February 14, 2008
L.A.‘s defenders of Israel
The L.A. battle for Israel's survival
(Page 3 - Previous Page)"Columbia Unbecoming," which alleged faculty intimidation of pro-Israel students at the Ivy League school.
"We have lost a generation. The Jewish leadership failed to understand the situation we were in. We thought that people who were our enemies would be thugs yelling 'kike,' instead of soft-spoken college professors saying Israel is an apartheid state," Charles Jacobs, president of the Boston-based David Project, said. "In the West today, most people don't hate the Jews because we are Christ-killers and we are racial vermin, but they hate Jews because they see us supporting what has been unfairly described as the cruelest of nations."
Just how serious the crisis on college campuses is, how deeply Israel is being vilified, how under attack Jewish students feel, is a source of great debate. Many schools, including USC, UCLA and CSUN, seem mostly immune from the anti-Israel rhetoric 51 weeks of the year. But then Palestinian Awareness Week draws tension between Muslims and Jews at UCLA, or a controversial speaker is invited to any one of those universities and concern crests. More troubling are campuses plagued by frequent protests against Israel, like one at Concordia University in Montreal six years ago that resembled a pogrom.
"There isn't as much happening on campuses as people think," said Amanda Susskind, the ADL's regional director. "But where it is happening, it is happening worse than people can imagine."
Among the schools most afflicted by Israel-bashing has been UC Irvine, where students frequently march against Israel holding signs that say "Smash the Jewish State" and "Israel, the 4th Reich." Several times a year since the outbreak of the Second Intifada, radicals like Muhammad Al-Asi and Amir Abdel Malik Ali have been invited by the Muslim Student Union to praise suicide bombers as "freedom fighters" and accuse "the Zionist-controlled media" of distorting the human-rights record of "the apartheid State of Israel," a country that is "a monkey on the American back" and "a cancerous presence."
"There is great racism against Jewish students on college campuses within the Muslim student organizations. The speakers, the programs, the handouts are all indicative of a deep hatred of Israel and, in my opinion, of a very deep racist ideology," Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, associate rabbi of UC Irvine's interfaith center, said. "I have been -- just this last week actually -- the victim of that racism by Muslim students at UC Irvine. I was heckled when I was trying to speak to a group of high school students about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was on Thursday; it was on campus. There is just a wave of hatred and racism directed at Jewish students by Muslim students. It literally permeates everything they do."
Anti-Israel attacks have appeared across the country, most often where unaffiliated speakers have been invited by pro-Palestinian campus groups. (A 44-minute StandWithUs documentary, "Tolerating Intolerance," focuses on a handful of these speakers, including Al-Asi, Malik Ali and Finkelstein.) The crisis, however, is not endemic. And even at large universities where the problem seems to be acute -- places like San Francisco State a few years ago -- many Jewish students report no problems.
"Even at San Francisco State and even in the heat of this," said Seth Brysk, who was the Hillel director there and is now executive director of the American Jewish Committee's L.A. chapter, "I had Jewish students say to me, 'Why are you making such a big deal about this? I've never had a problem with anti-Semitism.'"
Roz Rothstein doesn't believe an unstoppable crisis is racing across academia. But she thinks a pro-Palestinian agenda in favor of the end of the Jewish state is simmering below the surface. And she wasn't willing to wait until it was too late.
"We are not the victims, and we do not want to be the victims. We are strong enough to say 'never again,'" Rothstein said. "I didn't create bus bombings. I was minding my own business before 2000. I was raising a family; I wasn't working for the Museum of Tolerance or the ADL. This isn't about anti-Semitism. This is about radical Islam creating a society of little fundamentalists that have radical intentions."
Rothstein, 55, sat in her undecorated L.A. office on the second-floor of an industrial building, a location the group doesn't disclose for fear of violence. A handful of boxes were stacked on top of, and in front of, three large bookcases and a smaller one filled with multiple copies of "The Israelis" by Donna Rosenthal, "Exodus" by Leon Uris, "Myths & Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict" by Mitchell Bard and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History & Culture." These aren't part of Rothstein's personal collection -- that shelf includes Steven Emerson's "American Jihad" and Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" -- but are used to seed libraries with books that positively represent Israel -- more than 3,500 locations so far.
Her focus is divided between disseminating pro-Israel information in the Western world and opposing what she called "the hate training of the Palestinian children." Strongly influenced by the fact that both parents and her stepfather were survivors, Rothstein draws parallels between indoctrination of Arab children and the Hitler Youth.
"How did they do it? They did it with the same cartoons and hate training that we see today in Arab countries," she said, using her computer to log onto standwithus.com. She pulled up a flyer comparing anti-Semitic cartoons in Nazi Germany with those found in Arab papers -- a giant spider bearing the Magen David, a child being slaughtered in ritualistic baking, a grotesque Jew being kicked off a cliff.
"How do you get people to hate? Use things that were successful. The Nazis got Europe to hate the Jews," she said. "So they use their model and they do it all over."
Rothstein is not only the public face of StandWithUs, but its core energy. She started the organization with her husband and Esther Renzer, a like-minded woman who serves as the board president, and is widely credited with its meteoric rise, something admired by both critics and supporters.