By Susan D. Alter
I was the first Orthodox Jew elected to city government — the New York City Council — in the 1970s. It was an educational and at times humorous experience for me and for my colleagues. Being somewhat different, for example, I was quizzed about my dress. Did Orthodox women always have to wear long sleeves? Is it true that I would not ride or write on the Sabbath?
It was eye opening to realize how little the Jews on the council knew about religious life. Nevertheless, the beautiful, inspiring part of my council experience was the respect I received from all members of the council, especially majority leader Tom Cuite, who, with the acquiescence of my council colleagues, always allowed me to vote first at the stated council meetings when they occurred on Fridays in the winter, so I could arrive home before sundown in preparation for the Sabbath. There was no question that I was accepted and even admired by my colleagues.
Today, I cry with great anguish at the lack of respect — and worse, denigration and harassment — suffered by Jewish students on college campuses across the country. That antisemitism and anti-Zionism can take hold even though 70 years have passed since the Holocaust is truly unfathomable unless you come up against it. Our Jewish college students are beleaguered and vanishing into oblivion.
What is motivating this behavior? The extreme political left philosophy has taken hold of our campuses. There is also the influence of Middle East studies professors who adhere to Muslim and/or Sharia law and are encouraging the disparagement of Jewish identity as they promote BDS activity and resolutions. They openly express allegiance with those who consider Jews an abhorrent people worthy of hate and even harm.
It should also be noted that any individual or group found anathema to the political left — i.e. conservatives — will find itself facing the same intolerable behavior. What can and must be done?
The tacit denial of this villainy across college campuses by administrators as they pretend to ignore this abhorrent behavior, or acquiesce to it by disallowing invited Jewish, Israeli, or conservative speakers to address students must be stopped. College authorities have two important, potent weapons that, if used wisely, can combat destructive behavior on the campuses.
One is a prescribed code of conduct mandated to be adhered to by every student who accepts entrance into a university. If found guilty of abusing the code, a student is subject to expulsion.
Secondly, the First Amendment of the Constitution must be energized in defense democracy — freedom of speech and assembly. It states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech and the right of people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. College presidents must be subpoenaed before the Congress of the United States and under oath be required to give an accounting of their behavior with regard to allowing this anti-democratic behavior on campuses. Are they corrupt, afraid, or do they just hate Jews and conservatives? Let them speak and we will listen. I know that exposure before the American people can only bring positive results.
Susan Alter is a former NYC council member, current chair of BDS Committee of the National Council of Young Israel, and serves on the Board of Governors of the OU and as a board member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations.