Hate-Filled Rooms

Jewish Light Editorial

If you think more, better and educated dialogue is critical to young people’s understanding and concern about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you may be uneasy about a couple aspects of a recent Brandeis University study.

The report on the study, entitled “Hotspots of Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Sentiment on U.S. Campuses,” was released this past week, and comprises the results of surveys and discussions with students across America.

Some of the results summarized in the study are hardly surprising, with reactions differing among U.S. academic institutions. For instance, there are campuses where both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic words and behavior are notable; others where one “anti” or the other may predominate; and others where any such activity is of a far less magnitude.

The report is distressing in validating the scope of negative words and actions that Jewish students face on a variety of campuses across the country. But two items, when taken together, point to a particular concern regarding the future of open discussion and listening to different perspectives on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

One of these items was the researchers’ conclusion from the data that, “One of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).”

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The other related item was that, “Discomfort due to the hostility of the discourse occurs more frequently on campuses that are notable for pervasive perceptions of anti-Israel sentiment, including CUNY-Brooklyn, NYU, and the UC campuses.”

So one inference that can be rendered from these two conclusions is that as SJP propagates a very angry and disturbing presence – a conclusion we can certainly get behind, given the number of loud and inaccurate representations that SJP has made about both Jews and Israel – the opportunity for dialogue actually can decrease.

This may seem to the more aggressive proponents of Palestinian statehood to be a good thing. In other words, by shouting down opponents and using language that’s anathema to Jews and anyone interested in civil discourse (we lack the space to cite the many examples of inappropriate and vulgar language that have accompanied SJP protests and other conduct), the radical pro-Palestinian factions can lay claim to drowning out any opposition to their viewpoints. Supposedly, this would create the perception that no one disagrees with their vehement rhetoric.

But the report validates that at least part of the silence in response to SJP and other like-minded groups is simply the fear or intimidation of responding in a hostile environment. Those Jewish students and others who might otherwise be interested in constructive and useful engagement are being pushed away and appear less willing to sit at the table with other-minded individuals.

This is a tragic result. Instead of having the opportunity to work toward supporting meaningful and relevant conclusions, the tone, spirit and rhetoric of some groups, SJP in particular, is contributing to a further divisiveness in the potentially expanding minds of college students.

If SJP thinks that this is a constructive result in advancing the human rights of Palestinians, it is sorely mistaken. Contrarily, those Jews and other students who are confronted with invective, spray-painted swastikas and other threats are going to generalize lessons about the Palestinian cause that will dissuade potential interaction, thereby minimizing the likelihood of peaceful and lasting solutions.

Of course, that’s hardly a surprise to many who believe that SJP has no interest in such solutions at all, but only a “liberated Palestine from the river to the sea.” In other words, a future without Israel at all.

How is that lesson going to play in furtherance of the betterment of Palestinians who wish to live side by side in peace with Israel? It’s not; in fact, the logical conclusion of shutting out dialogue is more anger, more misunderstanding, more hostility.

Meanwhile, Jewish and Israeli support groups continue to work on campuses and beyond to thwart the antagonism of groups like SJP. Some, the ones we most respect, work diligently to reduce stereotypes, present facts, and allow for the open exchange of ideas and opinions.

There is not going to be any ultimate solution to the conflict, at least not a lasting and peaceful one, by any group bullying its way toward dominance on a college campus or elsewhere. The only hope for the future is the ability of our next generation of adults to be able to hear and consider alternate and opposing viewpoints in a climate of secure and open dialogue.  As the study shows, the less onerous the environment on campus, the more that true engagement seems both welcome and possible.