February 1, 2011
In the wake of last Saturday’s event at Rutgers University, where critics of Israel made the grotesque linkage between the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demonstrators wanted to make a few things clear. The university did not “sponsor” the event — it leased a hall to a Muslim group that paid the costs of the event. Its police did not “bar” ticketholders from attending, but did pitch in to help out with crowd control.
These are fair points: These and similar campus incidents often lead alumni and outsiders to demand that a university explain how it could “allow” such an event or expend taxpayer or alumni dollars on facilitating it in any way. Yet universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech and the exchange of ideas, many of which are bound to make people uncomfortable, on one side or the other. To focus on the “permissibility” of a campus event, or punish educators for taking a broad view of free speech and academic inquiry, seems to us a misunderstanding of a university’s mission.
The wiser approach was that taken by Rutgers Hillel and the state Jewish federations that are supporting the organization in its response to a rising tide of activity on the part of pro-Palestinian groups. Hillel is not focusing on shutting down the opposition. Instead, in organizing a vigorous but peaceful counter-demonstration, planning its own pro-Israel events, and combating anti-Israel rhetoric with its own forceful message, Hillel is showing that the Jewish community is not afraid to take part in the battle for hearts and minds.
The best way to fight anti-Israel activism on campus? Help give the Jewish students on the front lines the tools they need to become the best possible advocates for the Jewish state.