As the Jewish community continues to confront the BDS movement, I believe that there may be a glimmer of hope in our fight to defend Israel.
Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), the once feared menace on many US college campuses, has virtually disappeared. Here at Berkeley, long a battleground over Israel on campus, there was utter silence during IAW, as there has been at many other universities. Meanwhile, many universities are engaging in official actions against IAW proponents. Barnard College forced the removal of a pro-IAW banner, while Northeastern university ended its recognition of an anti-Israel student group. I should add that these universities have undertaken these actions not due to a desire to repress free speech, but rather because of the consistent rule breaking practiced by anti-Israel student groups. Similarly, when IAW was active at Berkeley, the school banned anti-Israel students from setting up an “apartheid” checkpoint in front of a main gate of the school following the harassment of Jewish students. If anything, I have observed in the news more anti-apartheid week activity than I have pro-IAW activity.
The disappearance of IAW isn’t surprising. For all the noise made by anti-Israel student groups, America remains a strongly pro-Israel nation, according to almost every poll. Even in the UK, a country with more ambiguous feelings on Israel, IAW’s outrageous tactics and claims have engendered pushback. The idea that Israel practiced apartheid was never seriously accepted by anyone with even an iota of knowledge in the region, and the pro-Israel community was able to effectively mobilize resources not only to factually dispute the claims of IAW, but also to expose the deep hatred at the root of the movement.
The current lull grants pro-Israel activists on college campuses an opportunity to change the terms of the debate. IAW’s aggressive tactics forced the Jewish community into a defensive position. Every ridiculous lie from anti-Israel groups had to be subject to a counter claim by a Jewish group, and the American Fox-MSNBC mindset meant that neutral observers probably thought that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.
Now, the Jewish community must decisively grab the upper hand in this debate. For the first time in years, pro-Israel advocates have the space to present the genuine Israel; the Israel that most in the Jewish community know and love. Israel’s scientific, social, and ethical victories must be emphasized, so that when the IAW extremists once again levy their lies, the general public is educated enough to be able to out of hand dismiss these spurious claims.
Fortunately, there does seem to be some action on this front. The #rethink2014 campaign, despite the ridiculous hashtag in its name, has the right idea: getting college students to rethink the false, but widely propagated IAW conception of Israel. Hopefully, further efforts by a coalition of pro-Israel students and their allies will further this process.