Time to draw lines and defend them
At a certain point, you just have to know when draw a line in the sand.
Sloan and Guy Rachmuth, Jewish parents in Durham, North Carolina, reached that point in 2014 when they opted to walk away from their local Jewish day school and home school their two children.
The Rachmuths pulled their children out of the Lerner School when they concluded the school would not abide by its commitment to assist “all students in developing a positive Jewish identity and pride in their Jewish heritage.”
As committed Zionists, the Rachmuths were dismayed to see that far from fulfilling its commitment, the Lerner school was cultivating a learning environment that questioned the legitimacy of the Jewish national liberation movement and of the State of Israel.
Perhaps the turning point was when the school took down all the maps of Israel from the classroom walls.
Perhaps it was when their five-year-old son came home and asked them why the map of Israel hurt some people’s feelings.
Perhaps it was when they discovered that the school had employed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist as a Hebrew teacher.
Perhaps it was when they discovered that the school’s development director and former president of the board was an anti-Israel activist whose group, Jews for a Just Peace, had joined forces with the anti-Semitic and rabidly anti-Israel BDS groups Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement.
Perhaps it was when the school refused to back Israel during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
Or perhaps the Rachmuths felt obliged to draw their line and walk away when they got the sense that the school rejected not only their Zionism, but vigorously opposed their right to defend their values.
According to Andrew Pessin’s two-part report on the Rachmuth family’s ordeal published by JNS, in internal memos, the current school board president Tal Wittle referred to Sloan Rachmuth’s repeated complaints about the school’s diffident position on Israel, and the dominant role BDS supporters played at the school as “bigotry.”
If the Lerner school had simply let the Rachmuths walk away, the story would have been relegated to the shadows. Instead, it became a matter of importance for the American Jewish community and for Israel because the school decided to punish the Rachmuth’s for their decision.
Last fall the Lerner school sued the couple for breach of contract for their refusal to pay $20,000 in tuition for the 2014-2015 school year, despite the fact that their children did not go to school that year.
School officials told Pessin that it was “a business decision” to sue the family.
Maybe monetary considerations played a role, but Pessin quoted an internal email from Wittle to school principal Allison Oakes making clear that “business” was only one consideration.
“Part of me,” Wittle wrote, “wants to say [to the Rachmuths] fine, keep your money because our school doesn’t need such bigotry anywhere near it. But, one, that sends the message that they are in the right, and two, we run a business.”
In other words, the school decided that it needed to sue the Rachmuths in order to punish them for rejecting the school’s values.
And that isn’t the end of it. Pessin reported that community members are so angry at the Rachmuths that some are calling for the Durham Jewish community to boycott their business.
That is, “A family withdrawing from a school in protest of those who support the boycott against Israel [is now being threatened with] being boycotted by those who support the school.”
Pessin was assured by Oakes that while she had heard the same talk, the community would never really carry out the threat, although she is maintaining the lawsuit.
It’s hard to know the precise moment that unapologetic Zionism became controversial or even, as the president of the board of the Lerner School would have it, a form of bigotry, for a significant portion of American Jews. But there can be no doubt that it happened.
Last month a group of alumni from Oberlin College tried to oppose the rabid anti-Israel and anti-Semitic atmosphere on their alma mater’s campus. They organized a closed Facebook page and sent an open letter to the college’s president demanding action to protect Jewish students.
Among the many incidents that upset the alumni were the student cooperative association’s decision to expel the kosher food co-op. Another low point was when anti-Israel activists planted 2,133 flags in the center of campus to symbolize the Palestinians killed during Operation Protective Edge. They planted the flags on Rosh Hashana.
Rather than thank the alumni for acting to protect them, last week three Jewish student leaders published an op-ed in the Cleveland Jewish News condemning the alumni for failure to take a “nuanced” view of the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
The students wrote that they believed that the alumnis’ call for an end to BDS on campus needed to include “a call to end settlement expansion and other obstacles to lasting peace and a two-state solution.”
“We all agreed,” the Jewish student leaders wrote, “that working to end the occupation and achieve a two-state resolution is vital for the future of a Jewish and democratic Israel.”
In other words, you can’t be for Israel without embracing J Street’s moral equivalence – at best – between Hamas, a terrorist group which aspires to murder all Jews, and law abiding Israeli citizens who live in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria.
Perhaps the moment Zionism became a form of bigotry for American Jewry was in September 2007 when Columbia University’s Jewish president Lee Bollinger invited then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus. Ahmadinejad broke the post-Holocaust taboo of openly calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
By inviting him to speak on campus, Bollinger effectively said that the Jews have no intrinsic right to life – let alone to freedom and national self-determination. Rather, the determination of whether or not Jews can exist is a legitimate subject for debate and inquiry.
Everyone – including Ahmadinejad – has a right to voice their position on the issue. Moreover, Bollinger indicated through his action, America’s greatest universities have a duty to confer legitimacy and grant a prestigious venue to Ahmadinejad to air his genocidal position.
After Columbia gave legitimacy to a man who seeks to murder every Jew, how could anyone object to anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate groups merely insisting that the US end all assistance and support for Israel? How could it be illegitimate to blame Israel for the suffering of the Palestinians? How could it be illegitimate to teach Jewish kindergarteners that there is something intrinsically hurtful about the map of the Jewish state when a Jewish university president invited a man who called for that state to be wiped of the map to speak to his students?
Last week Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan held a “top secret” conference for Jewish leaders from around the world to develop strategies and action plans to fight BDS.
Pollster Frank Luntz reportedly shared with the 150 conference participants the dismal results of a survey he had taken of American Jewish university students.
According to Luntz, only 42 percent of American Jewish students surveyed said that Israel wants peace.
A mere 31% of the students believe that Israel is a democracy.
According to media accounts, the Strategic Affairs Ministry set out what its experts believe is the sort of language pro-Israel activists should use to counter BDS propaganda. The language, participants were told, should be inclusive, not condemnatory.
For instance, people opposing BDS should say, “Boycotts divide people, and that’s part of the problem, not the solution.”
On the other hand, it would be a big mistake to say, “The BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism. It’s about making Israel illegitimate.”
It’s hard to escape the sense that in advocating these slogans, the government has missed the point, and the boat.
You can’t engage people who believe you are evil.
You cannot cooperate with people who insist that anyone who defends you, or insists that you have a right to be defended is a bigot, whereas anyone who opposes you – including Ahmadinejad – has a right to be heard, and that it is the duty of right thinking people to provide them with prestigious venues to vent their hatred of the Jewish state and those who defend it.
For drawing the line in opposing anti-Israel indoctrination at a Jewish day school, the Rachmuths have been forced to cough up $30,000 in legal fees and endure the condemnation of their Jewish community which shuns them for their Zionism.
For drawing the line in opposing ever-so thinly veiled anti-Semitic intimidation of Jewish students at Oberlin, Jewish alumni have been castigated by the Jewish students they seek to protect.
The government has clearly awakened to the threat of the BDS movement. But our leaders still don’t seem to recognize that the answer to hatred isn’t inclusion.
It is drawing a line and defending it without apology.