Harvard University President Lawrence Summers recently raised a cry about the anti-Semitic mood finding its way across university campuses. Speaking at a graduation speech, the former Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton administration included in a list of anti-Semitic incidents happening on campuses the calling "for the University to single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university's endowment to be invested."
Mr. Summers continued that "I have always throughout my life been put off by those who heard the sound of breaking glass, in every insult or slight, and conjured up images of Hitler's Kristallnacht at any disagreement with Israel. Such views have always seemed to me alarmist if not slightly hysterical. But I have to say that while they still seem to me unwarranted, they seem rather less alarmist in the world of today than they did a year ago."
The "divestment" campaign, that Mr. Summers refered to, is attempting to prevent university money from being invested in any company doing business with Israel. Anti-Israel detractors on campuses across North America are designing this campaign after the divestment campaign against South Africa which took place in the 1970's and 1980's. The campaign claims that Israel is an "apartheid-nation," like South Africa; it is racist and treats its Arab citizens as second-class citizens. Thus investment in Israel should be blocked.
This past weekend, the National Student Palestinian Conference was held at the University of Michigan, with the main goal to design and export this divestment campaign to campuses nationwide. As the conference drew closer, it became clear that this "divestment" conference was supporting terrorism and violence against Jews. The mission statement of the conference stated, "it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation" -- essentially condoning terrorist activities in Israel. In addition, the Conference invited Sami Al-Arian to speak. Mr. Al-Arian is a University of South Florida professor who is being watched by the CIA for his ties to Islamic Jihad.
The response by supporters of Israel to this conference was limited. One other local organization decided to put on a pro-Israel rally on the Thursday before the conference (the conference took place from Saturday to Monday). Students of Hasbara Fellowships (www.israelactivism.com), a program run by Aish HaTorah, which educates and trains students to be pro-Israel activists on their campuses, decided to come to the University of Michigan and protest the conference. 25 students from across the country came to Michigan and were led in the organizing by five University of Michigan students -- all alumni of Hasbara Fellowships.
All day Saturday and Sunday morning, Hasbara students, in conjunction with the organization Amcha, stood directly outside the Palestinian conference entrance, holding signs saying "Shame on You for Supporting Terrorism", "Shame on You for Supporting Anti-Semitism", "Why Can't You Condemn Terrorism?" and others. Students sang songs, waved Israeli flags and wore Israel shirts. No person was able to enter the conference without facing the student's condemnation. Unfortunately, the students were met with some degree of hate. One African-American man, entering the conference with his young daughter, pointed at us and told his 5-year-old, "These are the ones that are killing our people. These are the people that have destroyed Africa." Other students told us directly that terrorism was justified as long as the "occupation continued."
Campuses across the country would not tolerate support of terrorism, hate and anti-Semitism on their campuses.
On Sunday at noon, a rally was held in the main center of campus, not far from the Palestinian Conference. The rally was kicked off by singing the National Anthem and HaTikva with American and Israeli flags waving on stage and throughout the crowd. Approximately 1000 people listened as a number of speakers addressed them. Included in the speakers were University of Michigan students, a Hasbara student from Montreal who helped bring former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Concordia a short while ago (the event never took place due to a riot by Palestinian supporters), a French Jew who spoke about world anti-Semitism and Debbie Schlussel, the nationally-known political analyst. The message was clear -- the University of Michigan and all campuses across the country would not tolerate support of terrorism, hate and anti-Semitism on their campuses.
Following the rally, a Conference on Terrorism was held, again organized and run by Hasbara Fellowships students. The conference's keynote speaker was John Loftus, the former State Department official and international terrorism expert, who is currently suing Sari Al-Arian for his terrorism links.
Even though many on campus did not want this confrontation with the Palestinian Conference to take place, the students refused to let such hate of the Jewish people and Israel to go unanswered. The events were organized and run by students themselves, a testimony to the grass-roots activism that Hasbara Fellowships encourages and believes is the only way to win the battle on our campuses.
As the President of Harvard stated, the connection between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is undeniable. While criticism of government and specific policy is healthy and the cornerstone of all democracies, once that criticism denies the very right for that state to exist, then it no longer can be labeled as a "political disagreement" -- it is clear discrimination. And as centuries of history have taught us, discrimination against Jews is called anti-Semitism.