Friday, February 12, 2010

Responses to University Student Anti-Semitism

by Sherwin Pomerantz

Just in this past week we have seen a number of instances of anti-Israel (read: anti-semitic) outbursts aimed at speakers who have been scheduled to appear at various universities around the world.

For example, the appearance of Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren at the University of California/Irvine was met by numerous verbal outbursts against him and against the “apartheid” State of Israel during his presentation sponsored by the school’s Political Science Department.

Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Danny Ayalon, who is also a former Ambassador to the U.S., was verbally assaulted at a speech he tried to give at Oxford University earlier this week.

BenGurion University of the Negev’s Professor of History and prolific writer, Benny Morris, was recently dis-invited by the Israel Society at Cambridge University after protestors accused him of being guilty of “Islamaphobia” and “racism.”

While universities have never been a source of significant support for Israel, of late the chances of any Israeli speaker appearing at a university forum anywhere in the west without being harassed or verbally assaulted are almost nil.

And yet, what is our response as Jews and as Israelis? In articles that appeared in this morning’s papers here the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken the position that this kind of verbal haranguing and protest is standard on university campuses and that the media is blowing the importance of such actions way out of proportion. I disagree.

For our government to take an official position that this is just more of the same and for the organized Jewish community in these locations to remain virtually silent gives the impression to the rest of the good citizens of each community that we, as Jews, do not care what the protestors say or what the heckler’s do. Frankly, we cannot afford that kind of passivity as we know, from our history, that passive response to these kinds of anti-semitic acts (even though they may be couched in anti-Israel terms....there is no difference any longer) generally leads to more serious infringements on our rights as members of the human race.

So what should our response be? At a minimum, every time one of these events occurs anywhere in the world, the local Jewish community, along with its real friends and supporters, should immediately mount a massive protest march denouncing the disrespect being shown to visiting dignitaries while underscoring the ultimate danger to all of the community’s citizens should this type of activity be allowed to continue.

16 years ago in Billings, Montana, the (really) small Jewish community there was traumatized when a rock was thrown through the window of the bedroom of a Jewish youngster whose parents had the audacity to exhibit a Chanukah Menorah in the window of the home. At that time the Jewish community stood up and with the incredible support of the majority of the citizens of that city, made the public statement: “Not in Our Town.” The result was an outpouring of support from the local citizenry which sent a message to the bigots that this type of behavior is not acceptable and a national movement began which spread throughout the country.

Today, we must also say, in every location where such anti-semitic events occur, “Not in Our Town” and that message must be loud and clear and supported, as well, by the Government of Israel that has, as its obligation, to be the Government of the Jewish People. Else we abandon our responsibility to our brethren worldwide and to the promise that gave rise to the birth of this country in the first place.

Sherwin Pomerantz is a 26 year resident of Israel and is the President of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm. His blog can be seen at

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