Sunday, January 02, 2011

Ending Ignorance: Jewish Studies in India

In early 2009, I was at Lucknow University in India and had just concluded two days of talks. On my way to the car, an individual stopped me and insisted I join him and his colleagues in the Islamic Studies Department for some tea and conversation. While there I met a Muslim journalist who said quite matter-of-factly that "every Muslim child knows that the media is controlled by seven powerful Jews."

"Oh, I must have missed that meeting," I replied. Besides, I told him it was nonsense and challenged him to name the seven powerful Jews. He began with Rupert Murdoch.

"Not Jewish," I said, "a friend, but not Jewish. Who's next?"

"Ted Turner," he replied.

"Ted Turner? I'm not sure he even likes Jews!"

You get the point. This man was an influential Urdo journalist and a guest in the Islamic Studies Department of a major Indian university. He helps shape Indian Muslim opinion yet is so woefully ignorant about Jews.

For two days prior, as I spoke to Indian students at Lucknow, I was peppered with questions about Israel and the Jewish people. There was a real hunger among students for information about both. One of the questions I receive regularly (there and elsewhere) is: "How has tiny Israel defeated the terrorists when giant India cannot?" Unfortunately, they cannot easily find that or other unbiased information about Israel and the Jews from the elites in media and academia who, for the most part, enforce a rigidly anti-Israel perspective. Almost every Indian university has an Islamic Studies Department, but none offer much on Jewish studies.

Dr. Navras Aafreedi was responsible for my time at Lucknow University, and he is trying almost single-handedly to get students the information they crave. With the support of Forcefield, a human rights not-for-profit of which I am the President, Rabbi Howard Gorin of the Washington, DC area, and others' Navras is assembling information resources that he is making available to students. Congressman-elect Robert Dold (R-IL) has also expressed his support for the effort and desire to help it succeed.

Navras Aafreedi continues to seek out new or used books and other resources. The need is great, and the cost of shipping is also significant. Rabbi Gorin's synagogue raised money (, and Forcefield has assisted both in book donations and in shipping costs. Navras perseveres despite continued obstacles; and even though this effort is not likely one that will endear him with the powers that be in academia, he continues with it because he sees the need and hears the cries of the students. People wanting to help this effort can contact Dr. Aafreedi directly (, through me (, or through Forcefield ( The cause is just, and it is an important case of hasbara that can have a profound impact on a key population at a critical moment in time.

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