A month ago the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, came to Cooper Union’s Great Hall, where he spoke to approximately 1,000 students, mostly from NYU.
Praised as a moderate, at least in comparison to Hamas, Abbas accused Israel of genocide in Gaza. He repeated that charge at the U.N. General Assembly four days later.
Did anyone object to this monumental blood libel against the Jewish people?
Yes. It was an NYU undergraduate who happened to have just finished his Chabad s’michah, Mendy Boteach, along with five of his siblings. My son had sought to enlist the mainstream Jewish groups on campus to protest Abbas’s demonization of Israel. They encouraged their students to participate in the lecture instead. Some had given Abbas a standing ovation. Mendy was not disheartened. The media interviewed him extensively as the lone protestor, and his message was broadcast far and wide.
I decided there would have to be an appropriate response to the Palestinian Authority president falsely accusing the Jews of wholesale slaughter. I approached my friend and mentor, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, and asked him to participate in a panel discussion, so he not only could refute the monstrous allegation but also talk about why the Jews are perennial targets of genocide, both as victims and now as purported perpetrators. Are we living in an age of new anti-Semitism?
I then invited my friend Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the U.N., who wrote the most important book on genocide, “A Problem from Hell,” to introduce Mr. Wiesel. Samantha, who is pretty busy rescuing a fallen word, graciously agreed.
Finally, I turned to my former student, Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard, one of America’s greatest legal scholars, to join the discussion.
It was all set. The announcement of the event immediately garnered all the usual attacks from pro-Arab and anti-Israel sites all over the Internet. We knew it would be big. Now we only had to get the students.
And here we met even more ferocious opposition from Jewish groups on campus than from Palestinian ones. Jewish groups would not send the simple ad to their mailing lists. They gave excuses. They said it was late. They were traveling. But one told me exactly how he felt.
“Israel is political. My job as a rabbi is to create a Jewish environment for the students and bring them closer to tradition. Why would I risk being divisive by standing up for Israel? We stay away from politics.”
Another student leader told me, “We have excellent relationships with Arab and Palestinian students here. Associating ourselves with your event will elicit the ire of the Palestinian students and put us in their crosshairs. Why do we need that?”
I responded, “Standing up for Israel on campus is not political and it is not Zionist. It is the supreme expression of Jewish pride. Israel is the sum of Jewish hopes and dreams. When we stand up for Israel we celebrate our national aspirations for peoplehood.
“And can there really be Jewish observance without Jewish pride? Can there be a soul without a body?”
It was becoming a battle. My son Mendy, who had been given responsibility as the event’s chief student organizer, was growing disillusioned. He knew before he arrived at NYU that he wanted a principal form of his student experience to be Israel promotion and defense. Now he was in the thick of things. NYU has more Jewish students than any other private university in America, but he had to fight with the leading Jewish organizations there to get them to promote Elie Wiesel to their students.
Mendy wisely decided to circumvent the Jewish organizations and go directly to the non-Jewish mainstream and political organizations, which were only too honored to host Elie Wiesel. At last count the tickets were nearly sold out.
But if you’re wondering why Israel is being hammered on campus, look no further than this story, which repeats itself on campuses everywhere. While the Palestinian students stand up proudly for their side, accusing Israel of all kinds of abuses, Jewish organizational leaders are afraid of being divisive, of being marginalized as defenders of an unpopular regime, and of being accused of defending human rights abuses. In their fear, they cede the campus to anti-Israel activists.
This cannot stand.
As we’re doing in our event at Cooper Union/NYU, we must bring the fight to our enemies. No longer can Jewish students only play defense on campus. We must force Israel’s haters to defend the record of Hamas, with its honor killings of women and extrajudicial killings of gays. We’ve long witnessed Abbas – “the moderate” – naming public squares after Palestinian terrorists whose hands are dripping with Jewish blood. He posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the 1978 Coastal Road attack, where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed, calling him “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” He named a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack, in 2011. Last August, Abbas gave a hero’s welcome to Palestinian murderers who were released by Israel as a goodwill gesture.
We’ve watched as Abbas has slowly become yet another Arab dictator who no longer holds elections once he has been elected. We’ve watched as Abbas has turned the Palestinian Authority into a kleptocracy, enriching his sons, Tarik and Yasser, as they’ve taken control of the cigarette, construction, and other lucrative trades.
Now comes the news that Abbas’ response to last week’s shooting of an Israeli-American activist in Jerusalem by a Palestinian terrorist was to write to the murderer’s father, praising his son as a Palestinian hero.
All this from the Abbas who wants peace. The man with whom Israel is supposed to be doing business. The man who is not Hamas. The man who received a standing ovation from NYU students.
This Monday, November 17, we will go beyond protest and organize a proper response. Who can respond better to Abbas’s lie about Israeli genocide against the Palestinians than Elie Wiesel. Professor Wiesel has been my friend and I have been his disciple for 25 years. This summer, he and I published a full-page ad in the world’s leading newspapers that assailed Hamas for engaging in human sacrifice by intentionally firing rockets from schools and homes and encouraging Arab children to devote “their shoulders and bodies” to the Palestinian cause.
Ignoramuses like Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, along with self-hating Jews like Naomi Wolf and terrorist-lovers like Mahmoud Abbas, have been parroting the ultimate blood libel, that Jews are engaged in genocide. What better way to destroy the State of Israel than to make it impossible to defend itself?
When genocide is trivialized, it does not touch just the six million dead in the Holocaust. It trivializes the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks. It trivializes the 2.5 million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It trivializes the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutu. And it trivializes all the innocent victims in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo.