J Street U Takes Sides on Campus

Jewish students in particular, and pro-Israel students more generally, confront a battle of ideas when they arrive on college campuses across America. Over the past decade, Jewish educators and pro-Israel activists have worked hard to give students the intellectual tools they need to stand their ground.

Recently, J Street --the new left-wing lobby group in Washington -- has entered the fray through its campus affiliate, J Street U.

Last October, J Street U dropped the term "pro-Israel" from its slogan, apparently fearful that "pro-Israel" would alienate some of the group's members. (The parent organization describes itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace," though there are no Israeli symbols or any other manifestations of positive identification with Israel on the group's website.)

This fall, J Street U is sponsoring a campus lecture tour by John Ging, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) chief in Gaza. At a lecture on November 12 at Northwestern University, J Street U director Daniel May introduced Ging by declaring that Jewish students needed to learn that Israel's creation brought "tremendous cost ... upon so many who had lived in the region for generations."

May added that Israeli occupation has "denied democratic freedom and basic human rights to Palestinians" and warned that those denying that "reality" are complicit in it. J Street, May argued, was founded to correct the social injustices the American Jewish community has ignored -- and hence, assisted -- in Israel.

In his own remarks, Ging detailed a list of hardships in Gaza, blaming the sanctions enforced by Israel rather than the reign of terror imposed by Hamas. While admitting that a minority of Palestinians are violent extremists, Ging also claimed unreasonably that "the vast majority" of Gaza residents are "pro-Israel." In the past, Ging has been accused of anti-Israel bias; on this occasion, he minimized the role of Palestinian leaders in fomenting hatred and conflict.

J Street U has defended its decision to bring Ging to campuses across the country by claiming a) that "we don't necessarily agree with everything" he says, and b) that J Street U needs "to create a space on our campus and in the Jewish community where we can wrestle with our commitment to Israel and concern for some of her actions." Both claims are hollow and reveal J Street U's true ideological commitments. 

There is no lack of debate on college campuses about Israel. In fact, the debate is often heavily weighted against Israel, given the frequent anti-Israel bias of Middle East studies departments and the loud voice of far-left student groups at many universities. The idea that anti-Israel faculty and students don't have a "space" to speak is a deceptive claim, an attempt to win sympathy for views that have lost the intellectual debate on the merits. 

If any perspective is in danger of being silenced, it is the pro-Israel perspective, as demonstrated earlier this year when Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Michael Oren, was prevented from speaking at UC-Irvine by students from the Muslim Student Union. (The university later recommended the student group be suspended for planning the disruption.)

For many students with a pro-Israel perspective, whether derived from Jewish roots or simple personal conviction, it can be challenging to face the radical minority of students and professors who criticize Israel with overwhelming vehemence. An organization truly interested in creating a space for wrestling with the issues would not join that chorus in repeating its malevolent propaganda, but rather challenge its arguments vigorously.

J Street U evidently subscribes to the view that Israel's creation was both an injustice and the cause of the ongoing conflict with its neighbors. J Street U also evidently believes that Israel is primarily to blame for Palestinian suffering, despite the grave human rights abuses committed by Palestinian rulers against their own people, and in spite of the continued refusal by Palestinian leaders to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. 

In May's words, Israel "has of course invited the condemnation of people in the right both within Israel and the U.S." -- and students ought to join that supposed consensus.

It is hardly convincing for J Street U to offer conditional defenses of Israel's right to exist, as it encourages empathy with those who wish it did not.

J Street U has the right, of course, to be wrong. Yet those supporting it and its parent organization should know they are adding to the often hostile pressures faced by Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus. They are not creating a debate on campus, but taking sides in one.

Joel Pollak was the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Illinois's 9th District in 2010. Alex Jakubowski is a first-year student at Northwestern University.
Jewish students in particular, and pro-Israel students more generally, confront a battle of ideas when they arrive on college campuses across America. Over the past decade, Jewish educators and pro-Israel activists have worked hard to give students the intellectual tools they need to stand their ground.

Recently, J Street --the new left-wing lobby group in Washington -- has entered the fray through its campus affiliate, J Street U.

Last October, J Street U dropped the term "pro-Israel" from its slogan, apparently fearful that "pro-Israel" would alienate some of the group's members. (The parent organization describes itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace," though there are no Israeli symbols or any other manifestations of positive identification with Israel on the group's website.)

This fall, J Street U is sponsoring a campus lecture tour by John Ging, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) chief in Gaza. At a lecture on November 12 at Northwestern University, J Street U director Daniel May introduced Ging by declaring that Jewish students needed to learn that Israel's creation brought "tremendous cost ... upon so many who had lived in the region for generations."

May added that Israeli occupation has "denied democratic freedom and basic human rights to Palestinians" and warned that those denying that "reality" are complicit in it. J Street, May argued, was founded to correct the social injustices the American Jewish community has ignored -- and hence, assisted -- in Israel.

In his own remarks, Ging detailed a list of hardships in Gaza, blaming the sanctions enforced by Israel rather than the reign of terror imposed by Hamas. While admitting that a minority of Palestinians are violent extremists, Ging also claimed unreasonably that "the vast majority" of Gaza residents are "pro-Israel." In the past, Ging has been accused of anti-Israel bias; on this occasion, he minimized the role of Palestinian leaders in fomenting hatred and conflict.

J Street U has defended its decision to bring Ging to campuses across the country by claiming a) that "we don't necessarily agree with everything" he says, and b) that J Street U needs "to create a space on our campus and in the Jewish community where we can wrestle with our commitment to Israel and concern for some of her actions." Both claims are hollow and reveal J Street U's true ideological commitments. 

There is no lack of debate on college campuses about Israel. In fact, the debate is often heavily weighted against Israel, given the frequent anti-Israel bias of Middle East studies departments and the loud voice of far-left student groups at many universities. The idea that anti-Israel faculty and students don't have a "space" to speak is a deceptive claim, an attempt to win sympathy for views that have lost the intellectual debate on the merits. 

If any perspective is in danger of being silenced, it is the pro-Israel perspective, as demonstrated earlier this year when Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Michael Oren, was prevented from speaking at UC-Irvine by students from the Muslim Student Union. (The university later recommended the student group be suspended for planning the disruption.)

For many students with a pro-Israel perspective, whether derived from Jewish roots or simple personal conviction, it can be challenging to face the radical minority of students and professors who criticize Israel with overwhelming vehemence. An organization truly interested in creating a space for wrestling with the issues would not join that chorus in repeating its malevolent propaganda, but rather challenge its arguments vigorously.

J Street U evidently subscribes to the view that Israel's creation was both an injustice and the cause of the ongoing conflict with its neighbors. J Street U also evidently believes that Israel is primarily to blame for Palestinian suffering, despite the grave human rights abuses committed by Palestinian rulers against their own people, and in spite of the continued refusal by Palestinian leaders to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. 

In May's words, Israel "has of course invited the condemnation of people in the right both within Israel and the U.S." -- and students ought to join that supposed consensus.

It is hardly convincing for J Street U to offer conditional defenses of Israel's right to exist, as it encourages empathy with those who wish it did not.

J Street U has the right, of course, to be wrong. Yet those supporting it and its parent organization should know they are adding to the often hostile pressures faced by Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus. They are not creating a debate on campus, but taking sides in one.

Joel Pollak was the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Illinois's 9th District in 2010. Alex Jakubowski is a first-year student at Northwestern University.