinction. The article does not give any other examples of the titular “anti-Israel” sentiment “on the lesson plan,” implying in the classroom.
Rather, the focus is on the BDS movement, which is predicted to be “better organized, more prevalent and more vitriolic” this school year. The first two seem quite likely, but no evidence of the latter is given. Instead, anti Divestment students are warned that their foes have…better technology!
Whereas past years might have involved handfuls of anti-Israel students passing out photocopied flyers, last year saw a high-tech traveling exhibit of Israel”s separation barrier, complete with an embedded plasma TV showing anti-Israeli images.
Now we come to the heart of the matter, divestment resolutions on campus.
Only one of those proposed resolutions passed, in a non-binding student body vote at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. But every time such a bill is put forward, activists say, the charged atmosphere leaves lasting wounds.
Actually, Berkeley passed one too, and it was vetoed by a campus President. And what are those lasting wounds? Seeing Jews who disagree with you.
When the student government at the University of California, San Diego voted on a divestment bill in April, Hillel campus director Keri Copans noted some Jewish students standing across the room with the pro-divestment crowd, even as most Jewish students stood with her in opposing the bill.
The article does not actually interview any of these strange creatures, these Jews for BDS, But their very existence is painful,and Copans feels bad for them.
“Divestment bills come and go, but these are Jewish students,” she said. “I want them to have positive Jewish experiences, and that”s not what they get by being glared at across the room.”
However much pain is being felt, it seems clear that Hillel has NOT drawn the lesson that truly representing all Jewish students means allowing for a range of positions on Israel. Instead, students with differing views or who just don”t want to engage in this debate are compared to a piece of defective furniture.
“For the average student, Israel is a problem – and they don”t want more problems,” said Michael Faber, longtime Hillel executive director at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y. “It makes that leg of their Jewish identity wobbly.”
Wayne Firestone, the Hillel executive, said: “We want the students to be prepared, not paralyzed with fear.
We are in the identity-building business, and the Israel issue is one we are standing up for.”
Free advice, Michael and Wayne: lay off the carpentry metaphors, stick to the actual anti-Semitsim your students face, and stand up for them and their values, not the “Israel issue.”
PS The article also interviews StandWithUs as a “pro-Israel” organization, last seen on Muzzlewatch making Jewish Voice for Peace members feel highly unsafe with slurs and threats on their family members.