Telling the Truth About Israel on College Campuses
On Wednesday night, my son Mendy held a demonstration inside an event held by the Students for Justice in Palestine. They were screening a documentary by Israeli filmmaker (or should I say anti-Israeli filmmaker) Lia Tarachansky, called On the Side of the Road. The description of the film is “This is the story of those who fought to erase Palestine and created an Israeli Landscape of Denial.” The event sought to smear Israel’s name by placing the Palestinian refugee crisis in a vacuum, showing only cruel Israeli militias single-handedly forcing the native population out of their homeland.
My son sought to show the other side of the story. While there were indeed hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, there were even more Jewish refugees driven from Arab lands and Iran beginning at the same time. The number of these refugees amounted to 850,000 Jews. My son and his fellow students held six foot signs displaying this number.
These refugees fled their countries due to the fierce anti-Semitic atmosphere that had begun to envelop them. In the 1940s, and especially after 1948, pogroms were set against the Jews of the Middle East, with hundreds killed. In Iraq in 1941, 180 Jews were murdered, with nine hundred Jewish homes, schools, businesses, and synagogues destroyed. In Tripoli in 1945, 140 Jews were massacred and another 4,000 left without homes. In 1947, 75 Jews were murdered across Syria, and another eighty were killed in the anti-Jewish Cairo bombings of 1948. That year another 82 Jews were murdered in Aden, in what has come to be known as the “Yemeni Holocaust.”
These killings were not carried out by armies, but by enraged civilian populations who stormed the Jewish areas of their cities. My son put this information onto signs and set them before the SJP’s audience for all to absorb. Perhaps that would help them understand that the Palestinians weren’t the only refugees in 1948. There was another side to the story.
He also tried to put the 1948 war into its proper context. This was not, as the SJP would have students believe, a one-sided Israeli attack on a helpless Palestinian population. On the contrary, it was the Palestinians and the Arab league who turned down the UN partition resolution in November of 1947. It was they who plunged the fledging Jewish state into a desperate war of survival. And, indeed, it really was a war of survival.
The Palestinian and Arab leadership promised a Genocide of the Jews in Israel. Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini, the most influential Palestinian leader of the time, was an outspoken ally of the Nazis during World War II. He even performed Arabic broadcasts of Nazi radio propaganda, trying to compel Serbian Arabs to join the Nazi cause. He was a personal friend of Heinrich Himmler, and an open admirer of Adolph Hitler. In 1943, he called on Palestinians to “Drive all Jews from Arab and Mohammedan countries” and to “Eliminate the scourge that Jews represent in the world!” He also wrote in his Memoirs that he indeed allied with the Nazis in order to have “a free hand to eradicate every last Jew in Palestine and the Arab world.”
Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and a powerful figure in Egypt, promised to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The Secretary General of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam, announced at a Press Conference at the start of the 1948 war “This war will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.” Eventually one of every hundred Jews in Israel would be killed in the bloodshed that followed his remarks, including 2,400 civilians. Perhaps those attending this event on the Palestinian crisis of 1948 should understand just what a threat the newborn State of Israel really faced as it absorbed the invasion of five armies.
There was another side to this story. The NYU students deserved to see it.
When the SJP organizers saw him and the other students protesting the event, they were outright shocked. “Is this allowed?” asked the director. It was, and Mendy had the papers to prove it. The director was at a loss for words, and just stared at the display. In the decade that the SJP has been operating, they had never seen something like this inside the walls of their very own event.
Some members of the SJP walked over and looked at the demonstration. They combed the signs searching for something to fight about. But there were no slogans and no opinions that they could take on. Every sign held only the coldest, hardest facts. Mostly facts they never knew, and would certainly never learn through the propaganda fueled activities of the SJP.
They were at a loss. And when they try to assault the State of Israel with lies and one-sided out-of-context story telling, perhaps they should be.
The fight for Israel at leading Western universities is the singles greatest PR war on campus. It’s a war that is winnable if Jewish and pro-Israel students learn that the time has come to fight back.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has just published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.