The Times of Israel published my new article “How to Transform Anti-Semitism in US Campuses into Healthy Dialogue”
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lay down with the kid.” (Isaiah 11:6)
The seeds of anti-Semitism are being methodically planted and harvested on US campuses. American universities have become epicenters of Jew-hatred dressed as so-called “legitimate criticism” of Israel and its policies. Instead of being places for ideological progress and enlightenment, US colleges and universities have been transformed into hotbeds of fundamentalist political agendas of vicious anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment sponsored by special interest groups.
Pro-BDS activists claim that adopting the definition of anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism, as marked by The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), infringes on free speech. The same claim was leveled—including from Jewish groups—against President Trump’s executive order to limit federal funding to universities accused of discriminating against the Jewish nation.
However, if we delve deeper, we will find out that there is a very thin line that separates between free speech and anarchy. This line is a quality of our very human nature and we should understand it well so we can use it properly and succeed in establishing unbiased educational institutions and healthy societies.
Ego, the Root Cause of Hatred
According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, the material of creation in all its stages and parts is the will to receive enjoyment. This will to receive is inherent to human nature and there is nothing other than it in the world. As opposed to the inanimate, vegetative and animal levels of nature, which behave instinctively, humans are ruled by the ego: the will to receive at the expense of others. This same ego, if we can change its direction from self-benefit to benefiting others, from receiving to giving, is intended to be used as the driving force to elevate creation to its highest point. However, if we persist in the unchecked selfish use of the desire to receive commonly seen today, we will continue to experience social decline, prejudice and bigotry in every sphere of life, and higher education institutions will be no exceptions.
Is it possible to maintain a positive environment on US campuses without canceling or oppressing any opinion?
This is where the law coined by one of our greatest sages, King Solomon becomes indispensable: “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.” This rule indicates that in order to build a healthy and strong society which takes into account different opinions and positions, a society that grows and flourishes, we need to overcome the ego and cover it with love. That is, to overcome the desire to exploit one another and instead, cultivate feelings of love, respect and consideration, the feeling that we are one.
Pluralism, Not Anarchy
The more opinions are shared among us, the more blooming results we develop and achieve in all forms of communications between us. As my mentor, Kabbalist Rav Baruch Ashlag (The Rabash) wrote, “As their faces differ, their views differ.” (The Writings of Rabash). We can learn from the Jewish sages how they brought forth a discussion and pertinent debate, precisely to strengthen unity, find out the truth, and bring about conciliation.
Without the filters of love for the other, without the desire to bestow, every debate turns into a cruel war of opinions and conflicts that is irresolvable until one side vanquishes the other. Therefore, before any opinion is expressed we should ask: is my opinion accompanied with the proper intention? When we come to negotiate, is the conversation held above and beyond considerations of personal benefit?
If the answers are affirmative, then we can engage in any discussion, even the most stormy and controversial, with no holds barred. In the ideal complete structure in which humanity exists as one body, all the organs and parts of that body have their specific functions and are completely unique yet interact harmoniously for the benefit of the whole. Similarly, society should make space for and preserve the differences between people while rising above them to maintain balance.
Regarding this matter, the book Likutey Etzot (Assorted Counsels) describes the correct approach toward such balance:
“The essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose view is the complete opposite of yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Also, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say that it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites.”