Knowing Jewish History as a Means of Defending Against the Campus Assault on Israel

Jerry Ostrov has given us permission to reprint excerpts from his recent book, Oy Vey, It’s Time to Apply – A Cultural Guide to Colleges for Jewish Parents. Last month Ostrov showed us how to prepare our college-bound kids Jewishly. This chapter helps us prepare our children for the anti-Israel rhetoric they will be exposed to when they leave for college.

— Jerry Ostrov

This chapter may strike some of you as being politically incorrect and, indeed, I make no apologies if that is your reaction. The issue at play is the campus assault on Israel, and the invidious de-legitimization of Israel phenomena that is taking place on college campuses across America. But, before identifying areas of concern, let me emphasize that

  1. Jewish students have never had it so good on university campuses across America, and
  2. the temperature of the campus assault today is much lower than it was in 2002 when a number of major college campuses, such as Columbia and San Diego State, were seething with anti-Israeli sentiment.

But, what is it all about? To answer this question, a bit of modern Jewish history is required.

Sixty miraculous years ago, the State of Israel was created. It is common knowledge that the creation of the state of Israel was supported by Harry Truman, albeit with a bit of ambivalence. Witness, for example, Truman’s editing of the US statement of recognition in which Truman excised the reference to recognizing “the government of the Jewish state” and wrote in his own hand “the provisional government of the state of Israel.”

More after the jump.
Midwifed by the United Nations which gave its blessing to a Jewish homeland in the ancestral land that had been occupied by Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs several thousand years ago, the events of November 29, 1947 are now the stuff of both history and legend. Older Jews within our community can recount clearly where they were when the final vote of the UN General Assembly, meeting at Lake Success, was counted with 33 nations voting in favor of partition (with the French vote in favor of statehood having gone a long way to carry the day), 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absence — more than enough for the two-thirds vote needed for passage. The partition plan was intended to resolve the bitter hostilities between Arabs and Jews by apportioning the land based on population and location. Under the Partition Plan, the Jews of Israel — the Yishuv — would receive about 56% of the territory (then occupied by about 500,000 Jews and over 400,000 Arabs) and the Arabs would get the remainder (then occupied by over 800,000 Arabs and about 10,000 Jews).

Countless countries that now revile the State of Israel supported the partition vote and the creation of Israel as a homeland for the tattered remnants of what had been European Jewish society. Socialist countries, including the Soviet Union, cheered the communal instincts of the new country, and, in particular, its system of kibbutzim, or collectives, where adults shared the work of the community according to their means
and children were nurtured in equally collective environments. But, almost as soon as the vote was taken, all hell broke loose in this new country, with more than one percent of the population (Arabs and Jews) perishing after the first few months of the conflict

Grand Mufti Amin Al Husseini becomes close friend of Heinrich Himmler, Head of SS (Nazi Officers). Amin Al-Husseini is given a private tour of Aushwitz death camp by Himmler, where he insists on seeing first-hand the murder of Europe’s Jews. 1943, Amin Al-Husseini Visits Nazi Death Camp Aushwitz with Head of SS Heinrich Himmler. Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al Husseini had plans for construction of a concentration camp in Nablus (Palestine) to implement the “final solution” to exterminate the Jews there as an extension of Hitler’s plan in death camps like Aushwitz. The Mufti’s “hatred of Jews…was fathomless, and he gave full vent to it during his period of activity alongside the Nazis (October 1941-May 1945). His speeches on Berlin radio were anti-Semitic to the core: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them – this pleases God, history and religion. This saves your honor God is with you.”

Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem and a Nazi collaborator during World War II, issued instructions for the Muslim evacuation of the country so that the armies of the Muslim world could slaughter the Jewish population without killing Muslims in the process. On the day after the partition vote, Arab mobs attacked Jews in Jerusalem and thus began the most perilous five months of Israel’s existence. On May 15, 1948, the day after the end of the British Mandate and the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, the armies of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt combined forces and unleashed a fearsome holy war, or Jihad, against the fledgling Jewish state.

The war waxed and waned while world Jewry, not yet powerful enough to mobilize either US or international support in favor of the fledgling nation, held its breath. Armed with primitive weaponry, Molotov Cocktails (home made incendiary devices) and sheer grit, a mere 35,000 Haganah fighting men and women and a few thousand settlers held off the British-trained Transjordan Arab Legion as well as the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Jerusalem, and its 100,000 Jews, most old, religious and non-arms bearing, along with a few Haganah fighters were cut off by the Arab armies. The Jerusalemites were denied water and held in siege for much of the time from early 1948 until June of that year, with the lifeline to the outside world being strangled day by day. The main road from Jerusalem to Latrine was cut off and the city’s Jews were in constant peril as Egyptian columns marched toward Jerusalem from the South and the armies of the Arab Legion advanced from the North and the East. The Yishuv became desperate. After repeated defeats, 1,500 Haganah fighters were assigned to forging a lifeline to the city. Finally, Israeli freedom fighters were able to hew a back door supply route to Jerusalem via the Judean Hills. Called the Burma Road, the route traversed old donkey trails and high desert wadis and passes, and marked the beginning of victory for the Jews of the Yishuv. The Jewish world heaved a sigh or relief.

The first of two truces occurred during the period June 11 to July 8, 1948, at which time a U.N. partition plan which would have given the Galilee to the Jews and the Negev to the Arabs was rejected by both sides. Only ten days later and after significant Israeli battlefield gains, a second truce took place during the period July 18 to October 15, 1948. It was at this time that Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. Mediator for the Arab Israeli conflict, attempted to forge a lasting agreement, again based upon a Jewish state in the

Galilee, and the annexation of the Arab areas, including the Negev, by Transjordan. The plan was again rejected by both sides, but, this time, Bernadotte was assassinated.

After a continued period of fighting, during the period February 24, 1949 through July 20, 1949, the new state of Israel signed separate armistices with Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan and Syria, with the result that Israel remained on a land area about 50% larger than originally provided by the U.N. partition proposal of the first truce. Significantly, the armistice lines were not borders in the sense of the national borders
adopted by the Treaty of Paris in 1919 after the fall of the Axis powers in World War I. Rather, as noted, the lines reflected the military placement of the day-lines which are commonly referred to today as the pre-1967 borders or the Green Line, with the Gaza Strip occupied by Egypt and the West Bank occupied by Transjordan.

For the Arab world, the armistice lines were a tragedy, conveying, as they did, considerably more territory than would have been ceded to the Jewish state had the Arab world acceded to the partition vote earlier in the year. But, for almost 30 years, these lines held. There were, of course, incidental skirmishes and “warm” wars. Most
noteworthy, in 1956, after Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal, Israel, at the behest of France and England, invaded the Sanai so that English and French forces could establish positions at the Suez Canal, based on the pretext that the area was too unstable for Egypt to manage. While the plan worked militarily, the timing was unworkable for the United States which had its hands full with the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and other international matters. Ultimately, the U.S., fearing a more widespread military engagement, called off its allies. But, by and large, the status quo was maintained, with a United Nations Emergency Force stationed at the Canal to provide a buffer between Israel and Egypt.

Then, in 1967, the clouds of war hovered in earnest over Israel. Once again, the combined armies of the Arab world began to mobilize in a combined effort to push the Jewish state into the sea. Egypt expelled the U.N. peacekeeping force at Suez, closed the Straight of Tiran to all Israeli flag vessels and massed 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks on the Sanai in preparation for invading Israel. Israel entreated King Hussein of Jordan not to enter the war, but, it was too late. Jordan had signed a defense pact with Egypt and was readying itself for invasion, as was Syria.

On May 23, 1967, the Knesset huddled in fear and determination. A furious period of international diplomacy followed. But, fearing itself isolated, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin decided to attack the Egyptian air squadrons on the ground. The Israeli attack came on June 5, 1967, and, in the aftermath, virtually every one of Egypt’s 300 fighting aircraft was demolished and 100 of its best pilots killed.

Nevertheless, the war continued, with Egypt’s tank divisions moving north through the Sanai and Jordanian units attacking from the Jordanian West Bank. With victorious campaigns in both sectors, the Israeli army took both the Sanai and the West Bank. The ancient lands of Judea and Samaria were again in Jewish hands after 2,000 years.

Who, among those who were able to read and take note at the time, can forget the picture of a young Israeli, Yosi Ben Hanaan, on the cover of Life Magazine, as he was the first Israeli soldier to emerge from the Red Sea onto Egyptian soil. And, who, among those who can remember, will ever forget the scenes of Israeli soldiers marching triumphantly into the old city of Jerusalem and kissing the stones of the Western Wall, the storied foundation wall of the Temple of Solomon. Further into the former territory of Jordan marched the brave, victorious Israeli soldiers. In the end, as a result of a defensive war instigated by a blood thirsty Arab world bent on Israel’s destruction, Israel won, as the spoils of war, the area now known as the West Bank, consisting of such ancient biblical areas as Jericho, made famous by Joshua’s three thousand year old military campaign, and Hebron, the second most venerated site in Israel and the ancient burial ground of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Many Arabs fled the West Bank that day, not wishing to remain under Israeli rule, and with elation and relief, Israel began reclaiming the biblical sites that had been denied the Jewish people for over two thousand years. In East Jerusalem, not a single Jewish temple or holy site remained, each having been destroyed by the fleeing Arabs, many of whom fled further into Jordanian territory. Eventually, Jordan, after repeated attempts on the life of King Hussein, fought back a number of emerging militant refugee groups with bloodshed reaching a peak during September 1970-Black September. In July 1971, one of these groups, the PLO, was expelled from Jordan with Yasser Arafat being forced to take up quarters in Lebanon.

Not because they had occupied a land called Palestine, but because of the need for self-identification, these refugees who now called themselves Palestinians, found themselves unwanted in the Arab world. In no Arab nation other than Jordan were Palestinians granted citizenship. Instead, as the sheiks and kings of the Arab world wallowed in oil revenues, the Palestinians were left to squalid conditions in refugee camps which served the rest of the Arab world as a convenient whipping boy for condemning alleged Israeli aggression and cowardice. Adding to the hypocrisy of the day, eventually Jordan let go of the disputed territory and left it to Yasser Arafat and terrorists of his ilk to define the political provenance of the West Bank.

Oil money talks and eventually the world succumbed to the Palestinian created myth that a nation called Palestine had existed before the 1967 war and that its valiant people had been dispossessed because of Israeli aggression rather than Arab bellicosity. As developing and developed nations, alike, worried over the prospect that Arab oil producers would turn off the oil spickets, these same nations conveniently lost
sight of the fact that never, in the history of warfare, had a victorious nation fighting a defensive war against outside aggressors given back territory it won without a negotiation and reparations.

Importantly, little of the above history now reaches the ears of prospective Jewish college students. The reasons are manifold: Jewish kids today and many of you, their parents, only know of the Holocaust and the State of Israel as history-something that was of concern to an earlier generation, but not to yours. Today, Israel’s army, the Israel Defense Forces, is viewed by much of the outside world, including many of your college bound children as being strong, almost to the point of invulnerability. This, despite the fact that the tiny nation of Israel is surrounded by several hundred million inimical Arabs, was almost defeated in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, has few allies other than the United States and has been on the receiving end of terrorist action, indiscriminately lobbed missiles, suicide bombers or Intifada-hungry masses, almost from the moment that Yasser Arafat and his forces were allowed to return to the West Bank as part of the now discredited attempt to reach peace known as the August 20, 1993, Oslo accords. Finally, without a strong Jewish orientation, first hand exposure to Israel and the sense of identification that comes from being raised in a traditional Jewish setting, our young Jewish high school students have no reason to seek out what they don’t know and attempt to find solutions to questions they have never asked themselves.

In short, our young people are putty in the hands of what is becoming a highly organized effort on many college campuses to discredit Israel and, in the guise of promoting Palestinian rights, to challenge the very foundations of the Jewish state. While many such detractors claim that their quarrel is with Israel and not the Jewish people, the distinction is illusory and transparent. Indeed, such anti-Israeli posturing is the 21st Century version of anti-Semitism clothed in a veil of political correctness for, without the State of Israel as a homeland and beacon, it is very unlikely that world Jewry would long survive. The slogan, “never again” was created not as an idle sentiment, for a second Holocaust — this time, with the destruction or substantial weakening of Israel — would mean an end to the Jewish people as we now know it. In 2002, there was a constant drumbeat of anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses, often fomented by one or two faculty members or one or two pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian organizations. The drumbeat became so loud, the classroom invective so piercing and the intimidation so pronounced that, in October 2002, almost 300 university presidents felt compelled to sign an open letter decrying anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist intimidation on the nation’s college campuses.

Not everywhere, but on a number of college campuses, ranging from Marquette to American University to Columbia, well organized Muslim student groups, and their faculty supporters who are sometimes protected by academic chairs funded by Arab oil money, continue to unleash invectives-admittedly, at a noise volume nowhere near the boisterous, academic shouting that existed in 2002, but, nevertheless, troubling. For example, recently, at the University of Rochester (a school with a substantial Jewish presence), the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi and the director of the affiliated Ghandi Institute for Nonviolence was forced to resign his post after having said that a culture of violence pervaded the world and that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players.” And, as recently as February and June 2010, a Muslim student group at UC Irvine repeatedly shouted down Michael Oren, the American-born, Israeli Ambassador to the United States, provoking the condemnation of the chancellor of the UC System and, ultimately, the suspension of the group.

Consider also the following excerpts from a March 24, 2009, report of Khaled Abu Toameh, a veteran journalist, who has covered Palestinian Affairs for more than 30 years, and who was reporting on a campus trip which he made around the time of the 2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza:

During a recent visit to several university campuses in the U.S., I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah [on the West Bank].

Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be-suicide bomber.

I was told, for instance, that Israel has no right to exist, that Israel’s “apartheid system” is worse than the one that existed in South Africa and that Operation Cast Lead was launched only because Hamas was beginning to show signs that it was interested in making peace and not because of the rockets that the Islamic movement was launching at Israeli communities.

I was also told that top Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in prison for masterminding terror attacks against Israeli civilians, was thrown behind bars simply because he was trying to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Furthermore, I was told that all the talk about financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority was “Zionist propaganda” and that Yasser Arafat had done wonderful things for his people, including the establishment of schools, hospitals and universities.

The good news is that these remarks were made only by a minority of people on the campuses who describe themselves as “pro-Palestinian,” although the overwhelming majority of them are not Palestinians or even Arabs or Muslims.

The bad news is that these groups of hard-line activists/thugs are trying to intimidate anyone who dares to say something that they don’t like to hear.

When the self-designated “pro-Palestinian” lobbyists are unable to challenge the facts presented by a speaker, they resort to verbal abuse.

On one campus, for example, I was condemned as an “idiot” because I said that a majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas in the January 2006 election because they were fed up with financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

On another campus, I was dubbed as a “mouthpiece for the Zionists” because I said that Israel has a free media. There was another campus where someone told me that I was a ‘liar” because I said that Barghouti was sentenced to five life terms because of his role in terrorism.

And then there was the campus (in Chicago) where I was “greeted” with swastikas that were painted over posters promoting my talk. The perpetrators, of course, never showed up at my event because they would not be able to challenge someone who has been working in the field for nearly 30 years.

Over the past 15 years, much has been written and said about the fact that Palestinian school textbooks don’t promote peace and coexistence and that the Palestinian media often publishes anti-Israel material.

While this may be true, there is no ignoring the fact that the anti-Israel campaign on U.S. campuses is not less dangerous. What is happening on these campuses is not in the frame of freedom of speech. Instead, it is the freedom to disseminate hatred and violence. As such, we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out, the standard bearers of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel screeds are often in the small minority, but, equally often, they are very aggressive and vocal in their tactics. And, who or what is there to stop these campus Israel bashers or counter their one-sided arguments if our boys and girls are led to these same campuses with little or no sense of their Jewish identity other than gifts held over from their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. The answer is not all bleak because organizations such as Hillel (and its superb cadre of campus rabbis) and other Jewish groups, including the Israel on Campus Coalition (made up of over 30 pro-Israel organizations each of whom has at least one staff person dedicated to Jewish campus issues) are marshalling their considerable resources to set the record straight. And, through organizations such as Taglit-Birthright, young Jewish students and adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are being given the opportunity to see Israel first hand and learn what is really happening in the only democracy in the Middle East. But, these organizations can only go so far.

It is incumbent on we Jewish parents to impart our children with both a sense of Jewish identification, Jewish pride and an understanding of Jewish and Israeli history as they head of to college and a potentially much more strident environment than they have ever experienced in the past. For those of you who can utilize it, I have included in capsule form as Appendix D at the end of the book a list of significant religious mileposts (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) and significant Israeli mileposts. The appendix is entitled “Guide to Religion, Judaism and Israel for the New College Student. For others of you who find such a tool too simplistic or just plain not helpful, I urge you marshal the considerable resources of your respective Jewish communities to prepare your kids for the opposing points of view which they will likely encounter while in college.


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