The Fierce Battle for Israel on Western College Campuses
The Jewish State is fighting wars for its very survival against barbarous, genocidal foes like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But far outside the Middle East, ferocious battles are being fought on the campuses of the world’s great universities – this time for Israel’s reputation and good name. The consequences of failure are too horrible to contemplate, including the destruction of Israel’s economic lifeline through economic boycotts that germinate on campus and pass into the mainstream.
I became an Israel campus warrior in 1988 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe first sent me as Rabbi to Oxford University. A steady stream of attacks on Israel were launched by the likes of Hanan Ashrawi, Saeb Erekat, and Yasser Arafat himself. Many of these speeches took place at the world-famous Oxford Union. Our Oxford University L’Chaim Society responded with five Israeli Prime Ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Shamir, and Ehud Olmert. We partnered with the Union for most of the speeches including mesmerizing defenses of the Jewish state delivered by a young and hyper-charismatic Bibi Netanyahu.
Since those days the battles have become ever more ferocious with the much more timid pro-Israel groups at America and Europe’s leading universities being clobbered by Students for Justice in Palestine, Israel Apartheid Week, and BDS.
At NYU, in the heart of a city with 2.5 million Jews, SJP regularly stages die-ins that feign murder at the hands of the IDF, mounts an Israeli apartheid wall, and serves “IDF Eviction Notices” on students to convey the brutality of the Israeli regime. In September, Mahmoud Abbas received 20 standing ovations from NYU students three days before he accused Israel of genocide at the UN. Aside from my son Mendy who is an NYU undergraduate, there was not a single protest. The formal pro-Israel group on campus would later tell the New York Observer that they did not protest Abbas lest they legitimize BDS, as if there is some comparison between holding a banner outside a lecture theater and calling for the economic destruction of an innocent nation.
Last week I traveled back to Oxford with my close friend Dennis Prager for a debate on Israel versus Hamas that was easily the most hard-fought debate on Israel I have ever participated in. In an aggressive and merciless contest, our opponents in the debate threw monstrous charges that Israel is an apartheid regime, that it murders Palestinians with impunity, that Israel is a quasi-Nazi government, that Israel seeks the theft of Palestinian land and the eradication of the Palestinian people, and that Hamas is a legitimate resistance movement whose terrorism is an inevitable and organic response to Israeli colonial rule. As for America, it is like ISIS. The Islamic State beheads only a few prisoners but America annihilates innocents in Pakistan each and every day with drone strikes. There is no real difference.
Rising to speak, I looked at the huge assembled crowd of students and felt a righteous indignation bubbling up within me. My people were under attack. Whatever the odds arrayed against us, I had an opportunity to strike a blow at one of the most influential speaking platforms on earth.
Islam is a great world religion, I said, that took my people in from the Catholic expulsions of Spain and Portugal. Islam pioneered the just treatment of prisoners of under the greatest of all Muslim warriors, Sultan Saladin, who invited the Jews back to Jerusalem after his conquest in 1187. Ninety years earlier they had been slaughtered to the last woman and child after Crusader conquest. We Jews dare never forget Muslim kindness.
But Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Tonight we hear world-renowned academics justifying terrorist mass murder in Allah’s name because Palestinians feel aggrieved at Israel’s existence. When the Jews of Germany were turned into ash, soap, and lampshades under Nazi rule they did not respond by blowing up German nurseries and buses. There is no excuse for terrorism. Not now. Not ever.
Islam is disgraced not only by those who murder in its name but by educated and lost souls who dignify terror with grievance.
The Dalai Lama has been under brutal Chinese occupation since 1950 and he has never become a monster.
As to the charges that the Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, the West Bank was illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 yet no one ever complained of an occupation. Israel has tried since its creation to make peace with Arab states and has endangered its security with repeated territorial concessions that were met with nothing but terror attacks.
What we learned from Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 is that should Israel withdraw from Judea and Samaria – which is not occupied but disputed – it would lead immediately to the creation of another terrorist state run by Hamas. Israel would be sandwiched between two terror launching pads intent on its total destruction.
Hamas is a genocidal organization that proudly touts its charter calling for the annihilation of Jews everywhere. It is a greater menace to Palestinians than Jews. It aids and abets honor killings of Palestinian women. It murders gay Palestinians, shoots Palestinians who dare protest its rule, ruthlessly crushes any form of criticism, and ululates when British and American civilians are murdered in Islamist terror attacks. It has ended any semblance of democratic rule in Gaza. When I arrived in Oxford, I did not see air force and army bases built in the heart of the college campus. No civilized nation would ever consider using students as human shields. But Hamas builds its military installations under hospitals and nurseries so that children can serve as bulletproof vests for cowardly terrorists.
Israel is a just and righteous democracy that affords 1.5 million Muslims-Israeli citizens – almost the same number that live in Britain – greater freedoms and human rights than any Muslim country on earth.
The world Jewish community and Israel’s non-Jewish allies need to wake up. Israel is under vicious attack at European, American, South African, Australian, and Canadian universities. It’s a battle we can win if we step up our game on campus and begin to courageously fight back.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” served as Rabbi to Oxford University for 11 years. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he is also the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year competition. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.