Deborah Daniels: Students need better education on Jewish history

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Deborah DanielsOn Oct. 7 of this year, a horrific series of events occurred, the depravity of which almost defies comprehension.

Without warning, Hamas militants launched some 3,000 rockets into Israel and proceeded to invade various kibbutzim, viciously raping and killing innocent civilians indiscriminately and setting homes on fire. They raided a peaceful music festival, massacring over 350 people. They took hundreds of hostages, as cynical insurance against the inevitable—and clearly intended by Hamas—Israeli response.

Whatever complaints one might have about the leadership of Israel, or its policies, they do not under any circumstances constitute justification for the massacre of innocent civilians.

Hamas exists to exterminate Jews and the Jewish state of Israel. Its founding charter, written in 1988, called for the killing of Jews (somewhat diluted in 2017 to refer to “Zionists” rather than Jews as the enemy).

Too many seem to confuse Hamas with the Palestinian people. Hamas not only acted without regard to the fate of Palestinian civilians but deliberately precipitated harm to them. Its members have used the Palestinian population in Gaza as a human shield, hiding its militants and their weapons in hospitals and other locations populated by vulnerable civilians.

There is only one appropriate response to this kind of depravity, and our government has rightly and unequivocally condemned it. At the same time, the administration has sought to temper Israel’s fully justified response in the interest of minimizing harm to innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

U.S. leaders recognize who the real victim is while also recognizing and seeking to reduce the harm likely to result from an insufficiently targeted response by the Israelis. Our nation’s leaders also recognize that it is not the Palestinian people, or Muslims in general, who are to blame for the carnage.

But among the young, whose youth prevents full comprehension of the centuries of anti-Jewish bias that led to the Holocaust’s systematic murder of 6 million Jews and that continues today, the mood is different. A recent Quinnipiac poll found 52% of those age 18-34 sympathized more with Palestinians, versus 29% who sympathized with Jews.

At Harvard University, over 30 campus organizations signed off on a statement immediately after Oct. 7 that began, “We … hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

There cannot be a clearer case of blaming the victim.

Appropriately, the statement was roundly condemned. Critics included former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who called the statement “morally unconscionable”—and he also had harsh words for the failure of the Harvard administration to condemn the statement. The administration, apparently afraid of alienating the misguided students, initially had issued a tepid statement somewhat reminiscent of former President Trump’s “very good people on both sides” comment after the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist march (remembered for the chant “Jews will not replace us!”) and related killings in 2017.

Unfortunately, the Harvard fallout has included threats to both Jewish and Palestinian students, all of whom reported fear for their safety. Such attacks on both Jews and Muslims have occurred throughout the country, and not just on college campuses.

There are likely many lessons to be learned as a result of the multiple inappropriate responses to Hamas’ unforgivably heinous actions and their aftermath. Primary among them, in my estimation, is the need for improved education of students in the history of the Jewish people—and a focus on the free exchange of ideas without enmity or the demonization of entire populations based on opposing points of view.

This, after all, is a primary purpose of higher education, isn’t it?•

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Daniels, an attorney with Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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