The first semester of 2016-17 has been another phenomenal one for Jewish students across the country. While fear mongers have been scaring parents with exaggerated claims about how dangerous it is for Jewish students on campus, the truth is campuses across the country are beehives of pro-Israel activity that has gone unnoticed because it does not fit the narrative of Jews cowering in fear in their dorm rooms. In fact, more students are engaged in pro-Israel activity today than ever before.
While once a handful of pro-Israel groups such as Hillel, AIPAC and various uncoordinated Israel action committees operated on campus, today a multiplicity of organizations engage students from different perspectives. These organizations include (forgive me for any I’ve inadvertently left out): Hillel, AIPAC, AICE, StandWithUs, the David Project, AEPi, Hasbara Fellowships, ZOA, JNF, ADL, the Israel on Campus Coalition, Students Supporting Israel, Chabad, the Israeli American Council, The Maccabee Task Force, and Christians United for Israel.
Oh, the other side has Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and, on a handful of campuses, Jewish Voice for Peace (contrary to popular misconceptions the Muslim Students Association is rarely involved in anti-Israel activities anymore). The campaign to convince universities to divest from Israel, which never had any chance of success because administrators pay no attention to student government votes, has fizzled. This fall, only two schools voted on divestment resolutions — one passed at Portland State and the other was defeated at Michigan. The anti-Semitic BDS movement has failed so categorically in gaining campus support that it has increasingly focused on protesting pro-Israel events.
So what have you missed this semester? Here is a small sample of the activities of pro-Israel students:
While 300 Israel haters attending the SJP annual conference drew disproportionate attention, little publicity was given to the 3-day JewFest conference in New York organized by Chabad on Campus, which attracted more than 1,200 Jewish students from around the world.
Among its many activities, StandWithUs hosted its annual “Israel In Focus Conference” in Los Angeles. More than 175 pro-Israel student leaders and campus professionals came together to learn about Israel, network with each other, grow their skills, and develop their strategic thinking as activists. Speakers discussed how Israel represents rebirth, resilience, empowerment, and hope, inspiring participants to share that story with their peers.
Northeastern University, accused by some of being a bastion of anti-Semitism, is involved in an exciting new project organized in partnership with Boston’s Jewish Federation and the Israeli Consulate. “Destination Innovation” offers students the opportunity to visit innovative Israeli-owned companies in Greater Boston and learn about entrepreneurism. The first group of participants visited CyberArk, an information security company; Karyopharm Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company focused on developing drugs for a variety of diseases related to cell proliferation; and the New England-Israel Business Council, which works to increase Economic Development in Israel and New England.
Other business-related programs are run by TAMID, which facilitates weekly meetings on 34 campuses where students learn about Israeli innovation, consult for Israeli startups, and analyze Israeli stocks. TAMID at Queens College, for example, ran a “Shark Tank” event, where 400 people packed an auditorium to see student entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of investors and hear Kevin Harrington from the hit ABC show speak about Israeli innovation.
Israel’s detractors have formed coalitions with some “progressive” student groups, but Jewish students have also formed coalitions on many campuses. For example, Texas Hillel hosted the annual Texans for Israel Student Leader Dinner (served by volunteers from AEPi), bringing together 100 Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders at the University of Texas, Austin. Participating organizations included the Black Student Alliance, Hindu Students Association, UT Student Government and College Republicans.
An even more unusual coalition was brought together by Students Supporting Israel at their “Indigenous People Unite” event at Columbia. The program focused on the often neglected fact that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel. The theme was represented by a panel consisting of an Assyrian, Yazidi, Israeli, Native Canadian, and Tibetan.
Israeli hip hop artist Shaanan Streett, from the popular band Hadag Nahash, toured a number of campuses, including Penn State, Rutgers, the University of Washington, Western University, Hillel Toronto and Muhlenberg College. He spoke to students about the meaning of his music and his optimism about Israel’s future.
CAMERA sponsored tours for Jonathan Elkhoury, an openly gay, Christian Lebanese refugee, whose family was saved by Israel in 2000/2001, and Indian Professor Maina Singh. Prof. Singh was an AICE Visiting Israeli Professor at Georgetown and now lectures about the importance of film, art, music, and dance in helping the Israeli Indian community maintain ties to its culture.
The Jewish Agency for Israel has become increasingly active on campus, sending more than 60 fellows to Hillels on more than 100 campuses to interact with students, organize programs and educate the student body about Israel. The Agency also has created Project TEN, which offers students volunteer opportunities in Ghana, Ethiopia and Mexico, and the option to work in Israel for programs to empower Bedouin youth, new immigrants, at-risk teens, and individuals with special needs.
For many years, Israeli students eschewed campus politics. This has changed as more and more Israelis are standing up to Israel’s detractors on campus and working with their American peers to project a pro-Israel message on campus. The Israeli American Council has created the Mishelanu program to strengthen and maintain the Israelis’ identity through culture, language, heritage, and a strong connection to Israel. Today Mishelanu is offered on more than 90 campuses.
Faculty also were involved in scholarly presentations about Israel. For example, the University of Arizona held its second annual Modern Israel Conference, “Balancing Unity & Diversity: Israel’s Changing Society & Politics.” The conference featured some of the top scholars in the field of Israel Studies and a keynote address by Anita Shapira, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, on the topic, “Israel 2016: Vision and Reality.”
I’ve often written about the need to focus more attention on preparing high school students for becoming pro-Israel activists in college. StandWithUs, The David Project, The Israeli American Council and AIPAC are among the groups that have taken up the challenge. For example, 440 high school students from more than 200 public and private academic institutions across the country attended AIPAC’s advocacy summit in Washington, DC. While in the nation’s capital, students received intensive training in pro-Israel political advocacy and participated in 48 congressional appointments focusing on the value of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
A small number of campuses (less than 3%) do have serious problems with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic students and faculty. Paradoxically, many of these same campuses have very strong pro-Israel organizations. Sadly, some groups hype every negative incident on campus, no matter how trivial, to create a misleading image of Jewish students in peril. The truth is that pro-Israel activity across the country is robust, growing and dwarfs the misdeeds of their antagonists. 0
Young Jews are committed to Israel. If more publicity was given to these students, the community would be reassured that it is safe to be Jewish and pro-Israel on campus. Despite the challenges presented by Israel’s enemies, college provides many opportunities for Jews to enhance their Jewish identity and strengthen their connection to Israel. The students standing up for Israel deserve more credit, attention and financial support.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.