Israel supporters overlook the main floor of York University's Vari Hall as pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters hold countering rallies, in Toronto in 2009. PHOTO BY AARON LYNETT/NATIONAL POST

Young Jews must be hardened against the torment they face in university

Students need a personal Iron Dome to deflect the hatred that may come their way

The following is a transcript of a recent speech given by National Post columnist Barbara Kay at an event hosted by the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation.

My rhetorical writing standards and style were formed in the 1950s and ’60s, which was a time and place like no other for Jewish self-expression in the diaspora.

Israel was cool, Jewish comedians were cool and overt antisemitism was very uncool. Jews didn’t need safe spaces on campus, because the entire campus was a safe space for everyone. Jews were finally insiders here — and our children even more so. We could speak our minds in untrammeled freedom.

As it turned out, that golden age of confidence-building was the foundation I needed to continue speaking my mind when “perfect freedom” shrank to what it is today: a narrow channel to be negotiated between sharp rocks and hard places.

To be a Jewish writer rather than a writer who happens to be a Jew, it means, foremost, that you take big ideas very seriously. Our history has taught us that big ideas all too often reveal themselves as conduits for big lies about us. We have been tolerated because of ideas, hated because of ideas and decimated because of ideas.

(We’re still awaiting the big idea that will make us lovable.)

After thousands of years of arguing amongst ourselves — and sometimes pretty aggressively — about whether this or that big idea is good or bad for the Jews, making a case against harmful ideas has become second nature to us. We’ve had our work cut out for us since the pogrom explaining why social Marxism is as bad for the Jews as Soviet Marxism turned out to be.

In 1920, there were 50 independent countries. Today, there are nearly 200. A driving force behind this wave of country-creation was the big idea of self-determination — the concept that groups of people united by ethnicity, language, geography and history should be able to determine their political future. The missions of, first, the League of Nations, and then its successor, the United Nations, were very much tied up in the promotion of national self-determination. Only Israel amongst these numerous new countries — in spite of Zionism ticking every box stipulated for the right to self-determination — has been singled out as illegitimate.

The universities are ground zero for the spread of anti-Zionism in the West. Since the 1970s, far-left ideologues have been teaching students the big lie that Zionism is a form of racism, and that Israel is an oppressive, apartheid, colonialist and genocidal state.

To understand just how systemic antisemitism on campus is at this moment, I recommend a recent article by Dara Horn in Atlantic magazine, “The Return of the Big Lie: Anti-Semitism is Winning.” Horn writes, “At a Shabbat dinner I attended at one college, students went around the table sharing what they wished they could say to their non-Jewish friends: I wish I could say I want to spend a semester in Israel. I wish I could say I work at a Jewish preschool. I wish I could say I volunteered at a Jewish hospital. I sat at the table stupefied. They were in hiding.”

Of my five granddaughters, one is already in university, two others soon will be. How much of this pathology will they be forced to encounter? How, if they do, will it affect them as Jews? These are questions that keep me up at night.

In Israel, Oct. 7 became the anvil on which the future of young Jews has been forged. The trauma of that day will affect everything: their ambitions, their parenting, their politics. These leaders of tomorrow will be realists to the core. Antisemitism in the external world will not define them. They are united in their determination to define their Jewish identity on their own terms.

Young Jews in the diaspora, on the other hand, while certainly deeply affected, have been far from unified in their response. The pretty good news is that, according to Pew research, 80 per cent of Jewish students feel Israel is an essential or important part of their Jewish identity. Aliyah applications from western countries are surging.

But the bad news is that gen Z poll numbers are worrisome. Amongst all 18 to 34-year-olds, polls show a split right down the middle between supporters of Israel and supporters of the “Free Palestine” movement.

A significant number of the latter group are Jews. The anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace (a “sister group” to Canada’s pathologically anti-Israel Independent Jewish Voices), stated in its newsletter that its membership went from 43,000 people on Oct. 4, to 350,000 two months later.

We see these Jews marching with the pro-Hamas demonstrators. This is a form of torment for us. But we have to understand that the continuous blowtorch of hatred directed at Israel throws burning heat on their peer group. They want their torment to end. Embracing anti-Zionism, even when it includes antisemitism, provides psychological relief and the illusion of social acceptance.

What can we do to strengthen our own children and grandchildren’s mental armour against this torment while they are at university? However our students feel about Israel — whether they are deeply, moderately or indifferently attached — they must understand that any antisemitism they encounter will include allegations of complicity with Israel’s alleged illegitimacy. The passion of their accusers may convince them these accusers must have a point.

They need a personal Iron Dome to deflect the hatred that may come their way. One component of that Iron Dome should be knowledge of a specific kind. Jacques Gauthier, a Toronto-based lawyer with a comprehensive knowledge of Israel’s internationally recognized legal rights, provides it.

In what he describes as “holy work,” Gauthier — who’s not Jewish, but a Zionist — has dedicated his life to explaining the importance of the 1920 San Remo conference in upholding the legitimacy of Israel’s statehood.

Gauthier’s work was incorporated into a slim volume, “The Jewish People’s Rights to the Land of Israel,” by the late Salomon Benzimra. This reader-friendly little book should accompany every Jewish student to university. It will serve to remind them of the single most important reality regarding Israel: that in the end, it is international law and bilateral accords, not blood libels and emotional mantras, that constitute the foundations and pillars of Israel’s political durability.

Our kids should be reassured that protesters can scream “free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea” into the faces of Jews until they are blue in their own faces. It is purely performative. Their hysteria has no power to abrogate San Remo or the non-rebuttable mandate created at that conference. Hopefully this knowledge can help them to ignore the antisemitic heat and take comfort from the statutory light.

Offering external empowerment is the Lawfare Project, which provides pro bono legal services to protect the civil and human rights of the Jewish people worldwide. The Lawfare Project, founded and directed by human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein, lets Jewish students know, “We have your back in a material way.”

The Lawfare Project recently partnered with the law firm Diamond and Diamond to file a $77-million class-action suit against McMaster University and the McMaster Students Union. A Jan. 3 statement of claim alleges that, “McMaster University has become, for over a decade, home to systemic discrimination, harassment, hatred, antisemitism, violent discourse and actual or threatened physical harm amongst the student body.” The plaintiffs are all currently enrolled students and those who graduated within the last two years.

Also in partnership with the Lawfare Project, Diamond and Diamond are awaiting certification on the same grounds for lawsuits against six other prominent universities (plus many of their student unions) — Queen’s, York, Concordia, Toronto Metropolitan (formerly Ryerson) and the University of British Columbia. Diamonds’ managing partner, Sandra Zisckind, told CTV News, “You can disagree with Israel, you can say there needs to be a ceasefire … but you cannot say we need to kill the Jews.”

In her 2007 book, “Jews and Power,” Ruth Wisse urged young Jews to stop judging Judaism by how well it adheres to progressive values, and start judging progressivism by how well it adheres to Judaism’s ideals and precepts. She concludes: “We (Jews) must stop thinking of ourselves as defendants.… In any fair court, either of law or opinion, which we have yet to see where Jewish interests are concerned, Israel would be recognized as the plaintiff.” Just so.

If these lawsuits against the universities succeed, and there is reason to hope they will, we will see a radical diminution of antisemitic activity on Canadian campuses. Diminution of activity is of course only half a loaf, since the hatred itself will remain. But half a loaf has been our portion many times before, and we are still here. And furthermore, we have learned that not only is it better than no loaf at all, even half a loaf pairs nicely with a full glass of wine, when raised in a hearty L’chaim!