The David Project recently issued an important “white paper” that identifies the campus as the “primary path by which anti-Israelism enters the American public debate.” The report does a good job of describing the institutional and intellectual factors that are contributing to demonization of Israel on campus and that result — at some universities — in significant hostility toward Jewish students and faculty who support Israel.
These factors include an overwhelming percentage of professors who are ideological and promote leftist politics in the classroom; the influence and growth of Middle Eastern studies — a field that we believe is biased against Israel and whitewashes Islamist radicalism — and the significant impact of postmodernism and cultural relativism on framing the Middle East conflict.
Not specifically highlighted in the report is the impact of significant Arab funding of university centers and programs, the growing influence of Muslim student organizations that work in alliance with radical leftists and the failure of university administrations to uphold their own policies — and basic standards of fairness and decency — as they apply to Jewish students who support Israel.
In our view, the combination of these institutional and ideological factors creates an almost overwhelming structure — a system that is hard to influence, particularly by students, especially a minority Jewish student population. This is an asymmetric battle, which Jewish students cannot win by themselves.
Established Jewish organizations and Jewish faculty failed to stem the problem when it began, and even today they fail to fully understand the institutional nature of the battle. Their failures created a need for new organizations — such as The David Project, StandWithUs, Amcha, Hasbara Fellowships — and for new campus-focused efforts by existing groups like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and the Zionist Organization of America. Clearly, the problem as described by The David Project white paper requires a rethinking by Jewish leadership.
It is important to see, however, that educating Jewish students about Israel, The David Project’s main prescription, though absolutely essential, is insufficient.
To deal with the problem more fully, we suggest the following strategies for the Jewish community.
- Increase public awareness of the problem. The national media and Jewish organizations have failed to educate the public and the Jewish community about the extent of the problem on campuses. Jewish leadership and certainly Jewish media need to dedicate more effort to exposing the indecent situation on many of our campuses — a situation that no other minority in America would tolerate.
There are ways to break the silence, as we did with our film “Columbia Unbecoming.” In that video, a highly respected Hillel rabbi and a Jewish professor lamented their failure to speak out on behalf of the students who’d been harassed and intimidated by anti-Israel professors at Columbia University. (We had interviewed a dozen professors who were afraid to speak publicly.) For exposing the truth, we were, of course, demonized, called names, and charged with stifling free speech and attacking “academic freedom.” But no one was able to refute the testimony of the dozen students who complained on camera. Films like “Columbia Unbecoming” could and should be made about campuses across the country.
We need to expose the pernicious impact of big oil money on the integrity of the educational process. The Saudi influence at our leading universities needs to become part of the public debate. In 2003, The David Project helped a Jewish student, Rachel Fish, convince Harvard University to return a $2.5 million gift from an anti-Semitic sheik. Yet in 2005, Harvard accepted a $20 million gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for an Islamic studies program. Though Talal says “Israel is the obstacle to peace,” and though a JTA investigation links him to groups that produce curricula for public schools that include anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish materials, no Jewish group has challenged this donation.
We need to address the growing influence of the radical Muslim Students Association, which was first established in the 1960s with help from the Muslim Brotherhood and now has more than 600 chapters on campuses across the country. On some campuses, MSA members have physically harassed Jewish students. Many Muslim students come from cultures steeped in anti-Semitism; they should be required to attend sensitivity training about Judaism and about American values of tolerance.
Serious consideration must be given to legal remedies. The ZOA, Kenneth Marcus of the Washington-based Louis D. Brandeis Center and University of California, Santa Cruz professor Tammi Rossman-Benjamin have taken significant actions in that direction, using Title VI as a tool. Jewish students deserve the same protection afforded every other minority group on campus. Universities depend on federal funding; university administrations must be held accountable for ensuring a nonhostile learning environment for all students.
Finally, we need to educate the Jewish community that there is an organized campaign to defame the Jewish state and its supporters and that this battle on campus is just part of a broader assault on the Jewish people. This is clearly evidenced in Europe, and it will be in America, as well, if we don’t effectively deal with the current trends on campus.
Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser founded The David Project in 2002.