The Olympic Games in London are in their second week, and even the casual observer can appreciate that we are witnessing the results of years, in some cases a lifetime, of preparation. For campus Israel advocates, the preparation renews each year.
August is a busy time. In the first week of the month, two outstanding conferences feature in-depth Israel content. Nearly 100 students representing almost two dozen different fraternities and sororities from nearly 50 campuses are attending Israel Amplified, an Israel education and advocacy conference organized by the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. At the same time, Hillel International is hosting hundreds of Hillel campus professionals, Jewish Agency Israel Fellows and student interns for Hillel Institute, which features many conversations and sessions relating to Israel. The Israel on Campus Coalition, my organization, is proud to support and participate in each of these events.
But there’s no rest for the weary. In the second week of August, ICC hosts its own national training for 60 interns, both Grinspoon Israel advocacy interns as well as Israel Campus Beat reporters, from over 50 campuses. The ICC national intern training features presentations and resources from over a dozen national partner organizations.
And that’s still not all. By the third week in August, the TAMID Israel Investment Group hosts its first-ever national conference. National partner organizations of the ICC such as StandWithUs, the David Project, Hasbara Fellowships, Christians United for Israel and AIPAC hold meetings and conduct trainings for student activists in August as well as throughout the summer months. Countless activists have spent the summer traveling to Israel or beginning their fall planning on their respective campuses.
The effort is considerable, but the reasons are clear: The Israel on campus network is in countdown mode.
Each year, campus Israel supporters face similar questions as the year approaches. What will the climate regarding Israel be like this year on campus? How will events in the Middle East shape perceptions and reality regarding Israel, on my campus and beyond? What are Israel’s detractors, on the campus and in the global setting, likely to do? Most importantly, what are we prepared to do ourselves?
It is clear already that Israel’s detractors are determined, and the threats are real. In the region, an increasingly belligerent Iranian government rejects negotiated solutions and resists sanctions regarding its renegade nuclear program. In Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, elements hostile to Israel appear to be seeking advantage out of tremendous upheaval. At the same time, the Palestinian leadership, disappointingly, continues to rebuff appeals to return to direct negotiations and instead apparently seeks to grandstand once again this fall at the United Nations—a route already thoroughly rejected last year both on campus and among respected leadership in the international community.
On campus, without question, Israel’s detractors will seek to impugn Israel’s standing and credibility. Already, several detractor conferences and events have been set for the early fall; more of the same inflammatory speakers, campus quad theatrics and disparaging activity that we have seen in the past are almost certain to follow.
August is the last opportunity before classes begin, the Jewish High Holy Days arrive and the press of academics begins to weigh once more for the campus Israel network to strategize, plan and prepare. Israel’s campus network is stronger than ever before; but we need to be smart enough to take advantage of this time before this year’s campus Israel Olympics begin. After all, the countdown has already begun.
Stephen Kuperberg is executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an organization dedicated to weaving and catalyzing the campus Israel network to create a positive climate regarding Israel on campus, and publisher of the Israel Campus Beat.