Israel Activism Needs a Facelift

It is not our grandfather or grandmother’s world today; it is not even the world of our mothers or our fathers’. The world is rapidly changing with no environment more uproarious than that of liberal art’s college campuses. Students today no longer claim to advocate for a cause in general, rather students attempt to declare themselves as social justice warriors, individuals who attach themselves to multiple causes with perceived universal values. I have my own critiques of the idea of social justice warriors, individuals who seek Facebook glorification more so than physical change, but we must work in the environment in which we are forced to function.

Universities today no longer propagate the idea that Israel is a thriving democracy, a safe homeland for the Jews, and the David in the fight against its neighboring Goliath enemies. Rather, the conversation has changed, abruptly, and towards a much darker path. Today, college students do not see Israel as the state that it truly is; ignoring the equal rights offered to all citizens in Israel, students’ focus only on defacto racism that they are lead to believe exists across the board in the Israeli governmental system.

These student activists are acting truly with moral and ethical goals, and yet somehow they are so misguided. The question we must ask, and the question we are failing to address is: what are we doing to appeal to their morality?

It is apparent that nobody cares what we have done for the sake of peace. No matter the circumstance, Palestinians always seem to be absolved of wrong doings when a conflict arises. The agency is stripped of the perpetrators and placed falsely on and disproportionately on Israel. How is it possible that those who incite terror, those that glorify suicide bombers, and those that refuse to make peace, are looked at by college students as offering olive branches, as those attempting to compromise? The sad fact is, the pro-Israel world has failed to address a crucial aspect of advocacy: appealing to the campus environment on a case-by-case basis.

Advocates can tout Israel’s environmental fortitude or its proclivity towards gay rights, but its detractors will always cite pink and green washing. Advocates may explain Israel’s inclusive democracy and the diversity within both the government and the private sector, but Israel’s disparagers will continue to claim false charges of apartheid and restrictions on the movement of Palestinian-Arabs. We see the growing factions of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their coalitions forming on campuses across the continent and abroad, and yet we ignore a method that has clearly benefited our rivals.

Students for Justice in Palestine International may be a hate-mongering mouthpiece, bent on boycotting and disenfranchising the Jewish State with funding from Islamic groups, but on a campus level, SJP is far less connected than many give them credit for. Many individual SJP’s and Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) have no direct partnership with their terror funded heads, and rather are run by social justice warriors who wholeheartedly believe they are acting in the best interest of all.

We must appeal directly to those we seek to convince. If we do not play their game, we have already lost.

Israel’s delegitimizers are playing a long-game that its defenders have yet to properly address. When we are represented by those who equate Muslims with terrorists, Palestinians with evil, and human rights organizations with the Westboro Baptist Church, regardless of the truth factor (or lack there of in regards to those mentioned above) in these blanket statements, students are immediately turned off. Conversely, SJP has used rhetoric of human rights, fairness, and equality; they have found just the words to appeal to the campus environment. While we are addressing the truth that campuses continue to ignore, Israel’s critics continue to form not only professional relationships, but also personal friendships that are played upon across the board in delegitimizing resolutions like the BDS resolutions that are sweeping across campuses.

Something needs to change. We must consider other methods in defending Israel on campus and abroad. Although refuting false allegations are crucial in our defense of Israel, we must think outside the box. Israel has become either an easy target for its critics, or worse, a divisive force for polarizing the campus into extremist or still worse, apathetic students.

Students are turned off by discussion of conflict, they need to hear the magic words: equality, justice, freedom, democracy, and they must be made to see it in action. Our activism should not simply be an explanation of fact; rather we must connect students with Israel on a personal level. Today, pro-Israel students are marginalized, pushed aside, and looked at as extremists. This in turn leads to further polarization of advocates on either side; one need only look at basic group theory to understand this. We must consider making tough decisions that would have been condemned unequivocally in the past. We must begin to understand the other side as people.

Israel activism needs a facelift. We cannot continue to ignore our denigrators; they will not go away if we fail to acknowledge their gains and strides. Rather, we must confront them at every corner; and the only way to do so is by appealing to students as students. Teenagers, young adults, even professors on a college campus, are not evil; they have all the right intentions and are severely misguided. We must offer opportunities at every corner for all to work with us, we must be willing to consider working together even with Israel’s toughest critics. If we cannot work with those who seek to delegitimize us on campus, they have won. With tough choices comes the benefit of remaining relevant, spurring conversation, and creating relationships with students. Change must begin today.

About the Author
Seth Greenwald is passionate in his fights both against anti-Semitism on college campuses as well as the fight against anti-Israel bias and slander worldwide. Seth first developed a passion for Israel after traveling there for his Bar-Mitzvah, kindled that passion through United Synagogue Youth, and has continued to develop throughout his undergraduate career at Clark University. Seth also served as an intern at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting for America (CAMERA), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and the David Project.