There were video clips of loud, aggressive protestors, people staging “die-ins,” police arresting students in the middle of student-government meetings and academics from schools such as New York University and Brooklyn College giving lectures all with the goal of criticizing the State of Israel.
However, many of these students and academics were going beyond the reach of criticizing the Jewish state. They were “crossing the line” into anti-Semitism.
As a part of its Israel High program, the Macks Center for Jewish Education, funded by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education, hosted a screening of “Crossing the Line 2” at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills on Nov. 8.
The presentation began with Amalia Philips, director of Israel and overseas education at CJE, posing the question: What do Jews have in common with each other more than any other cultural group. The answer: college attendance. Reut Friedman, Israel education associate at CJE, explained the Israel High program goes to both secular and religious schools to share the facts about Israel and help to clarify some of the complexities about the situation in the Middle East.
“We educate; we do not advocate,” Friedman emphasized.
The screening featured a discussion with the documentary’s director, Shoshana Palatnik.
“Jerusalem U released ‘Crossing the Line’ in 2009 on the topic of anti-Israel activities on university campuses. Recently, we’ve seen a rise in anti-Israel activity in a different forms,” said Palatnik, film director and researcher at JU. “It’s more subtle, it’s more within the system: academic boycotts and the rise of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. We felt we needed to update the movie to show people what is happening right now.”
I love Israel, but I don’t agree with everything it does. You can criticize Israel; you just need to know what guidelines to use so you don’t cross the line into anti-Semitism.
The rise in anti-Israel activity is not far from home either. On Nov. 5, Israeli television personality Assi Azar’s presentation at Goucher College, promoting his film, “Mom, Dad, I Have Something to Tell You,” was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protestors.
Speaking alongside Palatnik was Sophie Tulkoff, vice president of the Jewish Students Association at Johns Hopkins University. Tulkoff shared her experiences studying at a school where sentiments about Israel changed dramatically.
“The sentiment when I first got to school was very tame. All of [the Israel programming] was, ‘Let’s make falafels and talk about Israel,’” Tulkoff said to the 20 to 30 guests at the screening. “After my freshmen summer, the war in Gaza broke out, and everything changed. All of sudden, everyone had an opinion — and a really strong one.”
The documentary showed clips of students at JHU staging a “die-in,” where students were lying on the ground, wearing all black, and claimed to represent the civilians who died in Gaza. Tulkoff was walking through campus the day it happened, and having served in the Israel Defense Forces, she had friends serving in Gaza at the time.
“It was kind of shocking,” said Tulkoff. “I noticed my [teaching assistant], who grades all of my papers, teaches my class and knows me personally — they were holding a sign saying, ‘Israel apartheid.’”
The documentary also had footage from incidents at Ohio University, where members of the student senate tried to shout down students who spoke out in the defense of Israel after the senate’s president created a controversial video condemning the Jewish state.
The footage shows the pro-Israel students being led out in handcuffs after refusing to stop speaking on the senate’s floor. The incident created so much backlash at the university and in local media that some students resigned from their senate positions.
“It becomes our turn to listen to our constituency, and what do we do?” said Carter Phillips, in footage shown in the documentary. “We disrupt them when they’re speaking, we chant when they sit down, and we have them arrested for speaking out.
“All legitimacy we had as the student government of this university went out the door in handcuffs,” Phillips continued. “I’m therefore standing before you to tender my resignation as treasurer, effective immediately.”
Palatnik hopes this documentary will empower students not only to defend Israel, but also to criticize it intelligently.
“I love Israel, but I don’t agree with everything it does. You can criticize Israel; you just need to know what guidelines to use so you don’t cross the line into anti-Semitism,” said Palatnik. “My main call to action is educate yourself, empower yourself and step up for Israel.”