An open letter from Fern Oppenheim

I visited Israel in 2007 as the guest of a program sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Fern Oppenheim was the host of our small group. She opened every door we wanted to enter and a few we didn’t even know existed. Fern has now written “An Open Letter to Presidents of American Universities and Colleges That Are Too Numerous to Name.” You know who she’s talking about. She writes:

This week we have been witness to the greatest atrocities and mass slaughter perpetrated against Jews since the Holocaust. Sickeningly, on many of your campuses, events are being held to support those who carried out this savagery and to blame the victims, innocent Israelis.

As a child of a Holocaust survivor in whose memory I write, I have spent my life trying to understand how such a heinous crime against humanity could have happened. The short answer is that the groundwork needs to be carefully laid. There are clear-cut steps, outlined by Natan Sharansky and others, that turn regular people into anti-Semitic vessels of hate and rage.

And, dear Presidents, your respective institutions have been complicit in accommodating this toxic process on your campuses for far too long. Specifically:

1) Demonization – In your Middle East Studies curricula and in student groups and events, Israelis (i.e., Jews) are consistently portrayed in the most defamatory and vile terms. Entire courses are devoted to teaching that Israelis are “colonizers,” as if it is perfectly acceptable to position Jews as the only people in the world that are not indigenous to any place on earth. Israel is routinely accused of being an Apartheid state guilty of human rights abuses. While Israel is an imperfect democracy struggling with extraordinary threats on many fronts, it tries to protect the rights of all its citizens — unlike its neighbors. It protects and provides access to holy sights to all religions. Arab Israelis sit in its Parliament. But the drumbeat of outrageous false accusations, many of them lodged by professors, go unchallenged by your administrations.

2) Double Standard – For years there have been ongoing chants across your campuses of “From the river to the sea, all of Palestine will be free.” This is not a call for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is a call to wipe Israel and the Israeli people off the map. Jewish students rightfully feel threatened. Would you allow students to openly call for the destruction of any other nation or homeland? “Safe spaces” are required for all identity groups but not for Jews. To cite another egregious example, a university recently hosted a Palestinian cultural event that featured Roger Waters, a vile anti-Semite who staged a concert this year dressed in a Nazi uniform. Would any university in 2023 host someone who performs in blackface? Thankfully, I think not, but Jewish sensitivities are not accorded the same consideration.

3) Dehumanization – Once you have sufficiently demonized a people, it is easy to forget that they are human. The very first room that you enter in Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, displays the newspaper articles that portrayed Jews as vermin and sub-human animals throughout Germany in the 1930’s. So when the time came to implement the Final Solution, Germans no longer thought of Jews as fellow human beings and were therefore able to routinely slaughter them. Likewise, the foul ways that you have allowed Israelis/Jews to be portrayed on your campuses have brought us to the point where student groups feel justified in openly supporting Hamas’s depraved actions against innocent human beings.

We are seeing videos of heart-wrenching atrocities. Israelis are crying for their missing and dead and decent reporters weep as they witness the untold human suffering. And you are hosting rallies in support of this carnage on your campuses? Shame on you for the moral depravity and ignorance that is festering under your watch.

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