I am loath to criticize other organizations that are trying to help students and combat the BDS campaign on college campuses; however, I have also felt an obligation to correct misinformation put out to create hysteria about the alleged dangers faced by Jewish students. Selective use of extraordinary incidents and flawed data have been disseminated to create a picture of campuses across the country being engulfed with anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitism, a portrayal that is simply inaccurate.
Earlier this year, I criticized the AMCHA Initiative for publishing a seriously flawed report that trumpeted “an alarming spike in campus Anti-Semitism during the first half of 2016.” The data simply didn’t support the conclusion:
- The figures in the report did not add up; Only 64 campuses had any incidents; 44% of the schools with the most Jewish students had no occurrences;
- The most serious acts – harassment and threats – were rare. AMCHA recorded only 11 cases (3%) and, consistent with ADL data, there was not a single instance of a Jewish student being physical attacked;
- By focusing solely on anti-Israel activity, AMCHA distorted the campus picture by ignoring pro-Israel activity, which dwarfs that of Israel’s detractors;
- In contrast to AMCHA’s conclusions, the Israel on Campus Coalition found a dramatic 12% decrease in anti-Israel activity and a 3.5% increase in pro-Israel activity;
- Some of the “incidents” should not have been counted at all because they were not directed at Jewish students;
- The failure to follow up on reports led to the misreporting of incidents that were not anti-Semitic;
- All “incidents” were wrongfully treated equally;
- AMCHA claimed a relationship between hostility toward Israel and hostility toward Jews, which a Brandeis study found was not the case.
Now, AMCHA is getting publicity for a new report that includes interactive maps purportedly showing how widespread the problem of anti-Semitism is on campus. I find this release especially appalling because of its use of a graphic that is offensive and wildly misleading. Here is a screenshot from AMCHA’s web site of its new interactive map:
AMCHA decided to use swastika flags to illustrate campuses where “swastikas and genocidal expression” were found. Looking at the map, it appears the Nazis have overrun much of the United States (if you zoom out, the takeover is slightly less dramatic). Perhaps the authors have spent too much time watching the TV series, The Man in the High Castle, which postulates that Germany won the war and occupies the East Coast (while Japan controls the West Coast). The map’s image of Nazis sweeping across the region is reminiscent of World War II propaganda.
Even using their flawed methodology, AMCHA’s data shows a significant 30% decrease in anti-Semitic activity on campus in 2017 from the same period last year.
It is also important to note that counting swastikas is problematic. First, painting swastikas are easy, cowardly acts where the perpetrator typically gets away so we don’t know their motivation (anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, antisocial, vandalism). In one case, for example, the swastikas were drawn incorrectly by someone who was caught and had no idea what a swastika meant. Second, university officials usually respond quickly and forcefully when the symbol appears on campus in stark contrast to their silence or dissembling responses to rhetorical attacks on Jews and Israel. Third, these incidents are often one-offs; that is, a swastika appears once on a building over the course of an entire school year. This is despicable, but hardly an indication of a hostile environment on that campus.
The appearance of a swastika should be taken very seriously if it appears aimed at threatening or intimidating a particular individual (as in finding one on the door of a Jews’ dorm room). Again, as a matter of perspective, it is important to note that Jewish students are not being physically attacked. When we talk about problems on campuses, they are typically more endemic and have little or nothing to do with the appearance of swastikas.
The AMCHA BDS map is less misleading but also fails to tell the true story of the BDS campus campaign. This illustration is helpful in showing that, contrary to much of their overwrought rhetoric, the campuses are not on fire. The BDS campaign doesn’t even register in most of the country and is concentrated on a handful of campuses primarily in California and the northeast.
Here’s the real story about the effort to convince universities to divest from companies doing business in or with Israel: In the last 12 years, divestment has been voted on a total of 101 times at 63 of the nation’s 2,500 four-year colleges. That means 97% of the campuses have never had a divestment vote.
BDS proposals have been defeated 62% of the time. Of the 38 votes in favor of divestment – at only 29 schools — not one has resulted in any change of a university’s investment policy.
The school year is not finished, so there may yet be a late flurry of activity, but so far only 13 divestment votes have been held this academic year (affecting less than 1% of all campuses), compared to 18 last year and 27 the year before. The majority have failed, but the anti-Semites won the last two votes after scheduling them to coincide with the Passover break to ensure most Jewish students would be away.
The fact that the BDSers have largely given up on convincing Americans to boycott Israel, and are increasingly resorting to desperate tactics such as trying to prevent pro-Israel lecturers from speaking, is just one of many signs the BDS movement may be petering out in the United States (Europe is a different story) as its failures mount and the backlash grows.
BDS is now correctly recognized as anti-Semitic and boycotts are being rejected by academic associations that want no part of the Nazi-like efforts to banish Jews from academia. One exception is the Middle East Studies Association, long the home of hypocrites who insist on the right to attack Israel and Jews with impunity while accusing their critics of McCarthyism. MESA is notoriously hostile to Israel but has formally stayed apolitical; however, BDS activists successfully mobilized to change MESA’s bylaws to allow a future vote to boycott Israel.
The good news is that cooperation between American and Israeli researchers and universities has continued to grow despite the efforts of the boycotters. In addition, legislation in Congress is taking aim at BDS while a growing number of states (Texas just became the 18th) are adopting prohibitions aimed at the boycotters. South Carolina, the second state to address the issue, is now taking the next vital step by proposing legislation adopting the State Department definition of anti-Semitism to make it possible to take action against anti-Semitic BDS campaigns on college campuses.
The pro-Israel movement on campus is also growing stronger as philanthropists invest more funds, the Jewish Agency deploys more emissaries, Hillel increases its Israel-related activities, Birthright takes more students to Israel and groups such as StandWithUs, Hasbarah Fellowships, AEPi, and others train activists. Attendees to AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference were also treated to the sight of approximately 4,000 students – including many non-Jews – committed to supporting Israel. Pro-Israel students are countering the anti-Semites and, more important setting a positive agenda on many campuses. These significant advances are ignored by those perpetuating the “campuses are on fire” narrative.
Rather than counting swastikas, the focus should be on the academic malpractice committed by faculty using their classrooms to push personal anti-Israel agendas and the continuing double standard in the way administrators treat offenses against Jews as opposed to other minorities. The denial of the right of Jews to speak and students to listen to pro-Israel lectures is also a growing concern.
The campus challenges that AIPAC described back in the 1960s remain. Israel’s detractors are not going gently into that goodnight. Like the shomrim of yesteryear, we must be constantly vigilant, fighting when necessary, ignoring what we can and setting a positive agenda whenever possible. As I’ve said many times, to the chagrin of the hysterics, the situation on the overwhelming majority of campuses is quiet and hospitable to Jews. Those campuses where the situation is more problematic deserve attention, but it serves no one’s interests to suggest, graphically or otherwise, that any campuses warrant association with the Nazi flag or that anti-Semitism is engulfing the nation.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.