I have a good friend, a professional in the financial world and a mensch: soft spoken, kind and a scholar. Beyond being a true expert in his field, he has a passion for world affairs in general and the State of Israel in particular. Therefore, he spends a lot of his free time studying the nuances and complexities of the region (yes, it's not all black and white, despite what you may have heard) and enjoys sharing his views with peers, community members and even government officials at times.
Then he shared with me the reason for his indignation. Apparently, one of the more prestigious college campuses in the area was hosting a series of anti-Israel events — not the kind that focus on a peaceful solution between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, but rather the other kind, focusing on demonization of the Jewish state. On that campus, and in spite of the hostile environment, there was a grain of hope. A small group of students who came together under the banner of pro-Israel partnered with other self-proclaimed “progressive” forces on campus, including some of the openly anti-Israel ones, to hold an event focusing on Israel. Searching for a speaker, they reached my friend and told him of the environment on campus, urging him to come and share his views of Israel, an invitation he happily accepted, realizing the importance of standing up for Israel under such trying circumstances.
However, our tale does not end here. As my friend was trying to receive information about the event, the student group reached out to him to notify him that his invitation was “withdrawn” since he was perceived now by the other organizers (who initially approved his invitation) to be a “right winger” who does not suit their “goal” for the event. My friend was furious. It was clear to him that the so-called “progressive” organizers did not want the audience to be exposed to a different viewpoint about Israel.
Sadly, such activity is not surprising. Acts of cowardice and political trickery have unfortunately been prevalent, but what made the whole story sadder was the pro-Israel students’ response to my friend’s exasperation: they were petrified. They feared that they would be further marginalized on their campus, with their views on Israel making them less popular with other students.
I have disguised the details here to alleviate the students’ concerns. But the fact remains that this episode is not unique today. It’s all too common.
I am not angry with the pro-Israel students, nor was my friend. We understand the environment they find themselves in. However, we should not turn a blind eye to this gloomy state of affairs. The struggle on college campuses is real, and is getting uglier by the day. Stifling the pro-Israel students’ freedom of speech – whether directly or indirectly – is the dismal reality on many campuses. It is not everywhere, fortunately, but like venom penetrating an organ of the body, if not dealt with immediately and efficiently, it may spread and constitute a grave threat to the body’s very existence.
The solution? At StandWithUs our mission is to educate the students on Israel and provide them with the necessary information to stand up and speak confidently about Israel. We try to support them whichever way we can, and provide them a safe and warm environment. Strengthen their hearts and their faith in the only Jewish state, and make them realize that whatever they face, they are not alone. We will always be there for them. And so should you.
Shahar Azani is executive director of StandWithUs Northeast Region, a global Israel education organization.