Making a difference

We are incredibly fortunate to have Professor William Jacobson here in Ithaca.

Professor Jacobson is an inspiring speaker, educator and all-round mensch.  I have previously written about his talk on “Standing up for Israel”, and his ability to engage young people here.

On campuses around the country, the anti-Israel narrative on campus is fueled by professors who dishonestly and divisively promote a biased agenda. Sadly, it is possible to spend all day every day fisking such fraudulent academics. But simple demonstration of facts are not sufficient if the academic and his/her audience refuse to acknowledge and correct the errors. One general characteristic of such academics is a refusal to engage in discussion. An example of this is Prof. Jacobson’s recent talk at Vassar. NOT A SINGLE ONE of the 39 Vassar professors who had signed a letter containing egregious slurs against Israel agreed to meet Professor Jacobson in debate.

So it is great to see an opinion piece in the local newspaper, the Ithaca Journal, that is an excellent rebuttal to one such nebulous academic. Here is the article (click on picture for larger version):

guest viewpoint

For additional background on Cornell campus and around Ithaca, see these links:

Cornell Student Assembly rejects BDS motion

The case for Israel and academic freedom – watch the video of Prof. Jacobson’s talk

Kudos to the fantastic work of Prof. Jacobson and his efforts to expose and rebut BDS. I think that these assaults on truth, freedom and justice are matters that should concern us all, across the political spectrum.

And again, as has been pointed out by Prof. Jacobson and others, happiness is the best response to the haters.


Ithaca Journal guest viewpoint

Erlich letter

This opinion piece was published earlier this year in the Ithaca journal and the author has graciously given permission to post here.

While the Palestinian leadership advocates a blatant ideology of Jewish annihilation how is real peace possible?

Zaki statement

At Professor Jacobson’s talk recently he posed a question to the audience, “Would you rather be an Arab in Israel or a Jew in Saudi Arabia?”. Aside from complete religious freedom, Arabs in Israel enjoy the best living conditions of any Arab population in the Middle East so the answer is a no brainer. But the kicker is that it’s a trick question. Saudi Arabia is “Judenrein” as Abbas plans the future Palestinian state to be. Judenrein (clean of Jews) is a Nazi term. To dismiss these unambiguous statements from the Palestinian leaders as mere rhetoric is to live in a fantasy world; the majority of Arab countries have ethnically cleansed their countries of Jews. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries dwarfs the number of Arab refugees who fled or were expelled during the fighting that followed the establishment of the state of Israel.

Why tolerate this lack of responsibility on the part of the Palestinian leadership? With such demonstrable contempt for religious pluralism (never mind democracy, civil rights etc) it is hard to see what justifies the millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians from the US, the UN and the EU.

Local event: Israel and academic freedom

IC Hilllel

William Jacobson will be speaking at an event sponsored by Ithaca College Hillel next Tuesday February 25th. A recent commentary article in the Ithacan showcases how necessary these types of events are to help students understand the complex realities of Israelis and Palestinians.

This past weekend at Limmud NY I had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Ari Shavit, journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller My Promised Land. He is nearing the end of a book tour of the US and mentioned how his encounters on campuses had left him with a profound sense of the disconnect of the average secular American-Jewish student to the Jewish state and his/her understanding of the issues facing Israel. I have no idea why this is the case but I am a firm believer in the value of education to help young people understand the issues and empower the next generation to be strong leaders.

Report on Standing up for Israel

We were immensely fortunate to hear Professor Jacobson last Friday night, hosted by Chabad of Ithaca. The place was absolutely packed, late arrivals literally did have to stand!

I had read Professor Jacobson’s writing on the LegalInsurrection website and listened to his interviews so I knew he had very interesting points to make about this important topic and I was intensely curious as to if and how he would be able to tame this vast issue into a short talk suitable for young people. Wow, what a phenomenal talk, superlatives escape me. His talk was clear and logical, it was concise, it was incredibly engaging and the audience, a lively group of students on a Friday night, was wrapt and attentive. His talk covered some of the development behind the BDS movement setting it in a global historical context; he included some of his personal experience in combating the various manifestations of these ideas and ran through some practical tips and advice for ordinary citizens.

I had imagined that a talk on this subject would by necessity contain a little hand-wringing and bemoaning. But Professor Jacobson completely rewrote the rules on that with an approach that was so sensible and level-headed, and so comprehensive that he swept up the audience with an overall message that was empowering and positive; as he put it, there is no need for “doom and gloom”. While the BDS movement and it supporters have been hoping to destroy Israel, they have been forgoing the opportunity to build the Palestinian economy. In contrast, Israel has focused on the positive, creating a strong, diverse and vibrant society and economy.

This got me thinking about extrapolating the topic to a personal level. We’ve all been “boycotted” at some point in our lives. When you’re a kid, you’re devastated when you get irrationally “boycotted” by a peer. When you experience this as an adult, you know intellectually that it’s the person refusing to speak to you or engage with you that has the problem, not you. But it’s painful all the same. Be like the Israelis. Keep on offering that olive branch and hope that one day it’s gonna get accepted. But in the meantime, don’t get discouraged. If you put your effort into constructive and productive projects you’ll be creating a tangibly improved world and not is this just the best response, it is the only option because the target of irrational hatred alone, in the absence of other factors, cannot change the hater. So I found the talk inspirational and motivating in a whole other dimension which I think is a testament to the effectiveness of the speaker in teasing out general themes from the thicket of the daily political realities.

Judging from the questions, this talk hit a nerve with young people who hear anti-Israel lies and find it difficult to have a ready response. My teenager, who hasn’t dealt with these issues directly, found it interesting to hear about the background and history of the subject. From my perspective I would also add that it is also powerfully morale boosting to listen to somebody who calmly states the facts, pursues the arguments all the way to their logical conclusions, for reminding us that making the argument that “Israel is a state like any other state, doesn’t need to be one of the top five responses”.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have a person of this stature in our community and it is very generous of him to take the time to share his perspectives. Professor Jacobson is a first-rate thinker and and an inspiring speaker. If you get a chance to hear him talk I strongly recommend you do so.

Thank you very much Professor Jacobson and thank you very much to Rabbi Eli and Chana Silberstein and Rabbi Dovid and Miri Birk for the opportunity to hear this speaker who is doing so much to support rationality (and Israel) and whose leadership is energizing.

Being of course Shabbat, I couldn’t get a photo of the speaker in action so I am including this cartoon on the topic which is taken from the LegalInsurrection website.


A. F. Branco
Image from