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Who’s a Grasshopper Now?

By standing strong and united, as we did in biblical times, we are demonstrating our ability not merely to exist, but to thrive.  
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November 30, 2023
People take part in a ‘United With Israel – Bring Them Home’ protest on November 26, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Numbers 13:33 contains one of the most fascinating passages in the bible.  Moses had sent out a dozen scouts to explore the land of Canaan.  Upon their return, all but two of them, Joshua and Caleb, reported that it would be better to go back to Egypt than to move forward, since the Israelites couldn’t possibly survive in the promised land given the ferocity of its inhabitants.  Their message wasn’t that our enemies are strong and we are weak, but that “we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”

Think about that – if you consider yourself to be small and vulnerable, should you be shocked when your adversaries judge you to be that way?  Now, as then, we need to stand tall against those who hate and doubt us, calling out mischaracterization and hypocrisy wherever we see it. And, alas, we seem to see it everywhere we look.

It is revolting to witness so many self-identified “progressive” students and faculty reflexively decrying the actions of Jewish “colonialists,” as they rationalize, ignore, or even celebrate, the brutality of Hamas terrorists.

While the global outrage at the notion that Israel has a right to defend itself is deplorable, nowhere is it more so than on America’s college campuses.  It is revolting to witness so many self-identified “progressive” students and faculty reflexively decrying the actions of Jewish “colonialists,” as they rationalize, ignore or even celebrate the brutality of Hamas terrorists.

I am not surprised to read the words of donors who are so disgusted with their alma maters that they are looking to redirect their philanthropy to more deserving causes.  I suggest that rather than write off universities altogether, they consider campus organizations that directly support their Jewish communities, such as Hillel.  And I ask them to also turn their attention to Israeli educational institutions, especially given that at a time when those schools need allies the most, they have been largely abandoned by their international counterparts.  

In a recent open letter to the worldwide academic community, the leaders of the major Israeli universities wrote that “It’s unsettling to note that college campuses [in the U.S. and in Europe] have become breeding grounds for anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments,” as they “have adopted Hamas as the cause celebre while Israel is demonized …    Academic institutions stand as lighthouses in the intellectual landscape, and we ask you to illuminate them … Expose the falsity of justifications for acts of terror; expose and condemn disingenuous statements; and reject hypocritical voices that justify murder, rape, and destruction in the name of ‘resistance.’”

The Israeli institution I know best is Tel Aviv University.  Northwestern University, where I served as President for 13 years, and TAU are sister schools, with a range of joint teaching and research programs.  And I am proud to say that I am one of many members of their global Board of Governors.

Under the leadership of its president, Ariel Porat, a celebrated legal scholar, TAU has been at the forefront of the Israeli response to the horrors of 10/7:  6,000 of their students are on active IDF duty; 1,000 of their faculty and staff are volunteering in hospitals and in agricultural fields; they created a substantial emergency fund for those directly affected; they host evacuees in their dorms; they are creating a major post-trauma center; etc.  And they are not alone.  

President Porat told me that he has never seen such unity in Israel.  The divisions in Israeli society of recent months, largely related to the problematic attempts at judicial “reform,” are a distant memory.  As Israel fights for its very survival, all hands are on deck.  

Those who think of Israelis – or Jews, in general – as grasshoppers, are seeing just how wrong they are.  By standing strong and united, as we did in biblical times, we are demonstrating our ability not merely to exist, but to thrive.  

Whether you write checks, volunteer your time, assist in the all-important public relations battle against those who maliciously misrepresent current events, or simply proudly wear your Jewish star, you are showing the world the vibrancy of our people.  We cower before no one in the defense of our ancient and forever homeland, as we shout for all to hear, “Am Yisrael Chai.”


Morton Schapiro is the former president of Williams College and Northwestern University.  His most recent book (with Gary Saul Morson) is “Minds Wide Shut:  How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us.”

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