Ironically, their appearance is about attempts to delegitimize Israel and anti-Semitism on campuses.
We have covered the antics of Students for Justice in Palestine, and similar anti-Israel groups, many times, including pervasive efforts to shut down opposing pro-Israel viewpoints.
The latest example is at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where SJP is objecting to and planning to protest the joint appearance of actor Michael Douglas and Nathan Sharansky.
Douglas and Sharansky are appearing as part of a tour about ‘Jewish Journeys,’ as the Providence Journal reports, Michael Douglas, Natan Sharansky to discuss ‘Jewish Journeys’ at Brown:
Movie star Michael Douglas and onetime refusenik Natan Sharansky will discuss “Judaism, Israel and current-day anti-Semitism” at Brown University on Thursday.
The event is the kickoff of a three-university “Jewish Journeys” tour that will also take them to Stanford on Feb. 2 and the University of California Santa Barbara the next day. The 7:30 p.m. event at Brown’s Salomon Center for Teaching is free, but registration is required.
The topic of anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel on campuses is a focus of the tour:
“This is the first time, in this current period of heightened anti-Israel activity on campus, that a Hollywood celebrity has offered to join with a world Jewish leader to visit U.S. college campuses and speak with students about Israel and the Jewish people. At a time when certain individuals and groups in the academic community as well as other forces are making sustained efforts to delegitimize Israel, these visits are particularly important and timely,” said Genesis Prize Foundation co-founder and chairman Stan Polovets.
You probably are familiar with Douglas from the movies, but not so much with Sharansky, who currently is head of the Jewish Agency in Israel and a former Israeli politician. But that’s not Sharansky’s main claim to history.
Rather, Sharansky was a hero of the Soviet Refusenik movement, and an inspiration to the freedom movements in Eastern Europe.
I first wrote about Sharansky on November 11, 2008, less than a month after Legal Insurrection started, and multiple times thereafter. This passage from a later post describes some of why Sharansky was viewed as a hero:
Sharansky spent almost a decade in Soviet prison because of his activities on behalf of Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Sharansky notoriously refused to obey even the most mundane orders from his captors. Sharansky understood that to compromise even a little would lead to compromising a lot. Throughout his ordeal, Sharansky kept his spirits alive by reading a small book of psalms.
In 1986, the Soviets finally agreed to release Sharansky from prison, in a deal in which he was exchanged for Soviet spies in the West. As Sharansky was being led to the airplane that would take him from the Soviet Union to East Germany for the exchange, the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms.
It would have been easy for Sharansky simply to keep walking towards the plane and freedom. But Sharansky understood that the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms not because they wanted the book, but because they wanted to show that even in this last moment, they were in control.
In front of reporters covering his departure, Sharansky sat in the snow refusing to move unless the Soviets gave him back his book of psalms. Here was this diminutive man, after 10 years in prison, on the verge of freedom, refusing to budge unless one of the world’s two superpowers gave him back his book. And give him back his book of psalms they did. Sharansky proceeded to the plane, where he read Psalm 30: “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.”
Jay Nordlinger’s 2005 interview with Sharansky recounts not only the episode in the snow, but also the final moments when Sharansky walked to the car for the exchange:
Sharansky spent nine years in the Gulag, a harrowing time in which he demonstrated what resistance is. More than 400 of those days were spent in punishment cells; more than 200 were spent on hunger strikes. His refusal to concede anything to the Soviet state was almost superhuman. This was true to the very last. When they relinquished him to the East Germans, they told him to walk straight to a waiting car — “Don’t make any turns.” Sharansky zig-zagged his way to that car.
Sharansky’s arrival in Israel was greeted with jubilation. After thousands greeted Sharansky at the airport, Sharansky went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem:
On February 11, 1986, he began the day as a prisoner of the Soviet Union. K.G.B. guards then flew him to East Berlin, and there he was told to walk across the Glienicke Bridge and into the West. Sharansky had grown so skinny on prison rations that, on worldwide television, his state-issued trousers nearly fell to his ankles as he walked to freedom. By nightfall, he was at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, carried along on the shoulders of hundreds of jubilant Israelis. At the Wall, he prayed from a tiny Book of Psalms…
It took a while, and more posts before I found this video which has brief clips of that moment of release, as well as his arrival in Israel as the crowd sang Hine Mah Tov (Psalm 133 – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”).
Brown SJP announced its intent to try to keep Douglas and Sharansky off campus in a Letter to the Editor in The Brown Daily Herald from student Huriat Al-Sharq ’17 on behalf of Brown SJP:
“Today Jan. 28, Michael Douglas and Natan Sharansky will be coming to Brown for a lecture devoted to spreading “hasbara” (propaganda) on college campuses. Brown will be the first stop on a three-part tour. We as activists committed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement write in opposition to this lecture on the following grounds: …
In light of this, we invite all people of conscience, pro-Palestine supporters and defenders of academic freedom to join us outside Salomon today at 7 p.m. for a rally in order to speak out against this justification of Israeli crimes and infringement of the Israeli government upon our campus.”
You can read through the letter for the reasoning why Douglas and Sharansky should not appear on campus. The short version is that SJP doesn’t like their opinions about Israel. Notably, the link in the letter about “hasbara” is to the viciously anti-Israel Electronic Intifada website, which along with other activists openly calls for the destruction of Israel.
I think this SJP protest actually is a good thing in one sense, because it calls attention once again to who is the real enemy of freedom. And it’s not Michael Douglas or Natan Sharansky.
UPDATE: Ira Stoll in The NY Sun has a report on the event and protest:
Anyone who doubts the gravity of the threat to Israel and Jewish students on American college campuses could have stopped by the Brown University campus here on Thursday night.
Students and community members attempting to listen to a conversation about Jewish identity between actor Michael Douglas and Soviet dissident turned Israeli political figure Natan Sharansky had their event intruded on by loud chants of “free, free, Palestine” from protesters outside….
Mr. Sharansky spoke about the anti-Israel protesters and the boycott, divest, sanction movement they represent. “The moment you move to a logical debate, they have nothing to say….They are only shouting,” he said. “Behind it there is a desire to destroy Israel. It is not about human rights. The question is, how to destroy Israel. My fear is they are discouraging so many young Jews from being connected to their people and to the state of Israel.”
In his comments at the Brown event, Mr. Sharansky encouraged students to explore and claim their Jewish identity. “First of all, always remember from where you came,” he said. “If you want to make the world a better place…you have to be strongly connected to your roots and your identity. This is your source of power to change the world.”
[Featured Image: Nathan Sharansky being walked to freedom in Berlin, February 11, 1986]