February 20, 2020

Judea Pearl: Standing up for Israel on campus

It’s going to be a tough year on campus.

Anti-Israel rallies nationwide indicate that the atmosphere has turned toxic for all of us who love and support Israel.

But from many conversations with my university colleagues, I know that, despite what we see and read in the media, there is tremendous passion and affinity for Israel throughout our educational institutions, perhaps suppressed for the moment, but still strong.

The open hostility on the other side makes it difficult, even frightening, for us to find a way to project our pro-coexistence voices back into the mix. Many of us may be hesitant to speak up, and our silence further emboldens our detractors and demoralizes our students.

I recently had an experience that may reflect on how we can end this silence, clearly and elegantly, without uttering a single word, and in so doing, influence others to do the same.

At a recent scientific conference in Quebec, I decided to wear a simple U.S.-Israel Friendship flag lapel pin, which pairs the Israeli and American flags. For me, it just felt good to make a statement of support for a tiny country fighting for the safety of her citizens.

What I did not anticipate was the reaction I received from people around me. From passengers at the airport, hotel receptionists, colleagues at the conference, students and professors, known and unknown, Jews and gentiles, I was amazed and delighted to hear things like, “I love the pin you are wearing!” “Do you have one for me?” “I have a friend on a kibbutz!” and so on.

That was a surprise! And all it took was a simple gesture to release those bottled-up feelings awaiting an excuse to get out. 

Imagine what could happen if a few of us … then a few more … and a few more. .. started sporting those pins on campus. Could we actually begin to change that toxic campus atmosphere?

I believe we can.

Let’s display the pin proudly. Let’s wear it to classes, to lectures, to the cafeteria, to meetings with students and administrators, everywhere.

Let’s show our colleagues exactly where we stand.

Even more important, let’s make sure our Jewish students know they’re not alone, that they have a safe place to go, role models they can talk to — mentors with whom they can share their love for Israel, their passion for democracy and justice.

As for those with opposing views, they, too, need to know which side common sense is on.

Wearing friendship pins does not represent “advocacy” or “having all the answers” or “imposing an answer” or a “taking a definite public stand” or “an issue” — concerns I have heard, verbatim, from other professors.

It represents personal support of universal values, no less so than a pin of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines or the Wildlife Conservation Society. 

The preposterous idea that any mention of Israel should be “controversial” or “political” or “taking sides” or “an issue” is precisely the kind of intellectual terror that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement attempts to create on our campuses. I refuse to bend to this terror. Israel’s being and friendship are as normative as Diet Coke and French wine, and perhaps a bit more noble.

As to wearing a pin with Israeli-Palestinian flags, as a statement of peace and reconciliation, I would have considered it a year ago, but not today — not after seeing the faces and hearing the slogans of those who waved Palestinian flags in the anti-Israel demonstrations of the past few months. Too bad, but those faces transformed the flag they were waving into a symbol of death.

Let’s not shy away from engagement. Let’s welcome it. The stature we have earned through our dedication to research and education commands more weight than all the BDS forces put together, all the anti-Israel resolutions that student unions can draft or pass. I believe this non-imposing statement of identity and concern, heralded by that little pin, will portray us as people of principle and earn us respect in both camps: those who agree with us and those who don’t.

So simple an act. So powerful the message.

I hope you’ll join me in making our sentiments visible, empowering our students to action and, we hope, restoring sanity to campus life.

More than 100 campuses have already ordered the U.S.-Israel Friendship pins. You can receive yours free of charge by emailing shipping@standwithus.com.