September 18, 2019

Fighting Fascism on College Campuses

It’s hard to keep up. The Iranian professor who blamed Israel for “every dirty, treacherous, ugly and pernicious act happening in the world” — is he at Columbia or Rutgers? The SJP student who physically threatened “Zionist students” — is he at Stanford or San Francisco State? And what about the “Zionists not welcome” graffiti and the university president who refused to denounce it? 

There’s no question that the environment for Jewish students gets worse every year. There’s also no question that the entire campus culture has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Coincidence? Perhaps. But what is the subject that professors lie about most? What subject most often riles up protesters to disrupt classes and shut down speakers? Israel and the Jewish people, of course.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other anti-Israel groups are well-funded, blatant about their hatred of Jews and their desire to see Israel destroyed, and brilliant at anti-Jewish propaganda. But the problem also seems to be with leaders of Jewish centers on campus who say: We don’t want to “fuel the fire” of anti-Jewish activity on campus. Don’t fight back.

When Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and speaker who has been involved with campus advocacy for nearly a decade, was told by the staff at San Francisco State’s Jewish center that he shouldn’t speak on campus because “it might create a provocation,” he finally had had enough. “As I heard the Jewish professionals speak, all I could think about was, how did we get here? This is my own community, and I couldn’t be more disgusted and ashamed.”

Mazzig, 28, had suffered one of the worst incidences of campus fascism in 2016: 300 students at University College London violently disrupted his ability to give a talk. Mazzig and the Jewish students had to barricade themselves in a room and then be evacuated by police. 

What subject most often riles up protesters? Israel and the Jewish people, of course.

But Mazzig is also a former Israel Defense Forces commander. He knows a war when he sees it, and he knows that appeasement never works.

“We can no longer stay quiet to ‘keep the peace,’” Mazzig said. “We must remember that the Holocaust didn’t start with violence; it started with intolerance and hate speech.”

Teaming up with Mark Bloome, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mazzig created Zig Zag, a proactive, strategic organization that aims to empower students to address Jew hatred head-on. 

“This is a war against the Jewish people,” Bloome said. “It didn’t begin with the founding of Israel and it won’t end there. On campuses, it comes down to one question: Why aren’t Jewish students getting the same protection as other minorities?”

Why indeed? “It’s time to transcend the shtetl mentality that permeates much of the Jewish community,” Bloome said. “You can’t be nice in the face of evil.”

The first thing they did was replace the word anti-Semitism with ethnic racism or Jew hatred. “Why use a term that was coined by a Jew hater to sanitize his Jew hatred?” Bloome asked. 

Second, Mazzig selected 14 students from across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to become Zig Zag fellows and embark on a yearlong journey “to become elite fighters in the battle for Israel on campus.” Next, they held a conference in NYC. They had speakers from various groups provide detailed information on laws and strategy, but what struck me was how bright and articulate the students were — they are already leaders. And Israel is already giving back: Whatever they do in life, these students will use the skills they’re developing through Zig Zag.

Mazzig himself is a Jew hater’s worst nightmare—kind, soulful, dignified and openly gay. Mazzig, like Gal Gadot, represents the real Israel — the Israel that is constantly being lied about.

“If we can’t respect ourselves, how can any community respect us?” Mazzig said. “Zig Zag is about regaining this respect; it is about standing strong and not bowing down to hate, strategically. Our initiatives are going to reverberate across the country, across the world.” 

Mazzig borrows a line from Proverbs: “For by wise guidance, you will wage war.” 


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York.