The Good News No One Talks About
I’ve been complaining a lot lately. Antisemitism is on the rise and becoming more mainstream, it has become endemic on campus, young Jews are losing their way, the Democratic Party is becoming more anti-Israel than ever (Hilary’s ties to Blumenthal and Abedin and Bernie just, well, being Bernie), and even organizations within the pro-Israel sphere are engaging in anti-Israel activities.
But there are some big positive things you probably do not know, but that are only observable on the ground.
1. Most people see BDSers as radical fringe. They also see outspoken pro-Israel students as a bit cuckoo, but there is a silent majority of students who roll their eyes at the BDS campaigns when they are out there being all loud and rowdy.
2. Most students just see Israel as another country. Whenever I tell students I’m moving to Israel, the vast majority just answer, “oh, cool! What are you going to do there?” in the same tone as if I were going to Singapore or Italy or Peru. Some even say “I heard it’s beautiful!” and even “I’d love to visit sometime!” Sometimes they bring up the conflict, usually out of concern for my safety, which is my cue to give my elevator speech about me being more likely to get shot and stabbed in Manhattan, and that Jews and Arabs generally get along pretty well except in the disputed territories where the Palestinians are controlled by the PA and incitement and corruption are rampant. Typically when I talk about the “aid industry,” or people getting rich off foreign aid and it being too big to fail, causing the conflict perpetuates, they seem to get it.
3. More students simply don’t know than read lies. It’s true: if you think about it, most people who don’t have a stake in the conflict aren’t interested in the Middle East. Most of those enrolled in Middle East Studies and other similar programs known for bias already have a stake in the conflict – a tribal allegiance of some sort to either side. You’d be surprised at how much students don’t know and how much they are willing to learn: at my Ivy League school, a surprising number of students don’t know what Oslo was, or what the Palestinian Authority is, or that Hamas launches rockets at Israel. Sometimes they spout the traditionally leftist phrase, “well both sides are wrong, it’s a war after all, it takes two to tango.” Many tenuously side with the Palestinians because they are the underdog, equating more deaths with pacifism and morality, but they are usually open to explanation as to why it isn’t the case here. The classic left is characterized by increased openness, so they are more often than we think receptive to what we say if we couch it in leftist terms. While anti-Israel views are institutionalized among the left in the UK and the EU, they haven’t quite gotten to that point in the US (but they are getting there, so we must stop them while we can).
4. Most professors never even bring up Israel. I’m completing my master’s degree in May. I did two arts minors in undergrad and a humanities degree in grad school. Not one professor ever mentioned Israel or Palestine, it seems to be a taboo topic. I’ve heard about the occupation of Tibet by China and Crimea by Russia, but nothing about Israel, thank goodness. The closest any of them got was when a theatre performance professor recommended Caryl Churchill’s controversial, arguably antisemitic, play, Seven Jewish Children, tiptoeing around the anti-Israel reason why she liked it as if she feared getting in trouble. Nobody even mentioned Israel once in grad school, at least in a bad way: I heard many normalizing or even laudatory statements about things Israelis are doing that have nothing to do with the conflict, like tattooing their grandparents’ holocaust numbers on their arms. Maybe the experience is different in more related fields such as social justice and Middle East Studies, but the vast majority of students don’t study these fields anyway.
5. The profs who do tend to be anti-Israel usually already have reputations for being weirdos and/or holding crazy views. Communism, conspiracy theory, anti-theism, radical gender queers with blue hair who think straight people are evil, people who believe in Bigfoot or that vaccines cause autism, tend to go in tandem with anti-Israel beliefs. Usually those who believe conspiracy theories about other things believe conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. Students often already know to take these radical weirdos with a grain of salt, or if they see these views espoused alongside anti-Israel views, then they’ll know intuitively to disregard all they say as crackpot, including the anti Israel stuff. Sharing political views brazenly just isn’t done among normal professors, as the issue is considered too polarizing and unscholarly to be appropriately discussed in unrelated classes, so those who do are the radicals with agendas, and usually students already know. If anti-Israel views are tied to being a radical nutcase, often being pro-Israel is seen as sane, which is a good thing!
6. A silent majority support Israel’s right to exist as it stands with secure borders. Meaning they are politically Zionist. When I was tabling with Students Supporting Israel at Columbia back in February and March, most of the students I approached asking “Do you support Israel?” said yes. You’d be surprised who showed interest too, people from all different backgrounds you couldn’t even imagine. This silent apathetic majority is illustrated by the vote at my alma mater, McGill, where BDS won at the General Assembly, which attracts the most diehard radicals with six hours to kill to mostly stand around and do nothing, but lost the online ratification, a quick process that goes through the student body, basically an online poll. A similar thing just happened yesterday at Vassar, a school known for being notoriously anti-Israel.
7. Most people attending anti-Israel events are just following the crowd. Whether this means just tagging along with a friend, checking it out due to curiosity, or simply wanting to feel part of a movement to change the status quo. Yes, the campus trend setters find loving the counterculture hip, almost as a way of showing how much better than us they are because they embrace those who hate us while we fear them (this is actually what I think leftist supremacy boils down to). But most people think the radicals are over the top, and just want to study, party, make friends, avoid drama, and get a degree. The “avoiding drama” bit is the reason the silent majority stays silent. Everyone knows that supporting Israel causes a much bigger uproar than opposing it, simply because our haters are bursting with zeal, and our supporters tend to be rational, tolerant human beings. Those who lean anti-Israel, typically because of a family history of antisemitism, a desire to befriend a certain person or group, or a tribal religious need to support the cause of their coreligionists no matter what, tend to be more brazen in their support than those who are pro-Israel, because of our aforementioned tolerance and apathy as well as the strong sense of belonging these activists, who are gifted proselytizers, know how to create. This aspect might make our tolerance seem like a disadvantage, but it is the very reason the silent majority exists: because we do generally behave ourselves, act more mature, and take the high road compared to the other side. Of course there are always the crazies who are looking for a radical revolution, but they are a loud minority.
8. Pro-Israel students tend to be quiet because the status quo is on our side. It is a lot more difficult to uproot the status quo than to maintain it, which is why the anti-Israel groups by default need to push much harder. Many pro-Israel students simply don’t feel threatened, so they don’t act.
9. The silent apathetic majority, in my view, may be apathetic in part because they are studying so hard to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and other demanding professional jobs that will earn them far more money than the crazy BDS radicals, who will often struggle to make ends meet as artists and nonprofit bureaucrats. That’s why most of their funding is foreign while most of ours is domestic: apathy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, many say they are apathetic and uninvolved so that they could study harder and donate the fruits of their effort later.
10. Most BDS resolutions have been struck down, and all those that passed have been vetoed by higher-ups. Yes, the overall trend is worrisome, as just a few years ago nearly none of these resolutions passed, whereas now it’s about a fifth to a quarter. But we still see the majority failing over and over again, like McGill’s four fails in seven years, three of which were within 18 months. The margin keeps narrowing, yes, and that’s scary, but for now the news is still good. Moreover, those that do pass have always been either vetoed by the student body president or the university administration, and research partnerships, investments, and study abroad programs between American and Israeli universities continue to thrive.
This good news doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It is evident that the other side is trying much harder than we are, and we are losing the more proactive ones, the movers and shakers on campus, the trend setters at the forefront of campus movements who are going to become the leaders of tomorrow. Those with high positions in campus politics, who are most influenced by the radical zeitgeist, will almost certainly be successful later on, in a far more influential sphere than simply medicine or law, and these are the folks we need to worry about, and why we need to keep fighting the good fight, regardless of the good news.
After all, campus politics is a trickle-down phenomenon, and the views of the trend setters as they are aggressively courted by zealous anti-Israel groups will trickle down eventually, since as Goebbels said: repeat a lie many times and people will believe it. The prominence of these anti-Israel groups is worrisome, and is already influencing the mainstream on trendsetting elite campuses such as Harvard and Columbia. Eventually, that will trickle down too, as other campuses copy them in an attempt to appear more avant-garde.
But for now, we still have a lot to smile about. The number one thing to smile about is that we have the truth on our side. While that shouldn’t make us complacent, it is half the battle.