College students have a duty to respond to "hate speech" about Israel coming from their professors, the leader of a newly formed advocacy group of Jewish professors told a recent student symposium.
"Your job is not only to listen. Your job is to report and record it," Prof. Ed Beck told about 50 students at Concordia University at a symposium called Anti-Semitism on Campus: Where Are We Now?
"You have a lot of power," said Beck, who is a psychology professor and director of the Susquehanna Institute, which provides clinical, consultation and educational services to individuals and groups. He is also the founder of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).
Beck was joined on the panel by Concordia professor Frederick Krantz and Stephen Shecter, a sociology professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).
Beck launched SPME in June 2002 to "counterbalance the well-documented and increasing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic forces that have made their way to college campuses today," he said.
He said SPME's viewpoint is simple: that Israel "has the right to live in peace with its neighbours with safe and secure borders."
But he suggested his attempts to recruit members have not been so simple. To date, the independent, grassroots group has approximately 400 members on 175 campuses worldwide.
That's the "good news," Beck said.
The bad news, he said, is when he sent out invitations to about 20,000 faculty members with "distinctly Jewish names," he received some "hate mail," including from Jewish professors.
"This was terribly bothersome," he said. "We all know that some [Jews] simply do not get it, whether they are self-loathing, or so assimilated that they don't know who they are, or see themselves as ‘historical' Jews, instead of Jews."
Beck said those who have joined SPME, whose board of directors includes controversial Campus Watch founder and journalist Daniel Pipes, have told him that Jewish professors who support Israel feel alone on campuses these days.
"It is simply not politically correct to stand up for the right to defend yourself," Beck said.
He advised students to challenge anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments made in class by using universities' own codes of conduct.
Most colleges and universities have codes prohibiting the use of hate speech or "patently false statements," he said.
"You have the duty to report it," Beck said. "Don't let anyone tell you or define for you what anti-Semitism is. It is what you say it is. You have the right to define it for yourself."
Shecter made his own report at UQAM recently. In January, when students at the university's sociology department went on strike on issues unrelated to the Middle East, one student brandished a sign at his office that read, "Israel is a murderer and Shecter an accomplice."
Shecter was so outraged he went to higher-ups at UQAM to protest, but was rebuffed. He then wrote an op-ed piece in the independent French language newspaper Le Devoir.
That's when "the s--t hit the fan," he said. He was inundated with hateful responses to his article, most of which were attacks on Israel that failed to directly address his arguments.
"Four baths were not enough, because this type of stuff sticks to your soul," Shecter told the students.
The affair stopped only after he wrote a final piece declaring it "open season on Jews."
Shecter said since the incident, he has stopped talking to colleagues he has known for decades.
"Ninety-five percent of my colleagues are anti-Semitic," he said. "They hate Israel, but they don't even see it. They don't have a clue. Anti-Semitism parades as anti-Zionism."
Shecter's advice to students is to remain continually aware of the price to be paid in this "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.
"You have to really back off while keeping you moral energy and your passion very high, but under control," he said.
Adopting a term used during the Communist era in the Soviet Union, Krantz said a "new anti-Semitism international" is pervading campuses, including Concordia.
In this case, he said, the "international" is composed of all forms of anti-Semitism – including the traditional religious and racial forms – that are embraced by the left-wing anti-globalization movement, NGOs, human rights organizations, the peace movement, Islamic fundamentalists and neo-Nazis.
All these forces, Krantz said, came together at the notorious UN anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001.
Krantz said the sweeping inclusiveness of this new anti-Semitism, manifested in large part as being anti-Israel, can potentially be worse than the "exterminationist" anti-Semitism of the 1930s.
"The same thing that happened during the terrible riot at Concordia is now happening at York University, at UQAM and other universities," Krantz said. "We have to deconstruct this configuration, and campuses are crucial to this."
Krantz advised students to use "rational analysis, clear documentation and free speech. Frequently, students are not informed. We have to know how to speak. We have to be firm, to know the elements of argument and rhetoric."
Krantz also listed "four J's" for students to foster among themselves: Jewishness, Jewish unity, Jewish power and Jewish alertness.
"We're playing a very high stakes game, and a key locus is on university campuses," he said.
The symposium was sponsored by the Hillel Students Centre and Hasbarah Fellowships.