Jewish students need to be educated on how to deal with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel situations long before they get to university. This is the view of Martin Yafe, a leading educator in New York’s Jewish community and a security affairs specialist.
Argentinian-born Yafe has written a strategy, Leading on Campus, to help students to deal with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic situations plus activities of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement at universities and colleges.
Yafe was a panel member at what was arguably the stand-out session of the 120 at Limmud FSU for Russian-speaking Jews in Westchester, New York.
Only a month ago, a National Union of Students report – The Experience of Jewish Students – revealed more than two-thirds of those “whose students’ union had a BDS policy or campaign did not feel comfortable or comfortable at all with it”.
Speaking exclusively to Jewish News later, Yafe said the approach that had worked in the past to counter anti-Semitism based on facts and history was now “a myth, it’s wrong that what you need to know to counter these groups is just the facts and history. That’s bull****.”
Now, he says, “the starting point should be training students to stand up for their Jewish identity, to have their own culture accepted, rather than accepting the culture of others first”. Once that has been achieved, moving on to enable students to deal with issues surrounding Israel becomes easier to accomplish.
However, where BDS is concerned, Yafe says matters become more complicated. Students should not decide their own reactions to BDS activities, which can be very provocative. In one case, hoax leaflets delivered by Students for Justice for Palestine to predominantly Jewish student dormitories told them their building was going to be demolished.
“I asked students what their reaction would be. Some said they would punch the perpetrators, some would talk to parents or the administration. What is right and wrong? If you write a letter, it would be seen as weak. What we have to assess is the forcefulness of the reaction.
“Students should not plan their own reaction. They should look to communal organisations to help them to forge a co-ordinated response. There are people paid to work out the strategy for these events. They know how to deal with the threats. That way students don’t get hurt but get stronger.”
Yafe, consultant and lead educator for New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, also advocated Jewish students engaging other groups representing ethnic and other minorities to enlist their support. He said he would be happy to pass on his strategy to help students in Britain.
The latest Limmud FSU was hailed a success by founder Chaim Chesler, who said: “The New York Russian-speaking Jewish community is thriving and Limmud FSU New York has become an integral part of this exciting growth.”
The event was organised by volunteers headed by FSU US project manager Noam Shumach-Khaimov.