‘Anti-Normalization’ Said to Be Emerging as Top Challenge for Pro-Israel Students on US College Campuses
“Anti-normalization,” the newest buzzword surrounding university politics, may usurp the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as the leading challenge facing pro-Israel students, Jewish campus leaders told The Algemeiner this week.
Sara Weissman — the editor in chief of independent Jewish student newspaper New Voices — described her views in an op-ed she published last week begging the Jewish establishment to take notice of the anti-normalization trend. Titled “We’re Not Talking About BDS, So Why Are You?,” Weissman argued that boycott measures on campus have gone down, yet BDS continues to take center stage in the conversation about Jewish university life.
“The article was brewing for a while,” Weissman told The Algemeiner, explaining that over the first of her two-year term at the left-leaning New Voices, she’d observed the rapid growth of anti-normalization.
The term is often wielded by anti-Israel groups as an official policy of not engaging with Zionists, so as not to “normalize” their views — that can include everything from a conversation over coffee with a pro-Israel peer to allowing Zionists to attend programming.
The Chicago Dyke March’s eviction of pro-Israel LGBT activists was one recent example of anti-normalization at work that caught national attention, and The Algemeiner has reported numerous incidents of pro-Israel students being excluded from campus conversations.
Daniel Vainish, a student at the University of California-Davis, and a pro-Israel member of the LGBT community, told The Algemeiner he has been “shut down even when trying to have personal conversations” about the Jewish state with his progressive peers.
But, in Weissman’s article, she also called out “[r]ight-wing Jewish organizations…[who] marked speakers, professors, and student leaders too-reprehensible-for-campus before it was cool.” One of her examples of such behavior was the reaction by a segment of the Jewish community to BDS activist Linda Sarsour giving the commencement speech at a City University of New York graduation ceremony in May 2017.
Weissman explained to The Algemeiner that she has seen Jewish groups “too quick to call things we don’t agree with false information.”
“There is credence to the argument that some stuff is just not true and could be harmful, but I think people are sometimes not able to look past tone to see facts,” she said.
“Many campus-affiliated Jewish organizations put non-Zionism beyond the pale of acceptable speech within their walls,” she noted, describing a “litmus test” employed by both the political Right and Left, in which students who have opposing opinions about Israeli policy cut one another out of meetings and events.
Elan Karoll, co-president of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign’s Zionist group, rejected Weissman’s contention that Jewish and Zionist organizations have engaged in anti-normalization.
An organization discriminating in which programs to fund or host at its facilities is entirely different than threatening “don’t come to campus at all, or else,” said Karoll.
He added that he would never support any group that shouted down speakers with whom they disagreed, and pointed to the silent vigil held at Northwestern University in May when a convicted terrorist came to campus as an ideal example of the way to protest views one abhors, while upholding the free speech rights of all.
Karoll also maintained that, contrary to Weissman’s assessment, “BDS is still our biggest battle” and that any gains in challenging boycott attempts over recent semesters should only fire up Zionist students “to wipe it out for good.”
One thing Weissman and Karoll agreed on was their commitment to supporting the rights of all young Jews to hold and voice their personal views about the state of their campuses, Judaism, Israel or anything else.
“I think it’s healthy that different people in our community have different perspectives on what our campus priorities should be,” Karoll said. “Through these conversations we can all grow and learn. I respect Sara’s opinion, but I just have a different one and I think that’s okay.”
Weissman, a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley, said she truly believed it was possible to have civil and constructive conversation between Jews and non-Jews who hold conflicting views on the most existential of questions, though she laughed that she might be hopelessly hopeful.