As scary as the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel looks from home, sometimes it looks even scarier from far away. My fellow Israelis are alarmed by stories about the battles going on at American universities. They hear about Jewish students under attack. They hear about Israeli speakers being shouted down. And they hear about the anti-Israel activists who fight for their colleges to boycott Israel.
Hostile anti-Israel activity on campus is scary. But the larger truth is that engaged pro-Israel students are successfully defeating these efforts. It is true that Jewish and pro-Israel students have had to learn to stand up to defend themselves on campus. And it is true that there are students on U.S. campuses who would boycott our homeland. But the reality is, we are soundly beating them.
BDS is losing, thanks in large part to the leadership of Hillel and Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows on campus. With our community partners, Hillel professionals and the fellows are galvanizing pro-Israel students on American campuses. They are coming together to defeat the scourge that is the boycott movement—swiftly, effectively, and with great courage.
Students in these diverse and inclusive coalitions are Jewish and non-Jewish; liberal and conservative; white, black and brown.
Just last week, student coalitions at two major American universities organized the student populations to vote against referendums that would have urged the university leadership to divest financial holdings from any companies that do business with the Jewish state.
At Ohio State University, 4,084 students voted against an anti-Israel divestment referendum while 3,843 voted in favor, defeating the third anti-Israel campaign in three years. And at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, students voted down a similar divestment measure by a margin of 56.8 to 43.2 percent. While these are important victories, they also showcase that we must continue to work to ensure Israel is not delegitimized or held to a double standard on any campus.
Hillel International is the largest Jewish student organization in the world, and we’ve had the benefit of learning how to defeat the anti-Israel movement because we are involved on more than 550 universities.
Now, when a boycott campaign pops up, we know what to do and can spring into action immediately.
Our Hillel professionals and the 70 Jewish Agency Israel Fellows stationed on campuses across North America have undergone extensive training. They know how to organize students, provide the logistical support needed, and work with university leadership to ensure the rights of all students are recognized and respected. They help students navigate online activism and make smart use of social media advocacy and online networking.
Through the training they receive, students now know how to mobilize a campus, lobby the leaders of influential student clubs and organizations, and build alliances with other faith, ethnic and special interest groups. They keep their communities involved and informed and let the media know what’s really happening on campus.
And students have the support of the Israel Fellows, young Israel professionals trained to educate students about the true face of Israeli society and protect campuses from anti-Israel activity.
Last week in Ohio, Hillel students created videos to persuade their classmates to vote no. And because they know that BDS activists sometimes break the rules of student government, they were watching carefully and reporting all infringements to the student judiciary responsible for monitoring the election.
And in Illinois, our students educated their campus about the harms and risks of divestment. They reached out to thousands of students, through social media and face-to-face. The local Hillel stayed opened almost 24-7 to give the students a safe and supported base for activities.
While we continue to fight divestment, we are also growing support and engagement with Israel at universities across the country. Not a single American university has boycotted Israel or divested funds from Israel’s business partners. And American universities are sending students to Israel in academic exchanges and welcoming visiting Israeli scholars with pride. A recent report by the Israel on Campus Coalition found that over the last decade, the U.S.-Israel academic collaboration has increased by 45 percent.
Our students are successful at defeating boycott and divestment efforts because they care about Israel and they care about the integrity of their university communities. They will not allow hateful anti-Israel activists to hijack their campuses and destroy the free and respectful environment so treasured by the academic world and students everywhere.
Shelley Kedar is Hillel International’s Vice President for Israel Education and Engagement. She also serves at the Jewish Agency for Israel Central Shlichah to Hillel and the Director of the Israel Fellows to Hillel program.