Columbia University student Jessie Brenner speaks at a press conference calling for the university’s administration to support students facing antisemitism, in New York on October 30.
I began covering the war, my fifth Gazan war, on Saturday, October 7, in Sderot. Information was scarce, and the magnitude of Hamas’ attack was not shared with the public, so I called my friend and colleague Seth Frantzman of The Jerusalem Post, who was with his family in Jerusalem, and asked if he wanted to meet me in Sderot to see what was happening.
I drove from Yerucham in the Negev to Sderot, rarely seeing any Israeli military vehicles on the road but watching ambulances heading from the Gaza envelope to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. When I arrived in Sderot, there were no barriers or blockades to keep me out of the city, so I drove in and came upon a massacre scene, a surreal experience. A few police and security people were around, but for the magnitude of the tragedy, I did not see an IDF vehicle for another 45 minutes. Shocking.
After visiting Ashkelon the next day, viewing some of the damage from the Hamas barrage, I spent the next few days talking to my colleagues in think tanks, government, and security, who are my go-to people for analysis and intelligence on defense issues – special thanks to Moshe Ya’alon, Efraim Inbar, and Sarit Zehavi. Dan Diker, the head of JCPA, along with my friend Jeff Daube, told me I could do more good being in the US, speaking to my friends in Congress and on college campuses. I took their words to heart.
From week number two of the war, when I arrived back in the States, I have been speaking to as many students and organizations as possible, writing for my media outlets, and going on any TV show that would have me. What I saw in Israel shook me to my core, an existential threat that few saw coming. But when I came back to America, the overt antisemitism was a second shock. Cowardly university administrators have allowed Jewish students to be abused, intimidated, and attacked. When I spoke to college students, some told me they had never before seen antisemitism face to face, and spoke of their fear of being abandoned by their universities.
My friend Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Israelis view the campus protests, in which children of American privilege chant the hateful slogans of radical Islamism, with an almost physical nausea.”
The media, which were initially sympathetic to Israel because no one could avoid the facts of the massacre with vile and heinous acts beyond comprehension, which also increases viewership, have moved toward their habitual moral equivalence stance, omitting any context to the images of the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The media’s lack of professionalism and bias against Israel, something that has been going on for years, infuriates me as someone who tries hard, even in opinion journalism, to be objective in sharing facts in context.
Our mainstream media never tell you – and certainly not if you get your news from TikTok, the preferred news source of Gen Z – that according to international law, when a terrorist entity or any military uses its civilians as human shields, and its entire infrastructure is built within and under civilian homes, mosques, hospitals, and schools, the legal responsibility for their deaths and suffering is on that entity (in this case, Hamas). Those buildings and their inhabitants become lawful targets if the military aim is commensurate with the existential risk Israel now endures.
Getting people to understand that proportionality in war is not about numbers is an almost impossible but necessary task, as the currency of terrorists is to increase civilian casualties to manipulate world opinion, and it always works. Putting munitions or a command center under a hospital, launching missiles from schoolyards, and purposely endangering civilians, the casualties that are inevitably incurred are the legal responsibility of the party, Hamas, using them as human
I made it my mission to share this information with anyone who would listen, and in the past I preferred to speak to more diverse audiences. But with the Jewish students and Jews throughout America feeling like the Jews of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I realized that the pro-Israel Jewish students needed to hear the facts in context and be given support and encouragement after being traumatized by the antisemitic protests and harassment on campus. I asked one student why he didn’t want to join the group photo at a Florida university. He said he was already receiving hate mail and didn’t want to make himself more of a target. I asked where he came from, and he said Saudi Arabia. A Saudi student supporting Jewish students – there is hope.
However, cowardly university administrators, who would suspend a faculty member or a student for using a wrong pronoun, allow the aggressive antisemitism to go on un checked, enable outside agitators to inflame the university safe spaces, and rarely have the spine to impose any consequences on the perpetrators. To know that colleges are complicit in antisemitism, ask yourself if this behavior was directed against any other group on campus, would they respond in the same way? Not a chance.
So I began my journey, which is not ending, speaking in person and via Zoom to as many students and adults as possible, from Ohio State to the University of Cincinnati, from Cornell to Duke to Emory, from Wesleyan to Florida Atlantic University to Nova University to Boston University, to a consortium of 30 synagogues, Iraqi Kurdistan TV, i24TV, JBS TV, to the Westchester Jewish Council, to a college parents group, while writing in The Hill, The Messenger, JPost, JNS, etc. I am on a mission, and I want to encourage everyone to join it for the survival of the Jewish people and to educate our fellow Americans.
Years ago, I was interviewed on a Hartford, Connecticut, radio station, where the host asked me why I fought for the US-Israel relationship with the Jewish people. As an American who speaks to Congress for American national security interests, I answered that having an ally like Israel in the Middle East is vital to our security interests.
But then we turned from the professional to the personal. He said, ‘“You must have had close family in the Holocaust.” I said, “Thankfully, I did not; we have been in America for over a century.” He then said, “Then you must have family in Israel.” I said I didn’t, although I have Israeli friends who are like my family, especially my buddy Yitzhak Sokoloff, who organizes my yearly seminars in the Middle East and is one of the most astute thinkers on Israel’s geopolitical issues.
So he said, “Why do you do what you do?” I thought for a moment and said, “In the 1930s, Jews in America didn’t have the clout or influence to change the course of the Holocaust by influencing FDR and the American government, where six million fellow Jews were systematically killed in the most horrific ways, including one and a half million children. Today, there are seven million Jews with a target on their back living in Israel; they have nowhere to go and should not have to contemplate that question. If I am lucky enough to have grandchildren one day, and if, God forbid, Israel suffers a calamity, I want to be able to tell them I did everything I could to protect and support them. The lives of all Israelis are precious, and their rights to the land are immutable.”
So I tell my friends in Congress to demand the extradition of Hamas leaders from Qatar, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and anywhere on Earth as war criminals, the way we hunted down Osama bin Laden and Iranian terrorist Qasem Soleimani. I tell them that it is time to reevaluate our relationship with Qatar, which harbors and funds the worst radical Islamists. How can this be in American interests? I ask them to demand the end of federal funding of universities if they cannot protect every student, especially Jewish ones who find no sanctuary or protection from their college administrators and faculties.
I remind colleagues in Washington that until this or any future administration comes to terms with the primary problem of the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose core missions are the destruction of the Jewish state and the undermining of the US interests, our policies will be failures.
We want the Iranian people to rise and take control of their lives from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror for their lives and our security. The regime’s radical Islamist ideology is unreformable, but the people of Iran want to shake off the shackles of the Supreme Leader and his henchmen, the IRGC. Let’s do the right thing and, at the very least, offer our full-throated support.
I teach anyone with an open mind that this Hamas war is not about two states for two peoples but a war to exterminate the Jews. I tell them the number of times the Palestinians could have had a state of their own but turned it down repeatedly because, up until this time, they cannot accept a Jewish state, sign an end-of-conflict agreement, remain demilitarized, and/or end their demand for a right of return, which would lead to the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. More Jews were chased out of Arab and Muslim lands than Arabs who left Israel, and there was no worldwide demand for compensation.
I teach those whose minds are still open that for every refugee on Earth except Palestinian Arabs, the UN agency in charge, UNHCR, tries to resettle the refugees, not perpetuate refugee status indefinitely like the UN agency UNWRA does for Palestinians. UNWRA schools teach intolerance and incitement against the Jewish state with American taxpayer funds.
Let’s not end humanitarian aid but condition it on UNWRA ending the designation of descendants of Palestinian refugees still being classified as refugees. The two million Palestinians who live in Jordan and have Jordanian citizenship are still considered refugees in perpetuity, as are their children and grandchildren forever. If negotiations ever resume, ending the status of descendants of refugees as
refugees must be a precondition for American taxpayer dollars.
The tide is turning against Israeli Jews and American Jews. When President Biden said no Jew in the world is safe if there is no Israel, I was shocked. Most people took it as a strong statement of Israel being a refuge for Diaspora Jews worldwide. I heard it differently. Biden said, “Without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world who’s secure.” There was no caveat except for American Jews.
I, as an American exceptionalist, believed that Jews would and should always be safe in my native country and that, as George Washington said over 250 years ago at Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
I guess Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, believes sooner or later that Jews, even American Jews, may have to dial Israel 911 to be rescued. With the rise of the Squad, moral equivalence, the anti-Zionist default position of academia and progressive media, and two generations of young Americans being brainwashed on American college campuses by professors who are more activist than educators, this should not be a surprise.
But I won’t, and you shouldn’t give up. The tide can change for Israel, America, and American Jews. I still believe in the American dream and the good of the people in this country who know better.
Next up for my speaking tour: the University of Georgia, Florida State, University of Florida, and a synagogue in Oyster Bay, New York. This will be a long road ahead; let’s all do our part and not be fatigued by the duration of the war. ■
This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Report’s November 27, 2023 issue.
Dr. Mandel is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies.