Anti-Israel hatred on campus crests each year during an event called “Israel Apartheid Week.” With this ominous name and programs that thrive on ignorance and blind disregard for the facts, tens of thousands of college students are urged to rise up against Israel — painfully evoking the types of racist characterizations of the Jewish people, which defined attitudes once heard in Europe in the middle of the last century.
These campus initiatives were incubated in 2001 at the first Durban Conference, proclaiming “no apartheid South Africa in the 20th century and no apartheid Israel in the 21st.” This battle cry sparked the BDS movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions to punish Israel, and it all evolved into an invective-loaded campaign that found a degree of favor on campuses coast to coast, not to mention among some labor unions, churches, media and cultural institutions.
But it is based on a lie.
Typically, those hurling these charges against Israel hope that their audiences are ignorant of the facts: In apartheid South Africa, blacks were not allowed to use white hospitals, they could not attend white universities and they could not participate in the South African parliament. Visit Hadassah Hospital today, or any other health facility in Israel, and see Jewish and Arab doctors caring for Jewish and Arab patients. Witness for yourself at Hebrew University or any institution of higher learning as Jewish and Arab professors teach students of different backgrounds. Go to the Knesset, and observe the debates involving both Jewish and Arab parliamentarians.
Given this reality, Justice Richard Goldstone, a former judge on the South African Supreme Court wrote in The New York Times Oct. 31, 2011, “The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.” Goldstone, it should be remembered did not have a problem criticizing Israeli policies in the aftermath of its 2008-2009 military operation in the Gaza Strip. But when it came to calling Israel and apartheid state like the old South Africa, with which he was intimately familiar, he firmly rejected the charge, which was completely divorced from the reality of modern Israel.
No nation has fought racism more consistently than the Jewish people, whether through the anti-apartheid activists in the South African Jewish community or through those American Jews who joined the civil rights movement and locked arms with Martin Luther King Jr. The Jewish state was founded on the very same moral outlook, reflecting the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, which is deeply held across the Jewish religious spectrum. When Israeli medical teams rushed to international disaster zones in Turkey (1999), Kosovo (1999), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2008) and Haiti (2010), helping the afflicted regardless of their race or creed, they were driven by the very same core Jewish value.
Moreover, no group cherishes or champions freedom of speech more than the Jewish people. But the systematic dissemination of hate-based lies is not what freedom is about. This crosses the line. No one has a license to lie, manipulate or manufacture falsehoods.
Make no mistake, the primary characteristics of Israel Apartheid Week programming are terrible, unjustified charges expressly aimed at demonizing Israel. Unsubstantiated allegations, constantly repeated, take a toll on American opinion, despite bedrock gut support for Israel, which, thankfully, exists as a strong counterforce to this mass exercise in propaganda. Studies confirm that when accurate information about Israeli policies, society and values is provided, the false arguments are uniformly rejected.
Our most critical challenge is to educate the young and to begin this process during high school years or earlier — long before they arrive on college campuses. Our students feel confident and empowered when they know the facts and can challenge group-think favoring Israel’s isolation, dismantlement or destruction. We are duty-bound to engage students in creative, effective ways, through the media they best relate to: Facebook, Twitter and other Internet communication.
We must knock down the posturing of the IAW agitators, who could not care less about promoting peace or helping people in the Mideast. Encouraged by foreign governments that do not share Israel’s commitment to democracy and human rights, they are the purveyors of hatred, akin to many others who have preceded them.
Here’s the good news: Friends of Israel are not backing off or ignoring the challenge. Important new initiatives are already working hard to roll back the hatred. We must spare no effort to protect full legal rights and freedom of speech for pro-Israel students on campus. Visual communications, which have the power to speak the truth immediately and graphically are one super-critical tool required for this process.
Specifically, I conclude with a vitally important call to action, as easy to do as it is effective: I invite you to watch a film of monumental importance called “Crossing the Line.” This powerful 30-minute documentary exposes the growing anti-Israel sentiment that is taking root on college campuses across North America. Once you understand the problem, I hope you will join me in my quest to make sure all Jewish students are educated and empowered with the facts about Israel.
If modern Jewish history has taught our generation anything, it is that no threat to our existence should ever be ignored. Generations to come will judge us for what we do, or do not do, today to secure Israel’s future.
(Dore Gold is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former ambassador of Israel to the United Nations.)