Opinion Articles

Open Letter to Jewish Students

You students need tremendous spiritual courage to embrace Israel and Zionism on campus. The fact that you get the opposite – cold shoulders, social ostracism, online hostility, even harassment – increasingly requires physical courage, too

Dear Jewish Students,

I know many of you just experienced your worst semester, ever.  Beyond the shared anguish of every Jew, and every moral human being, following Hamas’s October 7th savagery, you’ve endured the added agony of betrayal. You’ve seen roommates, classmates, professors, and university presidents cower before evil – or, worse, collaborate with it by celebrating it — depending on the context, of course.  This, therefore, may have been your most illuminating semester too. You discovered who your friends are — and aren’t. You saw what happens when people, even intellectuals, get swept up in an ideological mania demanding total loyalty, tolerating no disagreement, no nuance, no complexity, no doubt. You had to think independently. You saw what moral clarity looks like and experienced what it feels like.  And, most important, you unlearned much of what you and your parents foolishly pay up to $77,000-a-year to swallow.

It’s true, our super-heroic Israeli soldiers have shown remarkable bravery – and modeled extraordinary values. But, remember, wherever they go in Israel, they get “feergun,” that wonderful Hebrew word describing “attaboys” conveyed with slaps on the back and high-fives.  By contrast, you students need tremendous spiritual courage to embrace Israel and Zionism on campus. The fact that you get the opposite – cold shoulders, social ostracism, online hostility, even harassment – increasingly requires physical courage, too.

Let’s return to October 7th. The campus ethical dynamics would have differed had more students and professors stopped, on hearing about the massacre, and felt your pain. Had more said, “I dislike Israel, but this sadistic violence, rape and kidnapping is inexcusable,” you wouldn’t have felt so victimized once these Palestinian apologists started denouncing Israel’s bombing in Gaza.

Israel faces difficult military dilemmas and healthy debates are always welcome. But the way so many academics and students denied what Hamas did, or justified Hamas’s evil, is inexcusable – shattering the bond of trust real education and genuine community require.

Similarly, as Israel’s military campaign advanced, if some Bash-Israel-Firsters had acknowledged that Hamas was wrong to hide armaments or terrorists in Hamospitals, Hamosques and Killergardens, you could discuss issues reasonably. Had any of these Isra-critics credited Israel for some restraint, for trying to minimize civilian deaths, you could have a productive conversation about “do”s and “don’t”s. Had anyone proposed a better solution to the problem of Hamas turning Gaza into a ticking time bomb that already caused so much death and destruction, we all might have learned something.

Instead libelous cries of “genocide” – demonizing Israel, romanticizing Hamas – muddied the campus conversation. Meanwhile, the masked Pro-Palestinian protesters’ sheer thuggishness has further shut down conversation. Where are all those overpaid administrators who call for “safe spaces,” censoriously monitoring students’ and professors’ glances and words, when hooligans menace you aggressively?

Let’s be clear. Every death in Gaza since October 7th is on Hamas – they started it. And every death near Lebanon is on Hezbollah. Note how Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis attack Israel simply because Israel exists. To these haters, just having Israel around is a “causus belli” – why does the world accept that?

Now, here’s your chance to join the crowd. Let’s shout: “CEASEFIRE NOW!!!!” Demand a ceasefire from Hezbollah, from the Houthis, from Iran, and from Hamas — free the hostages, surrender the October 7th war criminals, then we can have peace!

Taking a breath, let’s think. How did Hamas control Gaza with an iron fist, yet still convince academics and students that Israel occupied Gaza? And how did Hamas smuggle in tons of weapons, including over 30,000 explosive devices, and build hundreds of miles of tunnels, yet still convince academics and students that Israel blockaded Gaza and starved the Palestinians?

Did any of your former friends consider what Hamas could have built instead of its fortifications? Finally, why would feminists ally with rapists, gays support homophobes, and liberals support dictators? It takes a lot for intelligent people who see themselves as human rights activists to ignore so many facts. Only people gripped by an ideological mania, swept up by some cultish fad, could be so fanatically embrace such horrific friends, such an embarrassing cause.

Admittedly, even if Hamas exaggerates, Palestinians’ civilian death toll is heartbreaking. As the father of soldiers, attending too many funerals these days, I don’t need to be told how ugly this war is — all Israelis, alas, understand. We wish it would end. But it’s hard to believe that these fashionable radicals really care about suffering Palestinian suffering. Campuses were silent as the war in Yemen killed over 377,000 and the Syrian civil war killed over 600,000 – many of them Palestinians too.

Three factors fuel this anti-Israel pile-on. First, the De-colonizing Grievance Junkies have made Israel the ultimate oppressor, reflecting every Western flaw, while treating Palestinians as the ultimate, Christ-like innocents, forever innocent, no matter how sadistic and violent they are. Second, the anti-Western Guilt-mongers caricature Jews and Israelis as the avatars of “white privilege,” even though we’re not all rich, we’re not all white, and people should judge our character and behavior by what we do and say not what we look like or how much we earn. And, alas, the Jews stand out so prominently in this new demonology because we have been starring in different people’s darkest dystopic fantasies and conspiracies theories for millennia.

I don’t claim that Israel is beyond reproach on this issue or others. But, the fanaticism, the orthodoxy, the viciousness, the conversation’s total all-or-nothingness is distorting.

I hope this semester of slaughter taught you a few essential life-lessons:

First, never cower – the enemy smells fear. Stand up for yourself, your friends, your people. Don’t be like so many sniveling professors these days: if you spend your life swivel-headed, forever looking over your shoulder, your neck will always hurt. Don’t avoid Jewish spaces because of threats – invite non-Jews for free steaks or beers to join you there. This too will clarify who your friends are – and aren’t.

Second, sift, clarify, and find allies. I believe a Silenced Majority of Americans, even on campus, abhors rapists, maimers, murderers, Hamasian despots, Palestinian terrorists, and the Iranian mullahs- let alone goons who deface America’s national monuments and harass Christmas shoppers. Find them. Befriend them. And invite them over too.

Third, stop anguishing. The late New York Senator and Harvard Professor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, didn’t ask “what’s wrong with the accused,” he asked “what’s wrong with the accuser?”  Review the facts, from Israel’s full Disengagement out of Gaza in 2005 through October 7. And ask the question Amos Oz asked in 2014 about Hamas attacks from Gaza then: if your neighbor attacked, hiding behind kids, “what would you do” – knowing how America fights terrorists who hide behind the West’s civilized niceties.

Fourth, use this trauma as a moment of liberation. Free yourselves from orthodoxies, from rigidities, from fanaticism – on all sides. Beware extremists. Weigh, question, doubt, and find the middle path.

Finally, use this crisis to think about your personal Jew-jitsu. How do you transform all this negative energy into something positive? Maybe it’s a new approach to your studies or a new career-path. Maybe it’s a renewed connection to Judaism or Zionism.

Don’t just focus on the bad, the anger, the betrayal. Start dreaming of a better tomorrow, and what you can do, both to make it happen – and enjoy it.

Professor Gil Troy, a Senior Fellow in Zionist Thought at the JPPI, the Global Think Tank of the Jewish People, is an American presidential historian, and, most recently, the editor of the three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People.

Published by Jewish Journal

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