Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Unpacking Campus Unrest: What We Need to Understand

What are We Up Against?

  • The planning for the current campus sit-ins has been in the works for months, by various American-based Palestinian groups, among others. The organizers took the anti-war movement playbook from the late 1960’s and adopted it for their use this spring. Among the groups behind these organizing efforts, Students for Justice in Palestine, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and Within our Lifetime, as well as various Jewish groups, JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) and Indeed, allied community groups have endorsed, participated, and supported this initiative.
  • The organizing strategy involves employing social networks, crowdsourcing and basic organizing tactics, these student-based organizations were able to multiply their efforts across the nation by networking with partner groups on many campuses. Indeed, by creating a media event, the organizers could expand their messaging and broaden their impact.
  • Is there outside money involved? Probably, but minimal dollars are in play. By all measures, this is a relatively inexpensive operation.

What is their End Goal?  There are probably several:

  • Obviously, the intent to remove US support for Israel is a core organizing proposition and the corollary goal, to force universities to end their academic and financial connections with Israel.
  • No doubt, at least for some of the organizing groups, the dismantling of Israel (“From the River to the Sea”) represents a core objective.
  • In trying to achieve this outcome or at least to diminish US participation with Israel, the organizers most likely will be targeting the Democratic and Republican Conventions this summer in Chicago (AUGUST) and Milwaukee (JULY) respectively. Their goal: to have an impact on these conventions, by trying to influence party platforms and the views of the delegates concerning the Middle East. But the larger audience will be American public opinion!
  • These are not the groups simply calling for a cease fire or humanitarian aid; their agenda is quite different: They want a fundamental remake of the Middle East, with many of these players prepared to see the end of the Jewish State!

What are the Central Political Ideas Behind This?

  • Post-Modernist academics and their ideas serve as the academic partners to this effort. The focus on “colonialism”, “whiteness”, among other buzz words, speak to the notion to western societies being dominated by “white, heterosexual males” who control the political order and who are defined as racists. Accordingly, the existing power structure must be taken down. Correspondingly, Israel is seen as the creation of this old political order and must be eliminated.
  • The assault then is on “Zionism” as racist and exclusive and on Jews who are seen as “white”, powerful, and a part of the existing power structure.

Was the Jewish Community Prepared?

  • Probably not as we were reacting to specific incidents and one-off events and not to these long-term organizing plans. Indeed, campus Jewish groups and university administrators were monitoring individual events but unprepared in most cases to campus take-over efforts.
  • The historic model of Jewish communal practice has been to be reactive to events rather than operating from a proactive position. Indeed, such an organizing model has generally worked well for the community, but in this instance we have only a reactive response to put forward.
  • In the near term, our posture will be defensive and responsive. In the longer term we should be able to construct a new and different set of propositions concerning the case for Israel.
  • But it is our messaging more than our organizing that presents the challenge. Identifying new language and developing a different way of marketing the idea of Zionism and recrafting how one presents Israel to this new generation represents the task ahead.

What are the Immediate Concerns for the Jewish Community?

  • To ensure the welfare and safety of Jewish (all) students, faculty and administrators who seek to go about the business of education and learning.
  • To prevent and punish the use of hate speech, to protect campus individuals or groups from threats, verbal or physical, and most assuredly to prevent acts of violence.
  • To insist that universities permit the exercise of free speech and the right of assembly for groups that oppose these demonstrators.
  • To encourage universities not to give into the demands or threats of the demonstrators.

What Do we Need to Know about these Campus Actors?

  • We are dealing with a new and very different generation, Gen Z (1995-2012). They are fundamentally a different generational cohort. Here are few things we need to understand about them:
  1. How did they grow up?
  2. In what ways do they acquire news and draw their opinions?
  3. What drives or motivates them?
  4. What do they believe in?
  • We should note that most of today’s college students have no sustained connection with Israel’s history or that of the Middle East. They did not experience Israel’s evolution.
  • This is the most technologically connected generation in history. How they build their networks of friends, acquire their news, and engage with the world is all tied to technology.
  • Remember their short life experiences as well: gun violence in schools, political upheaval (January 6), the pandemic, and now the campus shutdowns.
  • You may find this website of interest about this generation:
About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.