Choose the Blessings, Recognize the Curses
This past week has been eventful, but what really caught my attention was a seemingly insignificant incident that frightened me more than almost anything else going on in the world right now.
On August 24, former UCLA law student and last year’s UCLA student president, Milan Chatterjee, informed UCLA Chancellor Gene Block that he had decided to complete his final year of law school at NYU.
In a letter to Block he explained why:
Since November 2015, I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by BDS-affiliated organizations and students. The smear and harassment campaign started with the false accusation that I (an Indian-American Hindu) was not “viewpoint neutral” when allocating funds, in my capacity as Graduate Student Body President, to a diversity event. What really occurred is that my administration and I abstained from supporting either a pro- or anti- BDS agenda [for the event]. This condition was explicitly approved by a UCLA administrator.
The letter goes on to detail the harassment by pro-BDS thugs, along with the indifference, bordering on collusion, by the UCLA administration. Although we have not heard a detailed defense from any UCLA official, based on the letter it appears fair to say that there is an atmosphere of hostility on campus towards anyone who expresses any support for Israel, whether they are Jewish or not — or even, as in Chatterjee’s case, if they refuse to take a stand against Israel.
What is so strange is that the UCLA campus is not located in a city renowned for antisemitism. This is Los Angeles, with one of the largest Jewish populations of any city in the world. How is it possible that a non-Jew has had to change schools in order to avoid the scourge of vile antisemitism? How is this happening just a few miles down the road from where I live?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that many of us believe good and evil can somehow coexist, and that as long we are on the “good” side, the existence of evil is just something we have to endure. Occasionally some student somewhere may need to move schools, but overall, we all have enough forums to express our support for Israel and to be Jewish, and we can afford to ignore, or at least not take too seriously, a bunch of hothead pro-Palestinian freaks whose activism was enough to cause a student to leave college. After all, UCLA has a Hillel, and Jewish chaplains, and plenty of students whose Jewish identity is known without causing them any difficulty.
Well, if that is your attitude, wake up. Reality is a very different place.
The last few weeks of Moshe’s life were intense — intense for him, in anticipation of his impending demise; and intense for the Jewish nation, also aware of Moshe’s imminent death, and at the same time aware that they were about to embark on the most significant national campaign since the Exodus from Egypt. But this time around they would not be led by Moshe, as they had been then and since. Moshe used the precious time left to him to publicly address the nation and impart important messages he felt would empower them and propel them in the right direction.
This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, begins in the middle of one of these addresses, and the opening words strike a sobering note: רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה – “behold I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” The word that stands out is “לִפְנֵיכֶם” – “before you.” Surely it was obvious whom he was talking to, and the Torah is not prone to superfluous verbiage. Clearly Moshe’s inclusion of that word was deliberate. He was warning the nation that no situation they would ever encounter would ever be 100 percent blessing or 100 percent curse. That is the challenge. What lies before you, he told them, will always be a mixture of blessing and curse, of good and evil. Make sure to recognize the bad in any situation and hone in on it, and excise it, before it overpowers you and takes control. Don’t let the existence of blessings fool you, said Moshe, because if there is a curse and it is left unchecked, the blessings will ultimately disappear.
The Chatterjee episode sends shivers down my spine. The insidious rise of antisemitism on American college campuses is not just a frightening reality in the present, but a scary prospect for the future. Many students of today will go on to become leaders in politics and the judiciary in the future. The small curse now will later be the dominant evil — and at that stage it will be too late. Silence is not an option. Bigots are bigots, and every victory gives them more confidence and greater strength. If we care about the freedoms we enjoy now, then we must raise our voices in protest if we want to enjoy those freedoms next year and in ten years time.
What is crystal clear is that while we seem to live in a paradise of religious tolerance where one is entitled to hold any view one wants, and to express those views openly, if things continue in the way they are going, voicing support for Israel, or even having the right not to condemn Israel, will soon enough no longer be an option. We must use the power of free speech that we still have to express our anger and disgust at the unwillingness of the UCLA administration to support those students who refuse to bow to the fascist tactics of pro-BDS hooligans actively trying to impose their vile views on anyone who disagrees with them. Right now we can still make a difference. But if we don’t use our blessing, it won’t be too long before that blessing is gone for good.