I had the chance to swing by the Five College area last weekend when the Hampshire BDS conference was taking place. In addition to a quick run through the sleepy Hampshire campus (home of not just Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine, but also the Eric Carle Museum), I had the chance to meet with a bunch of students who have been at the forefront of battling not just divestment, but a whole host of anti-Israel activities that take place on a regular basis throughout the Happy Valley.
As has been reported for the last decade or two, campus supporters of Israel have it pretty tough these days. While support for Israel across the country still ranges in the 70-80% range, a large part of that other 20-30% seems to be concentrated on college campuses. And in places like Amherst and Northampton, significant numbers of school anti-Israel organizations are supplemented by a community beyond the campus who share their views, creating a zeitgeist whereby hostility to the Jewish state is “in” and any other attitude is marginalized or shunned.
In certain locations (notably the Five College area and certain Californian and Canadian campuses), the situation has gotten so bad that threats, physical intimidation and even violence accompany social ostracism directed at those who may not share the Free Palestine/Israel Apartheid/BDS agenda. While the cops haven’t been required to save Hampshire kids from threatening mobs yet, there have already been cases of students leaving Hampshire because of the toxic atmosphere created by militant hoaxers like Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine.
Given a situation more unpleasant than anything I remember from my college days, I was curious as to learn how local Israel supporters were holding up, and was thrilled to find out that they are not only holding their own, but they have only begun to fight.
For example, I was surprised to discover that hostility to Israel has been allowed to pollute nearly every level of academic discourse. After dodging a SJP pat-down next to a cardboard “Apartheid Wall,” one would think the classroom would serve as a refuge, but apparently tales of Israeli brutality (sans facts and context, of course) are regularly dragged into there as well.
But one student, who was clearly appalled at having to deal with ugly “aren’t the Israelis behaving like the Nazi’s” accusations (in a Holocaust history class no less), told how he took it upon himself to correct the record and fight the good fight whenever the Middle East conflict was dragged into yet another inappropriate venue. Asked how he felt about having to deal with such rubbish on a day-to-day basis, he simply proclaimed that he was ready to continue to fight for what’s right until the day he died.
In addition to their courage in the face of hostile and aggressive critics, this group was also impressive in their humility and humanity. There are certainly some people I work with who have legitimate issues with interfaith and inter-community outreach (especially when it’s designed to limit what Jewish groups can do on campus while leaving Israel defamers free to pursue BDS or any other agenda they like). But at the same time, it says something about the hearts of Israel’s Happy Valley supporters that they choose not to grow bitter about what’s been going on at Hampshire and elsewhere, but continue to combine their readiness to fight for the good with a willingness to reach out to others, even those uninterested in outreach (for now).
Do these young men and women have all the answers? Of course not. Do they need help (especially from those of us who are interested in listening to what they have to say, rather than just telling them what they should do)? Certainly.
But we should keep in mind that in addition to knowing who’s who and what’s what on their own campuses, these folks have already demonstrated that proud Jews and Zionists, friends and supporters of Israel cannot and have not been cowed by loud mobs with shriveled souls whose only offer false history, fake victories and hatred for the Jewish state masquerading as humanitarian concern for the Palestinians.
History is replete with tales of small armies defeating much larger ones. In fact, what is Jewish and Israeli history if not a tale of winning out over overwhelming odds? And unlike the opposition, the group of kids I met with isn’t going to waste time celebrating their wonderfulness, and talking about being a generation of giants. Rather, they seem content with rolling along as happy warriors who, like David, are ready to bring giants to heel in the morning while praying for peace before they hit the sack (with, I hope, a fair amount of cold pizza and beer in between).