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10 Loud and Fast versus Slow and Quiet: Responses to Anti-Israel Activism on Campus Jeffrey Kopstein Jeffrey Kopstein brings a unique comparative perspective to the impact of anti-Israelism on campuses, having held leadership positions at the University of Toronto and, since 2015, the notorious University of California at Irvine. He describes his efforts to bring intellectual nuance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus while navigating the fraught politics, particularly as he attempted to bring three distinguished Israeli Supreme Court justices to campus. The first lecture he decided to cut short rather than allow the disruptive entry of protesters amassed outside. Regretting that decision, he instead brought the next visitor to campus secretly, to speak only to a private audience—but then felt ashamed at the indignity of treating a distinguished Israeli this way. Kopstein closes with an account of the widely reported May 2016 incident in which a large group of anti-Israel activists terrified a small group of pro-Israel students watching a film. At Irvine, it appears, Israel-related events must either be held secretly or only with significant police presence. In my experience, campus organizations hostile to Israel are less interested in criticizing Israeli policy than in effacing and deleting its existence. The issue is not the occupation of 1967 but the occupation of 1948—that is, the very founding and existence of the state. The tactics of these organizations are first to obfuscate and twist the meanings of the words Zionism and occupation and then to use these redefinitions to prevent any normalization of Israel on campus. Zionism is redefined from Jewish self-determination to racist colonialism, and occupation is redefined as all land under Jewish sovereignty no matter where it is. From there, it is but a small step to tar every Israeli academic visitor, event, film, lecture, course, academic exchange, art exhibit, or cultural celebration as an expression of an unjust and illegal regime. It is a difficult argument to oppose. Most students and faculty members have scattered knowledge of the history and complexities Loud and Fast versus Slow and Quiet | 143 of the region and therefore take the cognitive shortcut of identifying with the “out group.” Two responses to the generalized toxicity surrounding Israel on North American campuses offer themselves. The first is to counter speech with speech, to support Jewish students who encounter hostility by enabling them to talk about Israel, celebrate Israel, criticize Israel, and generally engage Israel. Jewish communities often support this approach and, through Hillel or other organizations, provide a steady stream of campus activities promoting the Israeli narrative. It is an approach with mixed success because high-profile events or even lower-profile ones that take place outside of the classroom and the normal curriculum do not diminish the ardor of anti-Israel activism. Just as often, it provides a focal point for anti-Israel activists. Countering speech with speech is important and theoretically sounds wonderful, but the reality is frequently less speech against speech than screaming against screaming and a generalized escalation of tensions (and toxicity) surrounding Israel on campus. The second response is quieter and slower. With all the noise of campus politics , what can easily be forgotten is that the strong point of universities is teaching and research. It is surprising how few universities offer courses on the history of Israel, courses in the social sciences of modern Israeli politics and culture, or even courses on the intellectual history or philosophy of Zionism. Where an academic program in Israel studies exists and is well integrated across the curriculum , a large cohort of students has a deeper knowledge of the conflict. They are better able to situate what they hear on campus from activists within a broader understanding of Jewish and Middle Eastern history. They will not necessarily become Zionists, but their presence influences the broader campus in ways that the screaming matches of campus activism do not. In summer 2015, I took up a new position as chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), a campus with a reputation for beautiful weather, an innovative faculty, and anti-Israel activism. Of course, I had been warned, but I was confident that my five years as director of the Anne Tanenbaum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto had prepared me for anything I might encounter. Besides, I had been brought to UCI not to deal with campus Israel politics but to lead a political...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253034083
MARC Record
OCLC
1019844795
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-05
Language
English
Open Access
No
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