This article originally appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate.
Spring's coming. Get ready for Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses across the nation. Here in Boston last week, Harvard got off to an early start: the college's Palestine Solidarity Committee placed mock eviction notices on students' doors, warning students that their rooms were "scheduled for demolition in the next three days." This was then likened to "the unlawful displacement of Palestinians."
That little psychodrama is just the prelim to a full program which will include anti-Israel films, the construction of an "apartheid wall" in the Science Center Plaza, and a talk by Hizbollah supporter, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky — who just may be the American Jew most proud to be ashamed that he's a Jew.
At Northeastern University, where Professors Denis Sullivan and Shahid Alam have proudly been working for decades to foment hatred of Israel (see www.shameonneu.com) the schedule is even more fulsome: From March 11-15, students will be shown two anti-Israel propaganda films, one even narrated by Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. There will be a mock checkpoint constructed on the Centennial Commons, and all week long there will be a lighted sign flashing: "End Israeli Apartheid."
NEU President Aoun, who has finally come under pressure to do something about his radical, anti-Israel/anti-Semitic professors, might find it useful now to emulate Jason Kenney, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who condemned Israeli Apartheid Week as simple anti-Semitism. Aoun, who is Christian Lebanese, surely knows that Middle East Christians are the ones suffering from something pretty close to apartheid – in every one of the lovely Arab-dominated states they nervously inhabit. Condemning the lie about Israel while outing the real oppressors would be a double mitzvah. True, he'd have a tenured tantrum on his hands. Meanwhile, the silence of the Jewish Studies Department there continues to astonish.
At Boston University, there will be a sham conference on "The Right of Return." Several scholars who oppose the idea that Palestinians in vast numbers should be allowed to flood into Israel, thereby extinguishing the Jewish state, have submitted proposals to give papers. As of this writing the "conference" conveners have not responded to any of them, so any pretense that their panel is "academic" is a farce. Just more political theatre.
So what do we do about all this? The ADL has said it is "outraged" by the Harvard eviction notices. Nice, but then what?
I attended a workshop last week at the mammoth, yearly AIPAC Policy Conference which addressed the surge of anti-Israelism on the campuses. The two speakers representing Jewish organizations that work on campuses came to promote what has become the Jewish Establishment's only acceptable strategy; it's called "retail engagement." Responding to anti-Israel activity publicly with counter arguments, they say, has been shown to be ineffective. "Debate," they argued, "has no audience." A better approach is to get to know other students personally, especially student leaders, to build relationships with them, to "make friends, not arguments."
Much of this makes sense. Cold facts and logic don't win over most people. So much of politics is personal. Being popular and playing on emotion is often key. This sort of engagement is clearly necessary — but why would anyone think it's sufficient to win? Isn't the other side much larger? Can't they reach out to more leaders? To be truthful — aren't they often more charming?
And don't they have a big advantage? In our leftist-dominated culture which is obsessed with victimhood, the other side continually offers students what seems the high moral road — a victimhood campaign. In a low-information age, a picture of an Israeli tank next to a Palestinian child is enough to set people's judgment against us, sometimes for good.
Our problem is that they lie. Another reason that "retail engagement" alone won't win is that there is something more emotionally powerful than personal friendships at stake: In our world, people see themselves as good and moral people if they are for the underdog, and against oppression. If pro-Israel students, no matter how engaging, are seen to be supporting a cause that people fear taints them morally, friendship with charming Zionists will not often prevail.
No, friendship is not the magic bullet. To win, Jewish students will have to do harder things: They have to re-capture the emotional argument that counts most: Not that we are individually nice people, but that Israel is a decent nation that is being lied about. Jews are being victimized. That is the central truth of the matter, but exists now as the elephant in the PR room. Winning people to this central truth– that they are lying about us – means that pro-Israel students are going to have to do something the Jewish Establishment tells them not to do: they are going to have to call the campaign of lies what it is. They are going to have to talk to their friends about the people who are doing the defaming. They are going to have to "go negative." What we face is more than a social popularity contest: it's a political/ideological war; surely we know by now that it will take more than being charming if we mean to win.
It is time Jewish students stopped crowing that gays can march in Tel Aviv and started calling the propaganda crusade against us what it is: Bull! Lies! A hoax! The most inconvenient truth for our adversaries is that the horrors the Arab/Islamic world has falsely charged against Israel, are things they have actually done themselves — and are still doing…. While the "human rights" world keeps relatively mum. Land theft? The Arab world started out in Arabia and conquered the rest by jihad. Cruelty? Take a look at how women are treated, at how Sunnis treat Shias and vice versa. Is it now 70 or 80,000 dead in Syria? How many black slaves serve Arab masters across Arab north Africa?
Apartheid? Jewish students should say: "glad you brought that up. Because if you are truly interested in institutionalized subjugation in the Middle East, then talk to Simon Deng, an African who was enslaved by Arabs in Sudan; or to Mohammed Yahya, an African Muslim from Darfur, whose people are being massacred by Arabs for resisting Arabization; or to Caroline Doss, a Christian women from Cairo, whose people shiver to think what may soon happen to them because of the wonderful Arab spring. (They're all available.) Apartheid in the M.E. is not about Israel at all. That's a scam. The real apartheid is in the Arab/Islamic states.
If pro-Israel students can convince their classmates that anti-Israelism is based on lies — inversions, actually — Israel might just win on campus. Sure, it helps if pro-Israel students are likeable but only if they have the courage to state the truth and the wisdom not to listen to their establishment "leaders" might their efforts be decisive.
Charles Jacobs is the President of the Americans for Peace and Tolerance.