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September 14, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-09-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Friday, September 14, 1984

25

THE NEW
ACTIVISTS?

Jewish lobbyist Jonathan Kessler leads
the fight for a renewed Jewish political
involvement on America's college
campuses.

BY JOSEPH AARON

Special to The Jewish News

1984 isn't exactly 1968. But then
it's also no 1972.
And that, says Jonathan Kessler,
is important, not just for Jewish col-
lege students but for the future of the
American Jewish community.
Those years reflect different
moods; '68 was a year of great turbu-
lence; '72 was one of inertia — espe-
cially on college campuses, which is
where Kessler spends his time. He's
Leadership Development Coordinator
for AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. And
that means it's his job to get Jewish
college students involved in the politi-
cal process, to "sensitize them to the
need for strong U.S.-Israel relations."
And in this election year, it means get-
ting students to take part in the cam-
paign.
That's not as hard as it might
seem, he says. For though there's been
a lot of talk for years about the apathy
sweeping college campuses, Kessler
says he's found that Jewish students
"have a great interest in politics.
They're as interested in it as their par-
ents were."
"I was a student during a time of
real apathy. Most people compare
1984 to 1968 but that's not fair.
There's a natural ebb and flow of polit-
ical involvement. Just as the '70s were
a reaction to 1968, so now there's a

reaction to the '70s. You can't compare
1984 to 1968. Compare it to when we
saw the first student involvement in
the anti-war movement. Compared to
1964, today we have a hotbed of politi-
cal consciousness and involvement.
While we're still a few years from the
high water mark, we're moving in that
direction. It's happening naturally."
It's important that it happens
with Jewish students because, said
Kessler, for "Jews to remain viable in
the political process we have to culti-
vate the next generation. As we get
further from the Holocaust and the
birth of Israel, we will be able to de-
pend less and less on Congressmen
who had a direct experience with those
events and are guided by them. It's
important, then, for Jewish students
to be involved, to understand the need
for strong support of Israel and not to
take it for granted."
Kessler gets students interested,
he said, not so much by talking about
how Israel is a vital strategic asset or
an important ally but by emphasizing
the natural affinity the people of Is-
rael and the United States feel for one
another. I tell them that Israel is reli-
able as an ally not based on specific
governments but rather based on the
strong bonds between the two
peoples."

An anti Israel display case sponsored by Arab students at Wayne State University.

-

Kessler says he uses that ap-
proach not only for political reasons
but for Jewish ones as well. "Instead of -
talking Zionist ideology or religion, I
talk politics and that's exciting for
students and is a way to get them into
their Jewishness.
"There are a lot of students affil-
iated with Jewish fraternities and
sororities who are uninvolved
Jewishly but very involved politically.
It never occurs to them to work for
Jewish causes. I try to tell them that
they've chosen to affiliate with Jewish
students so it must be important to
them to know they're Jews. But they
have to become active. The time will
come when the community will need
them."
Kessler says, talking politics is an
approach that works and that can help
attract those who would be turned off
when approached by more traditional
Jewish organizations.
But it's not to say it's a cure-all for
the problems of assimilation and
Jewish uninvolvement.
"It's not a panacea. But because
Jews have traditionally been in-
terested in politics it's one more hook
to involve those now uninvolved." ,
Involved or not, Kessler says that
students, like most Americans, are
pro-Israel. In fact when poll results
ti looking at American attitudes toward
Israel were analyzed by age, it was
found that percentages were basically
the same for all groups — except for
one.

While it was no surprise that
group was college students, it was a
surprise that college students deviated -
by being more pro-Israel than the gen-
eral population. So much for conven-
tional wisdom. That wisdom didn't
hold up too well during the war in
Lebanon when, Kessler said, instead
of turning away from Jewish prob-
lems, students instead increased their
affirmation. "Students were an-
guished but they brought that anguish
to Hillel to get more information."
What all that means, Kessler
said, is that we haven't lost this gen-
eration."
But it also doesn't mean there's no
cause for concern.
In fact, said Kessler, he's "quite
concerned"- with the increasing Arab
propaganda on campuses, noting espe-
cially its effort to "change the percep-
tion of the conflict to make it appear to
be Israel versus the powerless Palesti-
nians. That can be very effective, he
said, because "students are inclined to
be sympathetic to the underdog and so
it makes students start to wonder
about Israel."
Especially, he said, because most
of the media attention focused on Is-
rael tends to be negative. "Students
know more about Israel's imperfec-
tions than about its achievements."
That's also due to the fierce anti-
Israel barrage currently being waged
on many college campuses across the
country, according to Kessler, who

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