As Israel’s cease-fire with Hamas enters its third week, the war is just beginning on college campuses across North America. With classes barely underway, we are learning of isolated incidents reflecting angry reaction to the summer war in Gaza. A Jewish student at Temple University is punched in the face and subjected to anti-Semitic slurs. A professor at Binghamton writes an opinion piece titled “Renounce, Divest and Sanction Israel.” A senior at Brandeis is confronted by a Palestinian flag in the common area of her suite (it was subsequently taken down.)
While many of the Jewish community’s most committed, trained and educated students will lead the charge in support of Israel, writing editorials, standing up in debates and building support for Israel in the important corridors of college life, the majority of Jewish students will stand to the side. Woefully ignorant of even recent Mideast history and highly reactive to the tragic pictures of death and destruction from Gaza, some will react with distress and ambivalence. Others will distance themselves from Israel, join the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement or Jewish Voice For Peace and become advocates for the Palestinian cause.
Even strong supporters of Israel may be silenced in the classroom when confronted by a professor sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, teaching about the Middle East from an intellectually biased or unbalanced position.
As Israel draws conclusions from the latest war with Gaza, so must we. Our students are largely unprepared to confront the anti-Israel theatrics they are sure to encounter on campus. Whether products of Jewish day schools or Hebrew school, their knowledge of Israel history and current events is lacking. Born in 1996, this year’s incoming freshmen have little memory of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, much less how Israel came to acquire these lands in 1967. They know Israel only as an occupier, responsible in this latest war for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Gazans.
Now more than ever we must bring our students into the tent of Israel education and engagement, if for nothing else, to prepare them for what they will encounter at college and at best, to instill in them a sense of pride and duty in standing up for the Jewish state. For the last 12 years, The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel program has been educating high school students about Israel and the Middle East, training students to lead the pro-Israel movements on campus. Spots are still available in the Class of 2016. For more information contact Linda.Scherzer@gmail.com.