A few American college campuses appear to have become hostile environments for pro-Israel students. On these campuses “progressive” student organizations which demand equal rights for all minorities exclude Jewish groups because they enjoy “Jewish privilege” and support Israel. The most extreme of these progressive organizations denounce Israel as an apartheid state which should never have been created on “Palestinian Arab land” in 1948. Although these progressive groups profess to respect freedom of speech, on some occasions they have denied pro-Israel speakers the right to speak. Recently, the student governments of several colleges including Michigan, Barnard, and NYU have passed Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) resolutions against Israel demanding that their university endowments sell all shares of stock in corporations that do business with Israel. The BDS movement also seeks to prohibit collaborations between American and Israeli scholars.
A promising way to strengthen ties between American college students and Israel is to create academic exchange programs between American universities and Israeli universities. Many American universities already have international programs which allow students to study abroad. Faculty groups opposed to BDS, such as the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) with membership on many campuses, can urge their colleagues and university administrators to add Israel to the list of nations in which students can study. Faculty and student exchange programs can also be established with Israeli universities.
One American university which has student and faculty interactions with Israeli universities and companies is MIT. Since its launch in 2008, an MIT-Israel program has sent over 600 students to Israel for fully funded industry and research internships, and to teach high school students. MIT students are required to learn Hebrew with a peer tutor. In addition, MIT Hillel and Technion Hillel are partners in an annual exchange program in which students from each school travel to the other’s campus.