A Thank-You Note to the Campus Protesters

Dear anti-Israel campus protesters:

Though it may take a few years before you realize it, supporters of Israel like me have reasons to give thanks to militant anti-Zionists like you.

Recently, a friend asked what I would have made of your protests if they had been less fervently one-sided. If, for instance, pro-Palestinian student groups at Harvard and Columbia hadn’t castigated Israel immediately following the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Or if Jewish students and professors hadn’t faced violence, harassment and antisemitic imagery from you or your allies from Harvard to Columbia to Berkeley to Stanford. Or if you had made a point of acknowledging the reality of the Oct. 7 rapes or the suffering of Israel’s hostages and their families while demanding their safe return. Or if you consistently condemned and distanced yourselves from Hamas. Or if all of you had simply followed rules that gave you every right to free expression without trampling on the rights of others to a safe and open campus.

In short, what if your protests had focused on Israel’s policies, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, rather than demanding the complete elimination of Israel as a Jewish state? What if you had avoided demonizing anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist — which includes a vast majority of Jews — as modern-day Nazis?

In that case, I told my friend, I would have disagreed with your views but I wouldn’t have despised them. Nor would a broad plurality of Americans, including many to my left. The result could have been a movement that would have had stronger arguments and greater impact. You would have been able to win over undecideds to your cause. And I would have had to fight harder to make my case that Israel must get rid of Hamas.

I realize this isn’t how some of you see it. The most hard-line among you want to “sharpen the contradictions,” as the Marxists say. Your real goal was not to shape U.S. government policy, at least in the near term. What you really want to do is normalize anti-Zionism, particularly on elite college campuses, while hoping that the bigger payoff will come in 20 or 30 years, when those you’ve converted to your cause become senators and governors and university presidents.

But the problem with sharpening the contradictions is that the contradictions being sharpened are your own. For every student who became ardently pro-Palestinian during the protests, another one, perhaps a Jewish student with previously indifferent feelings about Israel, finally saw the connection between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. For every professor who’s shown up to your encampment to lend support, you’ve lost a fair-minded liberal with your Maoist-style sloganeering and your arrogant disdain for the genuine fears of some of your Jewish peers.

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