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I have never been a great fan of labels. Well, shoes notwithstanding….
The propensity to label people according to what their perceived political persuasions or affinities are and pigeon-hole those into boxes labelled “leftist” or “right winger” is slowly killing off constructive discourse. With smug assuredness, those who propagate ideas of liberalism and pluralism boast about inclusion and “safe spaces” for those of diverse opinions.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on university campuses around the world. Once bastions of free thought and expression, university campuses have now become hotbeds of incitement and exclusion. Certain groups have become virtual pariahs and have found themselves increasingly excluded from representation and discourse.
BDS Event Poster
Yup, I am talking about Jewish students.
Anyone who is seen to be supportive of Israel is automatically labeled as right wing and this comes with the ubiquitous dangerous connotations of being “intolerant” “prejudice” and in the case of Israelis, accused of being “war criminals”. On some campuses, Jewish student organizations are not even invited to participate in debates on certain subject because the cause du jour is to oppose Zionism and everything related.
Universities are very fond of flinging out statements that they have created “safe spaces” for students to engage and debate issues. Except if you are Zionist. The tent does not expand that far. Often what is seen as leftist or the Palestinian narrative is deemed important and truthful information but if you work in Israel advocacy or are a staunch Zionist, you are perceived as spreading propaganda or “hasbarah”. Anti- Israelists love to throw the word Hasbara around with self-righteous indignation. While I congratulate them on knowing a Hebrew word, they are completely ignorant about Zionism. Having relegated it to the unwanted pile of “isms” (read fascism, Nazism, Communism); these self-proclaimed know-it-alls don’t have the faintest idea about Zionism, how it has evolved over the years, how it is manifested in Israel, the very country they level their vitriol towards and how broad the tent is. Zionism has grown from just the simplified version of being the right of the Jewish people to have a country in their national and historical homeland to a broad and wide encompassing ideology that celebrates gay rights, promotes the rights of woman, is the very definition of human rights and of course, is identified with the technically savvy start up nation. This is just the tip of the iceberg of definitions. In truth, Zionism is very, very sexy.
Instead, Zionism has been vilified not only by student groups but also by professors seeking to promote their own agendas. This has allowed for a climate of fear and intimidation to spread through a lack of respect for the dignity of the individual and for the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions.
Professors touting their own agenda
Israel Apartheid Week is the epitome of this. This festival of Israel bashing and flagrant anti-Semitism makes its annual world tour in March every year, starting in South Africa, the ground-zero of the BDS movement and then onto the USA, Europe and South America. Masquerading as the defenders of Palestinian rights, the BDS movement is nothing but an anti-Semitic wolf in human rights clothing. My apologies to wolves everywhere but you get the point.
A friend of mine when discussing the situation at the University of Cape Town told me that when she asked supporters of Israel Apartheid Week about the conflict she was told, “I had people telling me that “When they get Palestine back, the Jews must go. “When I asked where to, they answered “back to where they came from”.8 million people? And when I asked if the countries some of them came from such as Europe, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt etc. didn’t want them back then where must they go? People replied…”they can be killed “Or “I don’t care what happens to them”. This is not just unique to South Africa. Some of the universities in the USA and UK are known for speech that easily matches or surpasses in venom.
Chants of “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” which in essence means the destruction of a country as well as the death of 8 million women, children and men, is commonplace and Jewish students are often terrified to be identified. Some prefer not to attend classes and other remove their Kippot (yarmulkes) or any Jewish insignia. . This is hate speech, not a freedom movement that incites anger, leads to hate and culminates in violence as is evident in the rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide.
During the Apartheid years in South Africa, any voices of criticism and dissent were silenced. Today anyone who vouches their support for Israel on campus is effectively silenced. This is reverse apartheid. Bully-boy tactics used by these nouveau fascists who proudly proclaim themselves liberals mean that any attempts to share Israel’s records with regards to human rights often means accusations of “pink-washing” or “war criminals “as well as “they are settlers and deserved it” follow suit.
Poster advertisng gay rights event defaced
These are not fair-minded, liberal and/or pluralistic people, by any stretch of the imagination.
Gone are the liberal tenets that include freedom of speech, dignity for all human beings regardless of color, religion, creed and ethnicity, respect for others perspectives and the right for everyone to live in security and safety. Israeli speakers should be able to speak on campus without near riots erupting. Supporters of Israel should be able to debate the facts and give their opinions without being physically threatened or intimidated.
This is no longer student activism but rather a free-for-all to vent any latent anti-Semitic prejudice. Major donors to some universities have pulled funding from projects that have been exploited to push a one sided agenda. Perhaps more of this needs to happen or students need to do something quite radical – visit Israel and get the facts on the ground.
It may be the smartest class they ever take.