Thursday, April 15th | 3 Iyyar 5781

December 1, 2015 7:00 am

For Jewish College Students, Knowledge on Israel is Power

avatar by Judith Bergman

Brandeis University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Brandeis University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A new Brandeis University study shows that over half of all Birthright candidates do not know how to answer even ‎the most basic questions about the Jewish state, making them functionally illiterate concerning Israel. The ‎study seeks to understand and assess Israel literacy and is a continuing project with participation of ‎researchers from the university’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Cohen Center for ‎Modern Jewish Studies. ‎

The study found that regardless of the students’ background — for example, whether they had attended Jewish ‎day school or not — and the ranking of their university, relatively few Jewish students were Israel literate. ‎This is among students who are interested enough in Israel to apply to go on a Birthright trip; results would most likely be even more depressing among those who were not ‎Birthright candidates.‎

The results are truly disconcerting at a time when anti-Israel motions and boycott, divestment, and sanctions activity are rampant on US college ‎campuses and Jewish students are met by an unprecedented wave of antisemitism. As the authors of ‎the study say, Israel literacy is “the requisite knowledge to participate in productive conversations about ‎Israel.” Without knowledge, it is going to be near impossible to participate in any kind of meaningful ‎conversation about Israel. The authors go on to say that “we were surprised that Jewish graduate ‎students, including some who were training to become Jewish professional leaders, lacked some of the ‎foundational knowledge that would equip them to engage in Israel-related activity and education.”‎

It is indeed surprising, but perhaps not as surprising as one might think. For several decades now, ‎American universities have favored a postmodern ethos of highly politicized multiculturalism and the ‎pushing of “narratives” over learning about facts, and this ethos has naturally spread in the educational ‎system. Students are taught literary deconstructionism, feminism, poststructuralism and any ‎number of other “isms” that are mainly about undermining any idea of objective truth-seeking and fact-finding ‎in the real world. The fact that so few students know much about Israel — especially Jewish students — ‎is proof of just how successful this ethos has been.‎

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The debate on campuses, as it is today about Israel, is not about facts, but about shutting down those ‎voices that would even dare to venture into any kind of meaningful and factually based conversation ‎about Israel. The BDS movement and its affiliates naturally do not care for the truth about Israel, because ‎the truth is devastating to their cause of obliterating Israel. That is why they peddle lies, which they ‎proceed to yell and scream in the most emotionally charged language and with the most drama possible. ‎They enact their antisemitism at loathsome events such as Israel Apartheid Week and by acting out through the ‎most primitive forms of demonstrations against visiting scholars and others who try to lecture about Israel ‎on campus in a manner that does not fit their narrow, anti-Israel, antisemitic agenda. ‎

In the face of such challenges, it is tragic that Jewish students appear so ill-equipped to counter all the lies ‎on a factual basis. Because, regardless of the current ethos on campuses, where facts have such low ‎status, it is ill-advised and nearly impossible to try to counter the anti-Israeli campaigns launched there ‎without resorting to facts in one way or another. Once the BDS movement succeeds in making the war of ‎words — because it is a war — about something other than the truth about Israel and advocates of Israel ‎bow to that, Israel advocacy in the US will have made itself irrelevant.‎

Unfortunately, we live in times when truth is considered to be at best nonexistent and at worst a ‎Western, imperialist invention. There is no truth on American campuses today, there is only ideology ‎and the scrambling for “safe spaces” that will ensure that students are not confronted with anything that ‎will collide with the politically correct view of the world espoused by their professors. ‎

However, it is inconceivable that the case for Israel can be won on university campuses without ‎constantly, repeatedly, stubbornly and forcefully telling everyone even remotely interested in listening ‎the truth about Israel. Jews are the indigenous people to Israel and the historical and legal facts of Israel’s ‎creation must be disseminated repeatedly, until every single hateful liar has been brought to gobble up ‎his own untruths. There is no other way. You cannot bring people to learn the truth about Israel by talking ‎about how great the beaches are in Tel Aviv, how wonderful Israel is in high tech or how it is the gay capital ‎of the Middle East. That is all good, once people learn that Israel is as historical and legitimate as can be. ‎You need to establish the foundations first. ‎

Increasing Israel literacy among students is vital to any kind of Israel advocacy on campuses, which is why ‎the Brandeis study is so important. Knowledge is still power. You cannot stand up for something ‎of which you hardly know anything. Historical and legal education about modern and historical Israel’s ‎foundations is critical. ‎

However, the lack of literacy is not only a problem for the students involved — it is very much a problem of ‎their parents’ generation. These students are the product of an upbringing that cannot have been very ‎focused on learning much about Israel. As poor as the Jewish day schools have been in imparting much ‎significant learning about Israel, the illiteracy more accurately speaks volumes about the failure of these ‎students’ parents in inculcating in their children an interest in Israel. ‎

The lack of Israel literacy is not only telling of the crisis for Israel advocacy on campus. It is telling of the ‎crisis of large parts of American Jewry, which has lost touch with and interest in Israel.‎

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom. 

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