The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is not the most significant threat to Jewish students and focus on the movement has brought it undue attention, a 35-year veteran campus Jewish educator said at the National Jewish Retreat.
Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University Education Director Rivkah Slonim made the comments in her introductory remarks before a presentation by student members of the Sinai Scholars Society at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s (JLI) National Jewish Retreat in Providence, Rhode Island.
“The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, as it relates to our precious Land of Israel, is not our most pressing problem” on campus, claimed Mrs. Slonim.
She noted that at orientation meetings with parents before the start of the academic year at Binghamton, parents were often disproportionately worried about BDS.
Mrs. Slonim backed up her claim with these facts: Out of approximately 4,000 American colleges and universities, BDS is a significant problem – creating a hostile learning and teaching environment while attempting to turn institutional endowments away from Israeli-owned businesses and excluding Israeli academics – on only about 40 campuses, although these include the most influential schools.
Over the last 13 years (2005-18), there have been 119 votes on BDS measures, accounting for less than 3% of the total number of 4-year undergraduate institutions in the United States; These 119 votes were concentrated in only 64 schools; 76 of the 119 votes were defeated; Only 36 schools have approved a BDS resolution in the last 13 years, amounting to only 1% of all US universities.
Mrs. Slonim did acknowledge that anti-Semitism on campus is, nevertheless, a widespread phenomenon emanating from faculty ideologically biased against Israel and Jews in general. “The Ivory Tower is afire”, she noted in a stirring metaphor. Nevertheless, she also noted that “Jewish communal hand-wringing brings the small BDS movement undue attention.”
In contrast, Mrs. Slonim creatively proposed her own “BDS threat,” representing three types of Jewish student:
“B,” burnt-out, bitter, bored and brooding students who had some limited Hebrew School education and now feel like they know it all.;
“D,” disinterested and disenfranchised Jewish students who have no Jewish education or background at all, whether from school or home; and
“S,” culturally-Jewish students satisfied with the status quo, eating latkes and lighting menorahs but unconcerned about their Jewish future.
“Students who don’t have a sense of Jewish identity, history, legacy, and destiny won’t give a damn about Israel,” she added.
Slonim’s prescription for this challenge is an interactive, experiential sort of Jewish education: “It’s not about gaining tools and skills and being able to navigate a page of Talmud — although that helps. It has to be ‘daat’, connected knowledge. Visceral, living, pulsating, breathing, welcoming, joyous knowledge.”
And so, although BDS is a major threat to the Jewish people, the way to address a general malaise over Jewish identity – including a lack of concern for Israel – is through Jewish education.
She particularly praised George and Pamela Rohr for their commitment to this form of education, calling them “visionary investors in the future of the Jewish people.”
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement formally launched in 2007, though anti-Israel activity as well as efforts to exclude Israeli professors from academic discussions predated the official campaign. The BDS movement aims to isolate Israel economically and culturally so that it can be conquered by regional enemies (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran) whose human rights practices include many atrocities against their own citizens.
JLI, Chabad’s adult education arm, is the largest adult Jewish education network in the world with 300,000 students taking courses at JLI’s 1,000 locations over the past 19 years. Its annual retreat regularly attracts over 1,200 participants, including many adults who have taken part in weekly classes.
The retreat is also open to Jewish university students who are members of the Sinai Scholars Society, a campus-based educational program run by JLI and Chabad on Campus international.