The Value of Expression: A Response to Michael Osborne
Living in a country that promotes the importance of individuality encourages people to form and prioritize their values as they see fit. Individuality however does not only permeate each person’s beliefs, it can also be seen amongst shared values within a group or setting. Common values can be shared by different people while being expressed in many different ways within that population. For example, there is a tremendous amount of people who value the importance of family. Nevertheless, no two families are the same because the population who shares that value are all expressing themselves differently. In one case, a working mother might make an effort to be home in time for when their kids get home from school. A different family might have an annual get together or vacation. The two cases show the idea of a shared value expressed in different ways.
American Patriotism similarly illustrates that one value can have multiple methods of expression within a common value. Many would describe patriotism as the love of one’s country. However, there is no exact definition as a result of many different ideas of the true meaning of the word. The reason that it is so hard to define this value is the fact that there are so many different ways of expressing patriotism. In 2014, Fox News ran a poll to figure out what the most patriotic things a person could do to support America. The results of the poll showed nine activities that received 50% or higher of that activity being a show of patriotism. These activities were: flying an American flag, voting in elections, joining the military, serving on a jury, staying informed on domestic news, paying taxes, volunteering on a political campaigns, participating in a political protest, and owning a gun. Some Americans participate in all nine of these activities, while some citizens maybe only will participate in one or two. The fact is, by conducting any of these acts Americans are highlighting their inherent value of patriotism, while expressing their support in different manners.
Analogous to the value of patriotism in the US is that of Zionism for the State of Israel. In the previous issue of The Commentator, Michael Osborne, President of the Israel Club, lamented the constant poor turnout at his club events. As someone who has tried to organize event myself in the past, I can relate the frustration of a poor turnout at a club event. I believe the Israel Club does great work and I wholeheartedly support the author’s call for higher student turnout at its events.
Where I disagree with the author, though, is his stance that the explanation for this phenomenon is that apathetic Zionism, the fact that people don’t care about the State of Israel, is the reason for his poor turnout. In a particularly contentious statement, Osbourne claims that the YU student body “does not care about Zionism. Osborne writes that upon taking the Presidency of the Israel Club, he expected more participation in his events, given that, in his estimation, YU has more than 2,100 Zionists on campus. I’m not sure if the author thought there are 2,100 students on campus and assumed all of them had Zionistic feelings, or if he took the actual 2,800 undergraduate students currently enrolled in Yeshiva University and assumed 75% of them were Zionists -- but both assumptions are unjustifiable. One cannot just assume that a certain percentage of people have a certain belief just because the university they study in happens to subscribe to that belief. In fact, a few students who I discussed this issue with were upset that the author spoke for them and labeled them “Zionists.”
In addition to the author’s fictional statistics regarding Zionism on campus, he neglected to mention the difficulties involved in attending events when half of the student body resides 150 city blocks from every event. To come to an event for whichever one of the campuses the event was not being held on would require the student to commit to 1-2 hours of extra travel time. Even for students residing on the campus in which the event is taking place, other considerations might prevent them from attending events including conflicting classes and events, juggling an arduous dual curriculum, and dedicating time to learning in the beit midrash.
In light of these considerations, YU students, in contrast to Jewish students on other college campuses, cannot be expected to show up to pro-Israel events in the same numbers. At one point in the article, Osborne lamented the fact that only 50 YU students came to hear from an Israeli diplomat, who spoke in Brandeis the night before to a crowd of 200. While this discrepancy seems to be rather large, when considered in context it is not as large as it looks on the surface. To start, Brandeis has a larger undergraduate enrollment than YU. This is also combined with the facts that their campus layout is much more compact, and they don’t have a dual curriculum, which affords students more time to attend events.
Ignoring these factors, Osborne’s assumption that Zionist apathy on campus accounts for low turnout at Israel Club events is a baseless and dangerous accusation. Besides for all the other possible reasons a YU student may not be able to make an event, students might be expressing their Zionism in different ways altogether. Just like patriotism, Zionism is a value that can be expressed in many different ways. Going to an Israel Club event is not a prerequisite for being a Zionist like a Principles of Marketing course is for Marketing Capstone. I personally know students who give their weekends to lobby at the AIPAC conference, or lobby at other conventions on behalf of the State of Israel; some may donate to Israeli charities, or even say a paragraph of Tehillim on behalf of the safety of our soldiers. While these students all engage in different activities, they have in common that they show their support of Israel independent of Israel Club events.
I am not naive enough to say that everyone on this campus expresses Zionistic feelings. I am sure there are some who don’t believe in it and some that do but don’t act upon it. But to say that the majority of a student body doesn’t share or adhere to a certain value just because they don’t conform to how you express that value is a reckless thing to do. Without knowing the extent of other students’ pro-Israel activities outside of the Israel Club, I will refrain from passing judgement. Mr. Osborne, I implore you to do the same.