There are many Israel advocacy groups such as Stand with Us, Jerusalem U, and even AIPAC, that have branches dedicated to student outreach on campus. Yet even with countless more organizations dedicating millions of dollars to this initiative, the pro-Israel camp is categorically losing the public relations war on college campuses. More and more schools divest from the State of Israel, support sanctions on the Jewish homeland, and boycott products that originate in the West Bank or Israel. How could the millions of dollars being funneled into the advocacy, and the thousands of AIPAC students in cadres (AIPAC groups) on campus, be losing this critical battle?
This is a question which the pro-Israel groups have been ignoring for the past couple of years by deflecting the problem, claiming their numbers are growing, and giving examples of the times where they were successful. However, the unfortunate reality is that their success has already begun to dwindle, and at the current trend, more colleges will begin to support BDS; the initiatives of Students for Justice in Palestine (JSP) or the BDS movement are gaining more popularity. The cause of this reality can be attributed to two reasons: target audience and what I like to call, “fake” education.
Firstly, the fact that Jerusalem U, Stand with Us, and AIPAC all target the same general audience seems repetitive and a waste of time, money, and resources. For example, there is no good reason why all of the aforementioned groups feel the need to target Orthodox Jewish teenagers that already have strong ties and connections to the state. One could make a case that one of these groups might provide a valuable support base for these students, but having three groups is completely unnecessary.
Furthermore, whilst so much effort is spent targeting the Jews on campus, almost no effort goes into targeting non-Jewish campus influentials (with small exception of AIPAC). This is no minor issue, especially since a large portion of Orthodox Jews on campus are not nearly as involved as the non-Jewish campus leaders. For example; While a regular Orthodox kid might read a Stand with Us pamphlet full of good phrases and nice sound bites, the dedicated campus influentials, who also take the conflict seriously, are reading books upon books on the subject. These influentials are not just limited to student body presidents (sorry AIPAC), and these are the people who are willing to give their time and energy to fight for what they believe in; while sadly most regular Jewish teenagers are not.
Even though most Jewish teenagers may write a letter, or call their congressman, or go to the AIPAC policy conference, a select few will actually be involved in outreach for Israel. What is even more sad, is the few that are, have been taught with a “fake”, one-sided perception of the conflict.
The average teenager’s narrative would sound similar to a sound bite like, “If they put down their guns there would be peace, yet if we put down our guns, there would be bloodshed”. This narrative is juvenile, incomplete, and dishonest. While in the most simple way this narrative is true, a narrative can be made for the Palestinians that is just as compelling. “If we, the Palestinians, put down our guns, there will be more oppression, while if they, the Israelis, put down their guns there would be justice”. Both narratives are completely true, yet when only one of them is presented, it creates a disingenuous profile of the conflict. This also enables absolutely zero dialogue to occur because either side will just continue to reinforce their own narrative while invalidating the other’s story.
Therefore, in order for these pro-Israel groups to produce competent activists, they must begin “real” genuine education of the subject. Ignoring facts and giving people sound bites is fine when you are preaching to the choir, but makes you sound ridiculous when talking to real thinking people who disagree with you.
If these groups want to engender any real change then they must make two significant changes. Firstly, they must begin to attract the campus influentials, those students who really want to make the world a better place and who are willing to spend time, money, and energy on that mission. This is only an effective tool if accompanied by the second mission of creating meaningful, real, and genuine education on the conflict. While understanding nuances of the conflict doesn’t sound as sexy as a sound bite, it sure produces more “real” dialogue, educated people, and better activists.