Are we ready for Anti-Israel Week?

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-11-10

Like clockwork – or a recurring infection – Anti-Israel Week is returning to a campus near you.

One Israel-bashing website declares: “Mark your calendars – the 6th International Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place across the globe from from the 1st to the 14th of March 2010!” Note the duplicated “from” reflecting the organizers’ sloppiness. Note the organizers’ lack of awareness that a “week” is usually seven days, not 14. Their knowledge of history and their moral sensibilities are equally wanting, although that doesn’t stop them from becoming popular on many campuses.

In fact, of the 40 “cities” they claim as participants, 12 are Canadian, and many of those are actually just Canadian campuses. Still, the website indicates that Israel’s enemies are planning an elaborate assault on Israel’s legitimacy, just weeks from now. Are we in the Jewish community ready? Is our university leadership ready?

Pro-Israel activists need an action plan, and so do university leaders. Recently, when a series of academic administrators testified before the Canadian Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, most were so busy reassuring concerned legislators that all is well that they failed to acknowledge the trouble and dilemmas they face.

Of course, Canadian campuses aren’t hotbeds of anti-Semitism, but that doesn’t mean the scourge of anti-Jewish animus isn’t motivating and shaping many political attacks on Israel.

Administrators need to prepare carefully for Anti-Israel Week (repeating the actual name echoes the lie). They should keep five guidelines in mind:

First, academic freedom protects all students, enabling them to express a range of opinions on campus.

Second, civility is also a value on campus and must be nurtured. Professors and administrators should take advantage of teachable moments to foster a culture of civility and mutuality.

Third, no student should ever feel menaced or threatened. Hooliganish behaviour, even if politically motivated, should be punished harshly – and swiftly.

Fourth, Jews don’t need special treatment but deserve equal treatment. If there’s a no-criticism zone on campus around gays, women, blacks and Third Worlders, it should extend to Jews, too. If there’s a special attempt to be sensitive to particular groups that have been oppressed historically, Jews merit that sensitivity, too. Moreover, many of the groups trying to ostracize or delegitimize Israel are perpetuating traditional anti-Jewish tropes, accusing Jews and Israel of being at the centre of the world’s troubles, of being all-powerful, or of being devious and manipulative. These libels don’t pass historical smell tests.

Finally, leadership is about turning potentially destructive moments into constructive moments. Campus leaders – administrators, professors, and, yes, students – need to be proactive pre-emptive and creative in seeing the great opportunity here to turn a week or two of tension into a time of engagement and bridge-building, or at least a truce.

The pro-Israel community should also have some guidelines, including:

First, firefighters need to extinguish fires not stoke them. Sometimes anti-Israel activities are best ignored.

Second, your goal is not to convince anti-Israel activists of anything. Your target audience is other Jews and the vast majority of non-combatants.

Third, don’t let haters set the agenda. Far better to celebrate Israel than to get defensive.

Fourth, speak the language of campus on campus. Note that Arab autocracies are anti-democratic; apartheid doesn’t apply to a national conflict between two peoples, both of whom have blacks and whites as members; blacklists and boycotts are illiberal and close-minded; many of the attacks on Israel are wildly inaccurate; Palestinians help legitimate terror as a tactic, and that life is more complex than the simplistic sloganeering of Anti-Israel Week.

Finally, do your homework and, like good Scouts, be prepared. Read Alan Dershowitz’s devastating critique of the Goldstone report. Use a timeline and maps. Understand the background of the Gaza disengagement and the Oslo accords, which both resulted in massive violence against Israel after concessions, and, most important of all, understand why Jews are a nation, not just a religion, why we need a homeland, and why we have a valid historical, ideological, legal, political and living claim to Israel.