Israel Defense Forces Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, 35, has spoken on more than 350 college campuses. So it is with some authority that he warns American Jews to wake up and smell the stench of escalating anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment among the future leaders of the U.S.
Mr. Anthony, founder of the nonprofit Our Soldiers Speak (www.oursoldiersspeak.org), will kick off this year’s adult-education Shabbat series at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah on Friday and Saturday, October 9 and 10. On Saturday night, the congregation’s Israel Engagement Committee will sponsor a screening of Nancy Spielberg’s “Above and Beyond,” a documentary about the World War II pilots who volunteered to fight for Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.
“Israel is facing challenges on so many fronts – political, BDS, militarily, internally, and more,” said Lee Lasher, a synagogue trustee and an organizer of the weekend event.
Ahavat Torah and “the Englewood community recognize that Israel’s battles and challenges are our battles and challenges, and we must be informed, engaged and committed to the security of the state of Israel,” Mr. Lasher continued. “In light of the debate about the Iran nuclear deal, the challenges in the U.N., geopolitical changes in the Middle East and beyond, and our youth back at universities across America after the holidays, Benjamin Anthony is the ideal choice to inform and energize our community about these commitments and what we in northern New Jersey can do to help. Benjamin is a highly engaging, dynamic, and terrific speaker.”
A native Englishman who made aliyah after university and fought in three of Israel’s wars, Mr. Anthony started Our Soldiers Speak to bring English-speaking Israelis from the literal to the figurative frontlines — high schools, colleges, synagogues, churches, and Jewish federations in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. He has spoken at AIPAC and on Capitol Hill.
“One of the greatest challenges in battling back in combat or on campus is that people aren’t sufficiently clear what the dangers are, and I bring information from being in those environments that you can’t know from the media,” Mr. Anthony said. “You have to be there to understand what’s transpiring.”
He and his handpicked speakers have become used to hostility on international college campuses since beginning the lectures in 2008, but he says the situation in the United States is the most worrisome. “The deterioration is rapid and marked,” he said. “Today we have to have uniformed police and a security detail accompanying us because we face an inordinate number of protests.”
While in the past those students with dissenting views took an active part in the dialogue, he continued, now the liberal advocacy group J Street does the talking for them, and they have no interest in learning the facts. He said the effects of J Street on campus are not being challenged sufficiently by the greater Jewish community.
Mr. Anthony further charged that Americans are reluctant to acknowledge that Israel hatred actually is a cover for hatred of Jews.
“Jews in America oftentimes fail to recognize anti-Semitism when they see it, he said. “They blame anti-Israel sentiment on the Israeli government or the settlement policy, and it really has nothing to do with that. On most of the campuses, protesters can’t name the prime minister or find settlements on a map.
“I believe American Jewry is far ahead of the curve in pro-Jewish feeling but behind the curve when it comes to recognizing anti-Semitism in anti-Israel sentiment. It matters, because the students of today will be the policymakers of tomorrow, and we aren’t finding pro-Israel voices on campus.”
He asserted that Jewish schools are not equipping students to be that pro-Israel voice, and in fact some of the most outspoken — and misinformed, he would add — critics of Israel are themselves day-school graduates. “There is very little Israeli history being taught in Jewish high schools. Yeshiva day schools and high schools, and even Yeshiva University, must immediately implement rigorous Israeli history classes — as distinct from Jewish history classes — in the core curriculum, and not just advocacy courses.”
Our Soldiers Speak offers a curriculum called Israel in World Relations that is not taught locally now but is under review by Torah Academy of Bergen County and SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y.
Mr. Anthony will speak on Friday night at a dessert oneg Shabbat at a private home, on Shabbat morning after main services, and again at the third meal on Shabbat afternoon at the synagogue. He also will introduce the documentary that night.
Among his other topics will be describing how Israeli high school graduates prepare mentally and physically for military service, and analyzing Israeli and diaspora Jewry’s attitudes toward the state of Israel.