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Berkeley Story Signifies a New Trend: Shutting Down Zionism

This is not your father’s BDS, when bashing the Jewish state and calling for its boycott would suffice. This escalation is out to boycott, bully and silence any Jewish student who believes in Israel’s right to exist.
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October 6, 2022
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“Your tour should be shut down!” a heckler yelled last week at American Jewish comedian Sam Morril, who was performing at a comedy club in Omaha. The heckler, identifying herself as “anti-Apartheid,” also yelled “Free Palestine” and told Morril she was “trying to make a public statement,” to which Morril responded: “Oh, a public statement? At the Omaha Funny Bone?”

Funny or not, this incident in the unlikeliest of places signifies an alarming new trend in the public relations war against the Jewish state: It is no longer enough to malign Zionism; now it must be shut down.

We saw the latest and loudest manifestation of this phenomenon with the recent brouhaha over the decision of nine student groups at Berkeley School of Law to ban Zionist speakers. Kenneth Marcus’s op-ed in the Jewish Journal characterizing the move as creating “Jewish Free Zones” triggered the firestorm. In his response published in the Journal, Berkeley Dean of Law Erwin Chemerinsky reiterated his strong opposition to the student groups’ decision. But then he added: “It is important to recognize that law student groups have free speech rights, including to express messages that I and others might find offensive.”

As many have noted, the problem with that argument is that using free speech to shut down free speech is not free speech. It is the opposite. It is that heckler in Omaha telling a Jewish comedian he has no right to be on stage. It is the message more and more Jewish students are hearing on college campuses: If you are an avowed Zionist, you have no right to speak publicly or even join other clubs.

Chemerinsky also noted that “only a handful” of student groups voted for the Zionist ban. This is in keeping with seeing the glass as half full, highlighting the numerous positive developments for Jewish college students across the country, helped by welcoming groups such as Hillel and Chabad.

It takes nothing away from those positives, however, to recognize that a troubling new trend is afoot. This is not your father’s BDS, when bashing the Jewish state and calling for its boycott would suffice. This escalation is out to boycott, bully and silence any Jewish student who believes in Israel’s right to exist.

This is why the actions of nine student groups at Berkeley created such a storm: There is genuine concern among many in the Jewish community that the shutting down of Zionism will turn into an  epidemic.

Already, the movement is gaining momentum. Many Jewish college students are now walking on eggshells. A 2021 Brandeis Center poll found that “50% of Jewish students hide their Jewish identity and more than half avoid expressing their views on Israel.”

In a recent report in the Washington Examiner titled, “The New Loyalty Oath Imposed on Jews,” Melissa Langsam Braunstein writes that “On college campuses, in progressive organizing spaces, in some professional contexts, and even among friends, Americans are increasingly being told their Zionism is disqualifying. For many Jews, that means an aspect of their own identity makes them persona non grata in spaces where left-wing views are paramount.”

Feeling as if you’re persona non grata is on a different level than being offended by hurtful language. Persona non grata is the feeling of being erased. You’re not just offended; you’re humiliated.

This movement to erase Zionists, Braunstein writes,“affects all Jews in these spaces because they are greeted with suspicions and assumptions about their support for Israel that they must either dispel or confirm.”

We need new language and new tools to fight this new virus. It’s not enough to condemn it and call it antisemitism. The movement to shut down Zionism must itself be shut down.

Unfortunately, it’s only getting worse, fueled by a decades-long campaign to stigmatize Zionism and turn it into a dirty word among progressives. Because the progressive mindset dominates our culture, from academia to Hollywood to media to Corporate America, Israel haters on college campuses have had a field day, “intersecting” their cause with virtually every progressive cause under the sun. In this permissive atmosphere, when bashing Israel is seen as the popular thing to do, “progressing” from maligning Zionism to shutting down Zionism is a natural next step.

As the campaign against Zionism has escalated, the irony is that Israel has become one of the world’s more valuable and indispensable countries, creating a vibrant, multicultural society with innovations that touch virtually every problem facing humanity.

It’s important to keep all that in mind when fighting Israel haters. Israel deserves more than “the right to exist” and Jewish college students deserve more than the right to be Zionists. How Israel is benefitting the world is itself a big story with wide resonance. That proud, positive message must also spread like an epidemic, so it will reach not just every college student but even ignorant hecklers in Omaha.

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