In the realm of academia, there’s almost always room for interpretation. History is written with some form of bias, and students and educators alike are expected to recognize this and respond accurately. But when one person’s opinion becomes fact and there is no one to challenge it, everyone suffers — without even knowing it. Such is the situation on many a college campus, including my own.
My college, Syracuse University, is almost notoriously apathetic. The college Republicans and Democrats each have their respective groups on campus, but neither makes much noise. For those interested in the Middle East, there are a number of ways to be involved. However, the three groups that exist on campus are small, their events not well publicized, and their appeal highly limited.
In the classroom, professors are often able to preach their opinions, and since so many students are uninterested — and evidently, uneducated — in the political aspects of subjects like Middle East Studies and history, seldom do students speak up to challenge the opinions being thrown their way. While some do not speak up because they do not know they are being indoctrinated, many simply do not care. Such is the situation I found myself in this semester.
The setting was a history course centered around modern pop culture in the Middle East. The professor stood at the front of the class, reciting the same idea over and over again: Israeli society is unequal, with the Ashkenazi majority pitting their white supremacy over the Mizrahi minority. The class sat, taking notes, but never questioning the ideas being put forth. She talked about the ‘occupation’ and the ‘oppression’ that the Israeli government exerts upon the Palestinians, never once mentioning the atrocities of the Palestinian Authority — Palestinians’ own government. She referred to all Zionists as settlers. The list goes on an on. I would sit in my seat, trying to contain my simultaneous laughter and rage.
The arguments are easy to make, but hard to sustain. To the average student, immigrants might be viewed as settlers, but they do not know that the Jews are native to Israel. ‘Occupation’ and ‘oppression’ are terms thrown around with little substantial explanation. In Israel, there are undoubtedly clashes between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, but there’s another layer to it.
No matter what origin, no matter what color, Israeli Jews are nationalists. It is no secret that Jews have been persecuted in nearly every other nation on earth at some point in time. That the state of Israel exists today is an amazing product that came after centuries of repression, racism, and genocide. While there may be internal political and social divides, many Israelis agree that there is no place they would rather be.
In Israel, they are free to be Jewish and to practice their cultural traditions. In the Arab states surrounding Israel, the idea that Jews could live and practice their religion freely is almost laughable — more than 850,000 Jews were expelled from these Arab lands after Israel was created simply because they were Jewish. In many of these countries, selling your land to a Jew is punishable by death. In Israel, the reality is that the nature of the democracy allows different groups to form within society, but even further, it allows them to coexist. And they do.
Earlier in the semester, when the professor began her tirade of anti-Israel rhetoric, she allowed a student to falsely claim that the Palestinians are victims of asymmetric aggression because they don’t have rockets and the Israelis do. Had the student never heard of Iron Dome? Perhaps she had not, but the professor certainly had. Regardless, the professor allowed the student to blatantly lie to the class, and chastised me when I spoke up saying that the information was incorrect.
When asked about presenting an Israeli perspective of history, she quipped that the man who wrote our textbook was Israeli. In fact, he is. Ilan Pappe was a professor at Haifa University until he called for a boycott of his own university and other Israeli academics and academic institutions. When I mentioned this, the professor told me to “look deeper” into the readings.
The problem here is cyclical: because the students do not seem to care about accuracy, they do not try to understand that the professor is spewing inaccurate information at them, or only presenting one side of the story. Professors are then able to capitalize on this apathy and say whatever they deem appropriate. One is dependent on the other, and until students are willing to care more, and to doubt their professors, the problem will persist.
I can hope that the other students in the class found validity in my arguments against the professor’s highly biased teaching. Maybe some day, apathy will be a thing of the past, and educated opinions will be the new norm. Until that day comes, I’ll use my voice, my knowledge, and the courage of my convictions to bring truth to a classroom that seems to lack it, and I will hope that others will follow my example.
Shoshana Kranish is a Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Fellow. She is a student at Syracuse University and interned at CAMERA’s Boston offices this past summer through the Jewish Vocational Services Emerging Jewish Leaders Summer Internship. This article was originally published in “The Algemeiner.“