Last week, two Stanford University student organizations: the Muslim Student Awareness Network and the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, hosted an event entitled “Witnessing History Repeated,” which they advertised as a crude comparison between Jews in Israel and Nazis in Europe. The event’s speaker, Hedy Epstein, went well beyond the comparison and accused the Jews of everything short of causing global warming, including using special “exploding bullets” to shoot at children and protesters, indiscriminate killing of innocents, and deliberate acts of cruelty meant to degrade and dehumanize the victims. Undoubtedly the speaker’s obsessively repeated allegations of constant use of tear gas by Israeli soldiers were also meant to subtly draw the comparison between the IDF and that other army which liked to use gas.
Despite the temptation to dismiss this predictably shocking event as being so far beyond the pale of sane discourse that it could not possibly impact any reasonable person, we are nevertheless compelled by a powerful need to analyze it, for we sense here a danger that is much greater than the effect of the lecture on the student body. As with most MSAN events dealing with Israel it was blatantly obvious that the MSAN member audience had come to the lecture having already tried Israel and pronounced her guilty, which raises the question of why it was necessary to hold the lecture at all. The audience was so ecstatic at every gruesome charge leveled at Israel that one had to conclude that either they really enjoyed hearing them, or that the point of the event was to relieve a lot of pent up anger. At a certain point the speech itself become perfunctory. Indeed, by the time Mrs. Epstein got to the much anticipated explanation for why she understands perfectly well suicide bombers who blow up Jewish children and the elderly, though she personally doesn’t fully approve (of course not), it all seemed like much more of a religious than an academic exercise. What was its purpose and how should Jews respond to it?
We suggest that the speaker or her accusations are not the issue, but rather what troubles us is the behavior of the groups who organized the event.
Taking a step back, we see that Wednesdays lecture is really part of a much larger pattern, one clearly evident to anyone who visits the web sites of MSAN and CJME. It seems that these two campus organizations each claim to represent the broadest constituency imaginable. One represents a religious-cultural group numbering 1.3 billion people from 40 different countries. The other claims to represent the ideal of human rights and global justice, something most people hold in great esteem (at least in this country). As it turns out, between the two of them, MSAN and CJME have only one topic for most of their events: the horror that is Israel and the Jews. Since the Jews have one of the smallest countries in the world and number only a few million, how can it be that they take up so much of the attention and creative energies of two campus organizations that would seem to have so much more on their plate?
Furthermore, when these two organizations deal with Israel they don’t mince words. “Ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “barbarism,” “the greatest violators of human rights” - these are expressions that abound in events organized by MSAN and CJME and roll off the tongues of the speakers they invite. Yet, something here doesn’t compute. Do the Jews behead someone every week or so in Iraq? Did we rig a Russian children’s school with bombs to assert our feelings of nationalism? Do we use gang-rape to settle communal disputes, murder our own daughters on the basis of a rumor, or burn girls alive to ensure modesty? Do we bomb cafes in a way that maximizes the number of children killed or destroy any place of worship that is not a synagogue? When was the last time the Jews hijacked a plane in the name of Torah?
The plain fact is that Jews don’t do these things! Certain Muslims, on the other hand, do - all the time. No amount of apologetics about the “roots of terrorism” in “humiliation” or “frustration” as professed by organizations like MSAN can ever get around this fact. How then, is it possible for MSAN to spend all its time slinging dirt at Israel, and so viciously? Is this not the pinnacle of disingenuousness? In anticipation of innocent or insidious misrepresentations of this article, there is no attempt here to blame all Muslims for the violence some perpetrate or to focus solely on their problems. We have no intention of dissecting the various troubles of the Arab Muslim world, and they are not the focus of this article. What is bothersome is when organizations which claim to speak for Muslims try to shift the focus off their problems, very much of their own making, by making a vocation of slandering the Jews.
Hence, we note with considerable worry that the trend toward increased demonization of the Jews by groups representing Muslims coincides with an increase in violence perpetrated by radical Muslims all over the world. This is now a global trend with an obvious trajectory. What happened at Stanford on Wednesday happens at other campuses year round, and it’s getting worse as international terrorism becomes more and more pervasive. Its no surprise also, that much of the time at the United Nations is taken up with the business of passing resolutions against Israel, while issues like genocide in the Sudan (incidentally perpetrated by Muslims) assume a significantly lower priority. Problems in Muslim countries are theirs to solve, and we do not presume to lecture people on how they should solve their problems. But when blaming the Jews becomes the outlet for increasingly aggressive behavior, tragedy ensues. What can be the purpose of portraying the Jew-ish State as a Nazi genocidal regime, if not to advertise to bystanders (who might otherwise be expected to come to the aid of a fellow Democracy under attack) that MSAN feels completely justified in wanting to see Israel destroyed? For this reason, we will not let groups like MSAN continue to dump on Israel instead of tending to their own abundant business.
This process of vilifying Jews to divert attention has repeated itself countless times before, most recently when Germans used antisemitism to take the focus off their desire to take over the world, and when Communist leaders used persecution of the Jews to mask their campaign to enslave an entire continent. But, as Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse points out in her book If I Am Not For Myself, today there is a fundamental difference: decent people can no longer pretend that antisemitism is simply a fringe obsession with no political consequence or that they are oblivious to where blaming the Jews inevitably leads. Now that we know what can happen when anti-semitism is allowed to run rampant, when aggressive groups with blood on their hands are allowed to blame the Jews for everything they themselves are guilty of to take the focus off their own violence, how much greater is our responsibility to stand up against them? Now that we have seen what the Germans could do with a few bands of storm troopers in brown shirts and a team of intellectual sympathizers, how can we ignore the antisemitism in the Arab Muslim world, which often surpasses that of the Nazi regime and now has access to nuclear weapons, nail-bombs, and an entire network of American apologists? Are we not obligated to confront it everywhere, even at Stanford where we are relatively safe from it?
This brings us to the most painful aspect of Wednesday’s event, namely that it was met with complete silence perturbed by only a few brave exceptions. Not too many Jewish faculty, some of whom teach their classes in the same building, noticeably challenged or protested the event at which the Jewish State was compared to Nazi Germany – a regime that systematically murdered six million Jews and over a million children simply for being Jewish, with the active collusion of virtually every government in Europe and several Arab governments in the Middle East. Aside from a few pro forma letters written to express “outrage” little actual outrage was evident. Certainly not the kind of outrage one would see if one were to host an event that, as an example, grossly offended the gay community, the Catholic community, or any group other than the Jews.
Free speech is an absolute right, and we do not challenge Mrs. Epstein’s rights even to malicious or offensive speech (though one might argue that hers isn’t speech at all but rather incitement and slander). But free speech, much like freedom itself, cannot be monopolized by one party. Lies and hatred in the name of “free speech” must be challenged forcefully with even more free speech by the decent people of the world. Otherwise, as was the case during the Nazi rise to power, the freedom to propagate hateful ideas can become the avenue for ending all freedoms.
Today every Jew has an obligation to his people to stand up with pride and without apology when someone comes to destroy them, and nowhere is this responsibility greater than here on campus. Non-Jews too have a responsibility to defend the Jews, for an attack on the Jews is really the first stage of aggressive, imperial ambitions that extend well beyond Jews. The same group of people who have been prosecuting the war on Jewish children in Israel ever since the Nazis were defeated, attacked America on September 11th.
We therefore ask that every Stanford student who reads this article request a refund for the “special fees” that go to MSAN (qualified student organizations automatically receive funding from activities fees that are deducted from student accounts unless students explic-itly request a refund). We ask that you call the President of Stanford and ask for the student group status of both MSAN and CJME to be revoked, and that Stanford alumni demand concrete steps be taken to combat antisemitism on campus and in the classroom. Most importantly, we ask that all people who really care about justice and human rights do their part to prevent hateful political groups, whose single contribution to campus life is libeling Israel, from blaming the Jews for all their many problems without having to explain their motives. MSAN and CJME must stop holding events that demonize Israel, period. We suggest that they focus on other things, like falafel, women’s rights in Muslim countries, or the contributions of Arab Muslim society to the world.
We conclude with an expression of sympathy for the suffering of millions of Arabs and Muslims worldwide. It does not take a Stanford degree, however, to understand that Israel and the Jews are not the cause of this suffering. We are encouraged to see many hopeful signs around the world (if not yet at Stanford) that more and more Arabs are beginning to recognize this. One only hopes that some day those Stanford Arab and Muslim students and faculty who truly care about their people will understand it as well. Until Muslim groups on campus develop a culture of introspection and self improvement, people of good will must resist their campaign to vilify their favorite scapegoat.