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Sunday, October 26, 2003

Sharansky's impression from tour of American colleges: "Nearly 90% of our students are Jews of silence"

Sent by a reader in Israel. Subject line: Get a clue, American Jew
When I got to Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, I almost forgot I was on a college campus. The atmosphere was far from the cool, button-down academic reserve typical of such institutions. It was more reminiscent of a battlefield.

My arrival was greeted by a noisy demonstration of Palestinian and Jewish students holding signs reading "Racist Israel" and "War Criminals," together with black-coated Neturei Karta members calling for the destruction of the blasphemous Zionist entity. Faculty members, predictably led by a former Israeli professor, had sent out e-mails protesting the granting of a platform to a representative of the "Nazi, war-criminal" state. Of course, there was the famous pie incident in which a member of a campus Jewish anti-occupation group made his way past my security guards and plastered me in the face with a cream pie while shouting "End the Occupation."

Opposed to them were hundreds of no less rowdy Jewish students, full of motivation to defend Israel and give the protesters back as good as they got. After the pie incident, when I returned to the hall and mounted the stage, the atmosphere was so electric, so full of adrenalin, that the Palestinians and their supporters who had come to disrupt the event had no choice but to abandon their plans for provocation.

Things were not much calmer at Boston University: An anonymous bomb threat brought swarms of police to the lecture hall and almost forced a cancellation of my appearance. But here, too, some good resulted when the bomb threat caused the lecture to be moved to a larger hall, which was quickly filled with some 600 listeners who were unwilling to accept the violent silencing of pro-Israel views.

These moments — the pie throwing, the bomb threat, the demonstration — as raucous, threatening and contentious as they were, are among the more pleasant memories from my 13-campus tour of the United States. Perhaps it is because at these moments I felt that there was some point to my trip, perhaps because the violent hostility had stirred the students and motivated them to want to fight and win — which I, of course, was delighted to see.

There were other moments during my tour, difficult moments when I felt fear, sadness and worry. During a frank and friendly conversation with a group of Jewish students at Harvard University, one student admitted to me that she was afraid — afraid to express support for Israel, afraid to take part in pro-Israel organizations, afraid to be identified. The mood on campus had turned so anti-Israel that she was afraid that her open identification could cost her, damaging her grades and her academic future. That her professors, who control her final grades, were likely to view such activism unkindly, and that the risk was too great.

Having grown up in the communist Soviet Union, I am very familiar with this fear to express one's opinions, with the need to hold the "correct opinions" in order to get ahead, with the reality that expressing support for Israel is a blot on one's resume. But to find all these things at Harvard Business School?
Read it all at The Forward.