BDS. For over a decade this movement slowly spread while most of us in the pro-Israel community underestimated it. Then almost overnight we shifted from denial to panic. Some days it seems that BDS is the only topic we’re able to talk about anymore.
Between ignoring and obsessing lay the productive middle ground of fighting back on a sustained basis. A movement that has grown though multiple years of hard work at the grassroots can only be stopped by multiple years of hard work at the grassroots. No number of conferences or studies can change this fact.
The Maccabee Task Force was created one year ago to organize and fund exactly this kind of sustained grassroots effort on campus. We’ve been scientific in our execution. We held hundreds of conversations with experienced professionals and students. Then we formulated a hypothesis about what works. And then, during spring semester, we tested this hypothesis by investing in multiple projects on six college campuses suffering from active BDS campaigns.
The semester is over and our results are in. They are neither surprising nor sexy. But they will guide our future investments. Among the highlights:
1. No Silver Bullet
Everyone you talk to has “the answer.” And the answer is always different. Teach the fundamentals of the conflict. Never mention the conflict. Attack SJP. Ignore SJP. Bring lecturers to campus. Bring singers. All of the above are true at times. None alone are game changers.
2. Local Partners Are Key
Our most effective partners were those who actually live on campus: both campus-based student activists and the campus-based professionals of Hillel, Chabad and the wonderful Israel Fellows. Every successful event we funded was planned and implemented in close coordination with these local stakeholders.
3. Take Back the Quad
BDS supporters hold week-long, public events like “Israel Apartheid Week” to publicize their positions. Why don’t we? Together with our partners, we hosted public, week-long Israel celebrations on each of our six campuses. If part of this fight is about the environment on campus, then we must be part of that environment.
4. Build Our Coalition/Break Theirs
Everyone knows that team BDS is good at building coalitions with other student groups. We need to do better. And we’ve found no more effective way to do so than bringing the leaders of these student groups to Israel together with key pro-Israel activists from their campus. The more students see of Israel – including Israeli Arab and Palestinian perspectives – the more they reject the simplistic BDS narrative.
5. Ju-Jitsu Their Hate
Our polling demonstrates that there’s nothing millennials hate more than hate itself. This means that every time the anti-Israel crowd shows their true colors by crossing the line into incivility, they’re handing us a powerful talking point. We need to capture and publicize these ugly moments.
6. Local Training
We were surprised by how little most pro-Israel students know about Israel and her story. But while these students are interested in learning, they’re often unwilling to leave campus to do so. So we funded campus-based, multi-session training seminars for our top students. In the process, we were able to improve both the quantity and the quality of our activist base.
The Maccabee Task Force is taking our strategy and support to many more campuses this fall. We’re on a rapid growth trajectory to be on every campus that has active BDS. The BDSers aren’t going away any time soon. But wherever they seek to erode support for Israel, we will be there too. We will invest, we will unify, and we will stay until support for Israel ultimately grows.
David Brog is the Executive Director of the Maccabee Task Force.