Here at YU, we receive an incredible Jewish education. We have countless classes and opportunities to learn more about Jewish history, Jewish law, the Jewish community…and the list goes on. We even have a mandatory Hebrew language course. There is one area, though, where our education is egregiously lacking.
I realized this when I was with several other girls waiting for class to start, and the discussion turned to the recent Women’s March of January 2017. I told my classmates that there were certain aims the marchers had that I understood, but while I admired their overall goals, as a Jewish woman I felt unsettled by some of the positions held by the march’s leaders. At that point, a girl who was not involved in the conversation leaned in and sneered, “Linda Sarsour. She’s a Nazi.”
I was startled by her vitriol and her refusal to otherwise contribute to the conversation. I pressed her to explain why she had hurled such an ugly word at Sarsour, and she could not answer me. She could not elaborate or justify why she was so quick to hurl such a slur at someone. I told her, then, that she was off the mark; I may definitively disagree with Sarsour, a woman who once tweeted that there’s “nothing creepier than a Zionist”, but I’m not afraid of her rhetoric. I was referring to the insidious anti-semitism of Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, activists and women’s march participants. Both of them regularly post videos of, and selfies with, the notorious anti-semite (or as Perez put it, the “inspirational individual”), Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam. Quotes of his that these two women haven’t posted include affirmations such as “[Jews] are the enemy of God and the enemy of the righteous,” and “the Satanic Jews that control everything and mostly everybody”. He believes that Israel masterminded 9/11, that Jews ran the slave trade, and that Jews in Hollywood were the ones to ruin Michael Jackson.
But that was not what enraged that girl to the point of speechlessness. She is rightly enraged by the opinions of Sarsour, but she couldn’t tell me why she was angry or what was wrong about those opinions. She had focused her ire on the obvious target, but she had no idea who the other targets were. My peers worry about Sarsour, who is a controversial figure, whereas the subtler anti-semitism of Mallory and Perez is mainstreamed and normalized.
That’s a problem. In coming to YU, many of us considered the warmth of a Jewish campus versus the potential hostilities that linger in secular campuses. At YU, we can wave our Israeli flags proudly; being a Zionist is practically a given. But our cozy bubble is temporary, and we will eventually emerge from it into the real world. We will still have the fierce pro-Israel pride YU instilled, but will any of us be able to explain our support for Israel? Our love is instinctive and our knowledge is based only in emotion and religion, and neither of those things will impress the skeptics.
What we need to do is educate ourselves. And no, not on Facebook, which in some ways is more of a bubble than YU is. If you consider yourself a Zionist–if you want to defend Israel–you need to come armed with facts, with history, with statistics, with sources. You need to be able to explain your support and love for Israel. There’s a debate going on, but can any of us maintain an argument?
At YU, we are required to take classes so that we can speak the language of Israel. So why are there no classes, much less any mandatory classes, on how to speak for Israel here in America? It is more important now than ever. If you’re going to defend Israel, you need to know what you’re talking about.