February 2, 2011 // Stephen Kuperberg
I have traveled around the United States and seen the campus environment first-hand. I have seen what our students face and it pains me to report that I am very concerned. The campuses are burning. The situation that campus Israel supporters face is very serious and needs urgent attention.
The only problem is that the situation may not be quite what you think—but that’s not your fault.
Even for those who are most interested in and devoted to forging a more positive campus climate regarding Israel—even among professionals who work in the field—accurate information about what really happens on campus regarding Israel can be maddeningly difficult to obtain. Regular coverage of campus Israel events seldom attains priority among national news organizations, even those with a Jewish focus; in an age of tightening budgets and shrinking news staffs, the ability to cover campus events slips even further.
Even when they are run to the highest journalistic standards, campus newspapers have a narrow beat of a single campus and, typically, a narrow audience of the students attending that campus. One can search online for headlines and stories relating to campus Israel events, but they rarely provide the context needed to determine whether and how the stories affected Israel supporters on that campus, or whether they reflect larger trends. And, as we all know far too well, bad news travels fastest—as the saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads”—and, as a result, coverage of campus Israel events, if they are covered at all, is almost invariably negative.
You know the community is in trouble when its single greatest source of campus Israel news often comes from letters and emails with requests for donations attached. You know the ones—the ones that put an inflammatory quote from an incendiary anti-Israel speaker on the envelope and loudly proclaim “the campuses are burning!”
Many factors affect the climate of activity and sentiment surrounding Israel on campuses. Faculty, administrators, students, campus professionals and outside players all have roles. Even on a single campus, the perceptions and experiences of one individual can and will differ radically from another. To understand the larger picture, one must first be able to see the larger picture: to have multiple vantage points providing information for a story; to have reporting that goes beyond the immediate event to look at the arc of events on a given campus and on multiple campuses; to be able to go in-depth on how a particular event, incident, or initiative triggered reactions and to follow the chain of cause and effect. To understand that larger picture, in short, one needs news—not just sensationalism or grim pronouncements that the sky is falling, but real news.
Campuses are burning. But in my experience in visiting campuses around the country, what campus Israel supporters are burning for most is to tell their stories—not just the donation appeal hyperbole, but the real stories of successes, failures, challenges, and opportunities—the stories that tell it how it is for campus Israel supporters, from students, faculty, administrators, campus professionals and others who live the mission to build a positive campus Israel climate every day.
That is what Israel Campus Beat is here to do. But context comes in conversation. To make this enterprise successful, we need you: your eyes, your voice, your contributions in passion, energy and perspective. I hope that you will follow Israel Campus Beat regularly—subscribe to the email list, follow ICB on Twitter and Facebook, or however you receive your news. And I hope that if you are a member of the campus Israel network of students, faculty, administrators, campus professionals, community members and media—and if you’ve read this far, then it is safe to assume that you are a part of that network—then join us in conversation. We want to benefit from what is burning for you.