Home inFocus The Six Day War on Campus: Back to the Future Past

The Six Day War on Campus: Back to the Future Past

Eric Rozenman Spring 2017

Rumors of Arab-Israeli war were overshadowed by studying for finals late in May, 1967 at Ohio University.

On the tree-shaded Main Green a professor spoke to approximately 20 students gathered at the War Memorial, a monument to the fallen of Athens County. The professor was conducting an impromptu teach-in, though not about the conflict that most concerned O.U.’s nearly 15,000 students, the one in South Vietnam.

Observant soldier recites morning prayers next to his camouflaged tent in the Negev on May 27, 1967. (Photo: Lavi Shlomo/Israeli Government Press Office)

When he declared Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran a casus belli, I stayed to hear the rest. A political liberal – the professor would run for Congress, unsuccessfully, as a Democrat in 1972 – this history instructor made the case that Israel’s Arab neighbors were threatening it with aggression.

In less than two weeks most Americans, Jews and non-Jews, would be introduced to Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, heroes of Israel’s Six Day War victory. In less than two weeks non-Jewish students would stop telling jokes about Jews and start telling them about Arabs.

Those six days, June 4th through June 9th, reshaped the Middle East and Diaspora Jewry. Former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has written that the Six Day War transformed Israel from dangerously vulnerable to a regional power. Former Soviet refuseniks like Natan Sharansky, now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, have said the Israeli victory over Moscow’s Arab clients catalyzed the Soviet Jewry movement, a force that eventually would lead to the migration to Israel of more than 1 million Jews and help undermine the Soviet Union itself. And Israel’s triumph has been credited with encouraging American Jews to feel more self-assured, to be more openly Jewish.

But nothing abides unchanged or unchallenged, even the glow of a seeming miracle. Analyzing how anti-Zionism is both fueled by and bleeds into anti-Semitism, Sharansky applies the “3-D’s” test: Double standards, delegitimization and demonization.

One day, a little more than 20 years later, while commuting on Metro in Washington, D.C., I recognized the professor as a fellow passenger. He said he was conducting research at a local university that semester. He and his wife chanced to be renting near me, so I invited them to dinner.

It was during the first Palestinian intifada and I worked for a pro-Israel organization at the time. How, my former instructor and exponent of Israeli self-defense in 1967 wanted to know, could I support Israel now, given its occupation of and discrimination against the Palestinian Arabs and its rejection of concessions that might induce them to make peace?

It was as if the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and subsequent Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s rejection of self-rule and celebration of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination, PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s sabotage of the 1985 Jordanian-Palestinian peace initiative, and all the rest had not happened. The professor was focused on what he saw as Israeli obstruction and oppression.

His wife was worse. Yes, the Jews had suffered in the past, she acknowledged. But they had no right to inflict such pain on others now. A Jewish state might have seemed like a good idea once, she said, but it was clear now the establishment of Israel had been a mistake.

Such blame-shifting, such inversion of past and present reality—and from people who once knew better—proved infuriating. After we brought the evening to a premature close, my wife said, “Those were the worst dinner guests we’ve ever had.” They were proponents, whether they recognized it or not, of the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish “3 D’s.”

They were also examples and harbingers of the left intelligentsia’s abandonment of the Jewish state.

Early in the fall, 2014 semester, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis invited Student Senate President Megan Marzec to participate in the ALS “ice-bucket challenge” to raise awareness and funds for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”). Instead, Marzec posted a video of herself pouring red-tinted water over her head while wearing a pink T-shirt emblazoned with “Ohio U Divest From Israel.”

According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer and www.cleveland.com, she claimed to be showing “student concern of the genocide in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli state.” Her “blood-bucket challenge” symbolized “the thousands of displaced and murdered Palestinians, atrocities which OU is directly complicit in through cultural and economic support of the Israeli state.”

The Student Senate apologized for Marzec’s actions, but at its next meeting, four members of the Bobcats for Israel student group—Max Peltz, Rebecca Sebo, Gabriel Sirkin and Jonah Yulish – were arrested by campus police called by Marzec herself. Officers charged the quartet with disturbing a lawful meeting. The students said they were attempting to counter Marzec’s biased allegations against Israel.

Some students, faculty and administrators backed Marzec’s stance against Israeli “fascism” and its supporters. Hillel International demanded the university apologize to the Bobcats for Israel quartet and make sure they were cleared of charges.

This writer, an Ohio University alum and then Washington director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, repeatedly offered to put McDavis and other school administrators in touch with agencies such as the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy for background on the underlying anti-Zionist, antisemitic nature of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The Student Senate president had parroted BDS lines.

Ohio University administrators declined, McDavis preferring instead to issue vague generalities about the school’s commitment “to free speech and civility.” He made no reply to a recommendation he join more than 600 other academics and administrators in signing an online petition opposing academic boycotts of Israel.

Ohio demonstrated its commitment “to free speech and civility” – when it came to pro-Israel activism – by letting the disturbance charges hang over the four students from Bobcats for Israel until March 2015. According to CampusReform.org, they were dropped after defense lawyers called for dismissal due to lack of a speedy trial. Sebo’s attorney, Kenneth Bossin, said “This whole case was driven by the university and the university police department.”

In 1967, Israel burst into public consciousness as a small but powerful state, supported by many who considered themselves both liberal and pro-Western. By relentless psychological warfare, its enemies have been undermining such support ever since. Consider Ohio University’s 1967 teach-in and 2014 “blood bucket challenge” affair just two of many such time-lapse snapshots.

Imaginative military strategy and daring underlay the Six Day War miracle. Nothing less than similarly imaginative information strategy – and moral and sometimes even physical courage in the face of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism – is required today.

Eric Rozenman is a communications consultant for the Jewish Policy Center.