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Jewish Students on Campus: Fighting Palestinian Propaganda

College Hillel counselors have expressed varying degrees of concern over diminished support of Israel by students, as a result of pro-Palestinian activity on their campuses during the spring semester.

Most said the anti-Israel activity — stemming from the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began in December– was confined to small demonstrations, op-ed pieces in college newspapers and pro-Palestinian information tables.

But some Hillel directors worried that Jewish students seemed slow to defend Israel, and expressed fear that these future leaders of tomorrow may be turning away from the pro-Israel position.

There were a couple of strongly anti-Israel incidents that occurred on the campuses this spring, with two of the more violent ones taking place at the University of Arizona at Tucson and at the University of Kansas at Lawrence.

At Arizona, a shot was fired into the window of the Hillel lounge just after the last student had left early on the morning of April 26, following the conclusion of one of the ABC-TV “Nightline” marathon broadcasts from Israel.

Brenda Morrison, director of student activities for Hillel at the university, said somebody “shot out our window and shot out our door.” She said police are still investigating the incident, including a garbled message left on the Hillel telephone answering machine.

She added that her campus has a large Arab population, with five Palestinian student groups.

At the University of Kansas at Lawrence, David Katzman, a history professor, said he found “Go to Hell Dirty Jew” written on the name-card of his office door a few weeks ago, even though he didn’t teach during the spring. He said that four days of mail were stolen the following week, while no one else in the history department had anything touched.

NOT THE FIRST TIME

However, Katzman said that he was the victim of anti-Semitism before the Palestinian uprising, when he had received death threats while serving as the president of the local Jewish Community Center.

In combatting the usual Palestinian forms of protest, some of the Hillel counselors complained that they had limited resources.

Rabbi Carol Glass, Hillel director at American University in Washington, said Jewish groups there have not been effective in countering pro-Palestinian “slick posters” placed on walls of campus buildings and advertisements bought in the campus newspaper.

She said that her campus has an unusually large number of Arab students — 400 out of 11,000 students, 40 to 50 of whom are Palestinians — who had been able to gain funding from Arab sources.

Heidi Goldsmith, Israel programs director at the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, said many Hillel directors complained that they lack “concise materials” and “simple, clear history” on the Arab-Israeli conflict. “We don’t have enough,” she said.

An example she gave of needed material is a pro-Israel rebuttal of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s covenant, which calls for the overthrow of Israel.

Two other Hillel directors, on the other hand, said they do have effective materials to counter pro-Palestinian groups in the information war.

Helise Lieberman, program director at Columbia University’s Hillel, said while students are struggling with “how to be supportive of Israel” without “condoning or condemning” current policies toward Palestinians, they have been exposed to many pro-Israel speakers and effective information from the Israeli Consulate in New York and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

Joseph Kohane, acting Hillel director at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, said his campus has been relatively quiet. He said that the student newspaper at one point carried a lot of anti-Israel opinion pieces, but that Jewish students organized a “concentrated letter writing campaign” to counter it.

‘HARD TIME TO BE JEWISH’

Glass said that it is a “hard time to be Jewish on a campus. The Arab community is seen by most of the world as the underdog, as the victimized,” and “a lot of finger pointing goes in the way of Israel.”

Overall, Glass said organized Jewry does not see Jewish students at college as a major constituency. She argued they were more vulnerable than other Jews who do not have to encounter Arabs on a day-to-day basis, as do Jewish students.

She complained that Jewish groups provide “nothing in the way of resources and material to really help us” analyze recent events. Glass called for more professional literature to be developed on the uprising, and specifically said “not enough is presented from a moderate to a sort of Peace Now perspective.”

College campuses must be seen “as a critical Jewish community,” Glass said, “because this is where future public opinion is being formed.”

Goldsmith said Palestinian demonstrations and information tables have become bolder since the violence began Dec. 9, benefiting from the perception that “Israel no longer has the David image.”

In addition, she said, student newspapers regularly print op-ed pieces on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including some by professors critical of Israel’s handling of the situation. She added that she has heard of few violent incidents on college campuses.

‘BATTLE OF WORDS AND IDEAS’

Jeffrey Ross, director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith’s campus affairs and higher education department, said the incidents were “less than we expected,” calling it a “battle of words and ideas.”

He said that demonstrations of 20 people, which often occur, do not “affect too many people,” and that many campus Arab group are in disarray both organizationally and ideologically.

Ross said his “greatest concern is what’s going on in the classrooms” and not demonstrations, campus literature and op-ed pieces and advertisements in student newspapers.

He expressed concern that these students who are tomorrow’s leaders may be developing a “permissive consensus which will allow future administrations to try to put pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions.”

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