The course UC Berkeley intended to offer is only the beginning of the next wave of anti-Semitism that has spread throughout US campuses.
This week I learned that the prestigious UC Berkeley intended to offer this year a course on “settler colonialism” in Israel, meaning Jews as colonialists. “Drawing upon literature on decolonization,” [the course] was to “explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine.” In other words, let’s talk about how to eradicate Israel altogether. But not only the course facilitator was meant to explore these possibilities, students were to be required to “research, formulate, and present decolonial alternatives to the current situation.”
Faced with criticism over bias and violation of the university’s academic standards, the university cancelled the course. Yet, cancelling the course does nothing to improve the toxic atmosphere that Jewish students endure each day on US campuses.
Hearing about this course reminded me of one dismal evening that I spent in 2004 at the UC Berkeley Hillel. That evening, I went there to give a lecture about the wisdom of Kabbalah and what it says about Jewish unity and the role of the Jewish people in the world. It was a cold evening, and a cold welcome. However I tried, I could not get through to the students; they would not accept that the Jewish people has a role and a commitment to the world.
Immediately following the lecture, a man approached me and said that Hillel was not the place to talk about the role of the Jewish people, that people here have everything they need. I tried to tell him that being Jewish is not about what we need, but about what others need, what the rest of the world needs. I tried to explain that we need to unite not for our own sake, but for the sake of the world, which is desperately looking for a way to do so in our hyper egotistical society, and that we are meant to be the role model it will follow. He couldn’t hear me. The message simply could not sink in.
I left. Without connection to their nation and its role in the process that the world is undergoing, without understanding how much the future of the world depends on the correction that Israel must perform, I knew that there is no future for the Jews in San Francisco.
The course UC Berkeley intended to offer is only the beginning of the next wave of anti-Semitism that has spread throughout US campuses. Soon, campuses will not even attempt to put on a façade of academic integrity. The sole purpose of such courses will be to advance the Palestinian cause and delegitimize Israel.
Jewish students already feel very uncomfortable on campuses, and sometimes threatened. Many of them are already afraid to wear Jewish symbols such as star-of-David necklaces and yarmulkes. Can we imagine how they will feel when such courses become ubiquitous? And if we think we can distinguish between anti-Israel sentiments and anti-Jewish sentiments, we can learn otherwise by looking at what is happening in Europe.
The Moratorium Has Ended
Until a few years ago, it seemed as though US Jews had found some secret formula to dissolve anti-Semitism. At the beginning of the 20th century, and even in the 1950s, anti-Semitism, overt or covert, was still quite rampant and Jews were often excluded from universities, clubs, and certain occupations. But after the Holocaust and subsequent establishment of the State of Israel, it seemed as though a new era had begun and along with Hitler, anti-Semitism passed away.
But now the wind has changed. Liel Leibovitz wrote on Tablet Magazine, and I concur, that for American Jews, whoever wins this election, “politics will change in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend, but it will spell, in nontrivial ways, the end of a more than half-a-century-long American Jewish bloom.” While I believe that a Clinton victory will induce a much faster and much more sinister decline, the trend will be similar regardless of the winner.
The moratorium on overt Jew-hatred is quickly coming to a close. If we want to avoid another tragedy in the seemingly endless string of persecutions, extinctions, and expulsions, we have to act now, and in the only way we have been instructed by our forefathers.
Unity, Our Prime Defense
“The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them” (Maor Vashemesh). “We are commanded at each generation to strengthen the unity among us so our enemies do not rule over us” (The Book of Consciousness). “When unity restores Israel as before, Satan will have no place in which to place error. When they are as one man with one heart, they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil” (Shem Mishmuel).
“This is the mutual guarantee on which Moses worked so hard before his death, to unite the children of Israel. All of Israel are each other’s guarantors, meaning that when all are together, they see only good” (Broadcasting Voice).
Before the ruin of the Temple, our forefathers developed a unique method of connection. They did not suppress one another’s character or talents, nor did they exploit one another. They used their individual skills for the common good, thereby creating a society that both supported everyone’s personal fulfillment, and strengthened the social fabric that kept it together.
Our forefathers did not suppress their differences or downplay them. They only changed the aim for which they worked. Instead of seeking to advance themselves, they sought to advance the whole of society, creating a win-win situation where everyone gains.
This seemingly small difference creates a profound transformation. It creates a common interest in realizing the full personal potential of each member of the community. Moreover, it makes every member of the community personally interested in realizing the full potential of every other member in the community, since this advances the prosperity of all the other members of the community. In a word, this change of aim turns “love your neighbor as yourself” from theory into practice.
Today that simple-yet-effective connection method that our forefathers had perfected and committed to sharing with the nations is imperative to the survival of our society. Now, as our sages have been telling us, we have to implement it for our own sake, and for the sake of all of humanity.
Our Only Asset
Deep down, each Jew carries a latent memory of this connection and our obligation to pass it on. Deep down, every non-Jew feels that Jews somehow stick together and look after each other. Many non-Jews know that the unity of Jews is a powerful thing, but many of them misinterpret it and think we want to take over the world. It is hard coded in nature that we will be the bearers of the message of peace and unity by setting an example, so as long as we avoid it, people consider us harm-doers. We need to reignite our unity and share it with the world. As anti-Semite Henry Ford wrote, “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
In the eyes of the world, only if we give the world the peace and happiness it deserves, our existence will be justified. As long as we are disunited, we are not spreading unity. Rather than being “a light unto nations,” we spread the opposite, and the world rightly rejects us.
We have only ourselves to blame for the hatred toward us. As long as we are mean to one another, the world will be mean to us, since we cannot spread goodness. But if we use that special asset, the unique connection method that teaches how to realize one’s personal potential while solidifying the society, our example will clarify to the world why there are Jews and why Jews are imperative to their happiness.
The legitimacy of university courses like the one mentioned at the beginning of this column exists only as long as we do not know why we are here and what is our purpose in life. But when we realize who we are, and what a great gift of unity we have to give to the world, humankind will embrace us for the first time, and forever.
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