Friday, September 16, 2016

How Jewish Students Should Approach the Study of Israel/Palestine on Campus

Dear Readers,

As some have pointed out to me, this blog is virtually defunct. I hope to write something occasionally, and I will post it here. 

The following piece appeared yesterday in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It was cowritten with Prof. Stef Krieger of Hofstra University Law School.

(JTA) -- As university professors, as committed Jews, and as friends, we were puzzled by Arnold Eisen's recent op-ed for JTA, "Jewish pride on campus is under siege. Here’s what your kids can do to fight back."

It is not because we disagree with his positions on Zionism, on Israel and Palestine, or on the place of Israel in one's Jewish identity. No doubt we do disagree with those positions, but that disagreement is le-shem shamayim,"for the sake of heaven."

It is that Chancellor Eisen's advice to young Jews entering college seems so problematic to us.

Dr. Eisen, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, writes that "over 300,000" young Jewish college students are liable to have their “Jewish selves” shaken “to the core" on college campuses. One would think that college campuses across the country are hotbeds of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

Yet, as has been reported in the media, fights over Israel/Palestine simply don't exist at the vast majority of college campuses in the US, and most students, including Jewish students, are apathetic on Israel. Yes, there have been campuses where events have been reported, especially in the Jewish press. Both sides have cried foul. But exaggerating the extent of the phenomenon spreads alarmism in the Jewish community.

And yet, even if we concede that the problem is as great as Chancellor Eisen's op-ed suggests, we would still disagree with his response to it. We agree that Jewish students should be proud of their heritage, that they should learn about Israel and Judaism. But we don't agree that Jewish students should avoid faculty and students who, for example, refer to Israel as "colonialist" or worse. What if the faculty at their universities teach that Zionism is a settler-colonialist phenomenon? Should students seek to learn about Israel only at Hillel, or by taking Birthright or Federation-sponsored trips? 

Our advice to all students interested in learning about Israel/Palestine is the same advice we give to students in exploring any area of inquiry: Read a lot of scholarship on the subject. Develop a critical and skeptical attitude towards tendentious, false and unsupported claims in books, on the web or social media, by teachers, and yes, by your religious leaders, parents, and friends. This intellectual process may make some students question, and even weaken, their attachment to the State of Israel, or draw them closer to the struggle for Palestinian rights. Or it may or may not strengthen their commitment to Israel. Whatever the outcome, students should engage in this process.


Heidi Wilson said...

Jerry -- please explain for this gentile: is the disagreement considered "for the sake of heaven" because both sides believe that God approves their position, or because God approves of the discussion per se, because it concerns him and the most important things?

Heidi Wilson

Charles P. Cohen said...

I think you have the wrong approach:

. . . If they want to maintain Jewish identity, parents should _not_ send their kids to college.

The danger of being corrupted by "liberal values" (kol v'chomer by BDS and LGBT propaganda, and beautiful Palestinian men and women) is simply too great.

Instead, send them off to a yeshivah, starting at a young age. College becomes much less of a threat, because they won't be prepared for it. They can rest safely under the Jewish umbrella, knowing that their way is the best way.

. Charles