Public relations: the effective way to combat anti-Israel activity on campus

There has been an incredible growth of anti-Semitism on college campuses in North America. Too often anti-Israel sentiment is simply a veiled and more culturally appropriate form of anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 when compared to incidents in 2013.

This past October, swastikas were painted on the Jewish fraternity house at Emory University in Atlanta, just one day after Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish day of the year. In May 2014, it was discovered that professors at Temple University were participating in a listserv that contained anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including a denial of the Holocaust. And this March, a student at UCLA was initially rejected from applying to the Student Council’s Judicial Board because she was Jewish.

Much of this anti-Semitism stems from anti-Israel sentiment — or possibly vice versa; regardless, people feel emboldened these days to express anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views. But American Jews are not helpless; we can fight back. American Jewry needs to start valuing public relations to combat effectively anti-Israel bigotry and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement on college campuses.
Unfortunately the activities of anti-Israel forces on campuses are only growing. According to Raphael Shore of Jerusalem University, after Operation Protective Edge during the summer of 2014, anti-Israel activity rose on college campuses in the 2014 fall semester alone by 46 percent. Nationally, sponsorship of anti-Israel events by university departments increased by 142 percent.

As Israel continues to be isolated and maligned in many press outlets, we can expect this trajectory to continue upward. The BDS and Students for Justice in Palestine movements have also grown, as well as their anti-Semitic tactics for expressing their views.

Anti-Israel advocates often use deception to prove their point. I know firsthand how this works. Last year, organizers of National Apartheid Week, an anti-Israel event, corrupted footage to make it seem as if I were agreeing with anti-Israel sentiment. That had not been the case. I was disgusted. But, rather than shrug and say, “What can I do?” — I fought back. I blitzed them with an all-out media campaign and within a few days they had discretely removed the video from YouTube. I had won one battle in this media relations war, and you can, too.

These groups’ tactics of deception need to be exposed, but, more importantly, we need to amplify the voices of young pro-Israel activists on college campuses across the country, making their voices heard. If we do this, the truth, too, will be heard and the misperceptions and falsehoods perpetuated by the opposition will be effectively combated.

To ensure that students are exposed to the truth, we need to develop an effective communications strategy. To address these issues, young pro-Israel activists need a platform and an audience. And it cannot be an audience solely comprised of like-minded individuals, but rather those who are not yet sure where they stand on the issues. We should reach out through the media.

Representation of young pro-Israel activists in the global broadcast media is sorely lacking in today’s pro-Israel advocacy efforts. We need to educate pro-Israel college students on how to address biased or downright false reporting in the media, and how to respond when student organizations hold votes to have their universities divest from Israel. We must educate them on how to use public relations effectively to ensure the deceptions that form the basis of the BDS Movement are exposed.

Today, pro-Israel students can use social and digital media as platforms to disseminate accurate information about Israel and combat the mistruths being propagated. Corporate boardrooms, many run by American Jews, utilize public relations as it pertains to minimizing the impact of crises in Israel; for whatever reason, however, when it comes to the crisis that is escalating on college campuses across North America as the BDS movement gains traction, we are not investing enough resources in public realtions to combat the trend.

That is not to say there is no progress being made. Chabad and Birthright should be commended for their efforts to instill Jewish pride in students who might shy away from it due to the current unfavorable climate toward Israel’s actions. The collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity in developing CombatHateU, an app providing a platform for students to report anti-Semitic incidents instantaneously, is yet another example of innovation being used to assist Jewish students in this situation.

But we need to stop speaking to each other and start speaking to our peers who are not sure of their position yet. Do not leave people standing on the sidelines: Give them the facts, both through oratory and the media, and stand up to the false “facts” currently being spread.

About the Author
Josh Nass is a public relations professional who specializes in crisis communications and reputation management.
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