How to Defend Israel on College Campuses
As soon as I came out of my European History class last Thursday morning, I saw the grass in the distance littered with white papers. Right then and there, I immediately knew. I didn’t even have to approach the field because I had spoken with student government leaders days before and they had told me Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was planning something.
Yet while my heart dropped a bit, I tried to convince myself that maybe this display was about something else. Maybe it was celebrating something, honoring something, teaching something. Maybe it had something to do with real justice, a concept I had found elusive in this god-forsaken conflict. So I approached the display, with feelings of equal parts dread and hope, fear and optimism.
But my initial predictions were confirmed.
The display on the grass at my university consisted of roughly 577 pieces of paper. Each paper was meant to represent a child killed in the war against Hamas this past summer. (I should note here that 577 children did not die in Gaza – so that was the first and oh-so-expected lie that SJP peddled.) A large sign in front of the papers read, “In memory of the 577 innocent children who were killed during Israel’s 51 day recent assault on Gaza.”
This display had all the right words and touched all the right nerves. The objective was clear: Exploit the compassion of impressionable students passing by who would assume the information they were receiving was valid and who would not have time to question it.
Immediately my thoughts began to race. How would we respond to this? Should we even respond to this? Should we fill the grass with some symbol representing the number of rockets launched at Israel? The number of Jews killed in Intifadas? Place a sign next to the display saying Hamas killed these children?
I was going frantic. Surely the situation called for some sort of response. I called my friends and my mentors. How could we stop this propaganda from spreading on my campus?
It took me some hours later to figure out that everything I learned this past summer interning for CAMERA had taught me that it was in these moments that one needed to pause. And breathe. What seemed to last an eternity was but for a moment. It was fleeting.
This political demonstration would come and go. This too would pass. What mattered was not them but what we did with our own demonstrations. That we did not calibrate our projects to respond to them — giving them credence in the process — but to educate the greater campus community, to expose SJP on our own terms, and to transcend this tired conversation rooted in tit-for-tat maneuvers.
I spoke with my good friend Dumisani Washington that day and he reminded me that “we do not punch down.” He told me that SJP and its ilk were probably nervous because of advocacy events that happened this summer. Good. They should be. They spent a great deal of time writing rebuttal articles and tweeting defensively and trying to cover their tracks when their hypocrisy was exposed this summer.
And yes, they will do their old, usual, demonstrations on campus that we are used to. But the pro-Israel community awoke from its slumber this summer and came together in, arguably, unprecedented collective fashion to show support for the Jewish State. And now, plans are in the making. Wheels have been turning. Groups have been brainstorming, creating, and growing. Thousands of people are protesting anti-Semitic operas; students are demonstrating against the bigotry and hypocrisy of Israel bashers. SJP and its ilk cannot even begin to imagine what is coming.
My initial apprehension at the pitiful demonstration they set up was misplaced. Their mask is peeling away. Their racism, which they cloak in the veneer of social justice, is being exposed for all to see. Their demise has begun. All of their displays are merely morose commentary trying to delay the inevitable.
If you wake up one day to unexpectedly find some of their mishagas displayed on your campus, remember to first breathe. Pause and breathe.
Remember this summer and how we rose together. And remember that ultimately your task is not to explain away the fake flaws of Israeli society. Your task is to proclaim the beauty of your people’s heritage and that great movement for emancipation known as Zionism.
Chloe Simone Valdary is a consultant for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and the president and founder of CCAP- supported Allies for Israel. This piece was originally published in the CAMERA on Campus blog, In Focus.