This week, 13,000 people have gathered in Washington, DC, to express support for a strong US-Israel alliance. Among them are 1,600 students, including 217 student government presidents, leaders of the College Democrats and College Republicans, students from historically black colleges, faith-based institutions and more, from 500 campuses in all 50 U.S. states.
In the opening plenary of the AIPAC Policy Conference
, current and former student leaders described how their involvement with Israel advocacy on campus launched them into careers in politics and positions of leadership. President Obama, in remarks that followed, said to enthusiastic cheers: “Every time that I come to AIPAC, I’m impressed to see so many young people here—students from all over the country who are making their voices heard.”
When many complain about apathy and indifference on campus; when there is understandable concern whether the campus environment will be an asset or hindrance to forging positive ties between Israel and the world; when many express concern about anti-Israel activities on campus—what can we learn from this display of strength?
Indeed—what makes pro-Israel campus activism succeed, and what makes it fail?
The pro-Israel community devotes substantial resources to the campus environment. In the past decade, a number of campus-facing organizations either came into existence (full disclosure: My organization, the Israel on Campus Coalition
, was among them) or redoubled efforts. This allocation of resources produced a considerable amount of effort over the past 10 years.
But more recently, some have begun to ask whether the effort has the desired effect. One need only look at an article
written by Jodi Wilgoren—now Jodi Rudoren, the newly appointed (and already controversial
) Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times
—over 10 years ago to see strikingly similar themes to those that concern people today. Even then, those focused on campus saw Israel detractors present at many universities, anti-Israel faculty bias and indecisive campus administrations who appeared to tolerate behavior toward Israelis and Jews that would not be tolerated toward other nationalities or ethnic minorities.
For some, the natural reaction to such concerns was to fight: Stage counter-protests; compose open letters to campus administrators demanding that anti-Israel speech be suppressed, that anti-Israel political activity be halted and that faculty displaying anti-Israel opinions be censured; and even bring litigation against campus administrators for failing to take action.
Despite the significant resources devoted to such efforts, results failed to materialize. Instead, what emerged time and again from reflexive, reactive and combative approaches was greater defensiveness from faculty and administrators who might otherwise be sympathetic, but who resisted external threats and pressures on treasured principles of academic freedom and integrity; and greater alienation and distaste from students who might also otherwise be sympathetic, but who saw reactive activity as aggressive behavior with which they had no desire to affiliate.
As reactive efforts mounted, campus Israel detractors also continued their activity, unsuccessful in persuading the vast majority of campus constituents but nevertheless unabated in their attempts. Indeed, in addition to the AIPAC Policy Conference, this week also marks the tired, but repeated, appearance of “Israel Apartheid Week” on some campuses. If such anti-Israel elements persist in the campus environment, despite all of the resources devoted to and emphasis on reactive programming, then what does work?
Continue reading at The Times of Israel.