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Campus Life 013: You Can Shape the Israel Climate on Campus

Last February, the Stanford University student government proposed a bill urging the university to divest from “companies that violate international law and abuse human rights in Israel and Palestine [or provide] military support or weaponry to facilitate Israel’s operations in the Occupied Territories in violation of U.N.

Resolution 242.” Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel (SCAI) spoke in support of the bill, while the Jewish Student Association (JSA) leadership, wearing “We love Israel, we want peace” T-shirts, lobbied extensively against it.

In the end, because of JSA efforts, the Stanford College Democrats, College Republicans, and the editorial board of the Stanford Daily denounced the anti-Israel legislation; the president of the College Democrats called on all members of student government to oppose it; and, after intense debate, the student government tabled and made no plans to revisit the resolution.

The reinvigorated national divestment campaign is one example of a decades-long effort to delegitimize Israel on campus. In recent years anti-Israel sentiment has become more “mainstream“ on some campuses—fueled in part by President Jimmy Carter’s book and by Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s assertions that the U.S.-Israel relationship is detrimental to America.

The good news is that, as exemplified at Stanford, today’s pro-Israel students have become increasingly empowered to plan programs and initiatives that shape the Israel climate on campus. They have employed these successful strategies—and you can, too:

Program Proactively: Don’t wait until a potential problem arises! Plan proactive programming to ensure that your pro-Israel messages resonate on campus before challenges present themselves. For example, throughout the school year, Georgetown University students offer programs that emphasize the efficacy of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the fallacies of anti-Israel divestiture campaigns, and Israel’s positive contributions to the world. As a result, when the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) hosted its annual conference at Georgetown last February—with its usual litany of anti-Israel speakers promoting divestment from Israel—pro-Israel students used the inroads they had made. They hosted panel discussions with high-level Mideast experts; submitted op-eds to campus newspapers; enlisted local community professionals in engaging campus administrators about the benefits of investment in Israel; and met with the university president—who had just traveled to Israel—to discuss their experiences on Taglit-birthright israel and study abroad programs. Ultimately, the PSM conference was poorly attended; the university president issued a statement that Georgetown would not divest from Israel and attention shifted to the positive, pro-Israel student agenda.

Build Campus Coalitions: The pro-Israel campus community is exceptionally diverse, encompassing students with a variety of political, religious, and ideological affiliations. Make an effort to establish strong partnerships with a variety of student organizations on your campus, such as student government, College Democrats, College Republicans, the Greek and LGBTQ communities, religious groups, and others. Forming pro-Israel coalitions will help you to forge connections with diverse campus allies, create programs that cater to the entire student population, guarantee larger attendance at your events, and enable you to educate previously unengaged contingents of students about Israel.

Get Educated: Despite the fact that world attention is sharply focused on the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict, 75% of college-age Americans could not find Israel on a map of the Middle East (Source: 2006 National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs Literacy Study). Still, more than half of America’s institutions of higher learning do not offer a single Israel studies course, and another 24% offer only one course (Source: Israel on Campus Coalition). Through the ICC’s “Israel in Academia” initiative, you can join the effort to make Israel a normative part of the American academic experience by circulating petitions, drafting student government resolutions, and soliciting the support of faculty and campus administrators.

Capitalize on the Multitude of Israel Resources: The creation in 2002 of the Israel on Campus Coalition—an alliance of thirty-one national Jewish organizations spanning the political and religious spectrum dedicated to promoting Israel advocacy and education on campus—provides students with a wealth of Israel resources that include travel and study abroad opportunities; high-caliber speakers for regional advocacy conferences; and a diverse array of educational materials, including Israel program ideas and the Israel Campus Beat, a free weekly e-newsletter featuring campus and mainstream news about Israel and predominant campus trends.

Despite challenges on campus, pro-Israel students are more equipped than ever before with the resources they need to effectively advocate for Israel. Contact the ICC (202-449-6598 or visit their website) to get educated, and make a proactive difference on your campus.

—David A. Harris,
Executive Director, and
Erielle Reshef, Outreach and
Communications Associate,
Israel on Campus Coalition

Be a Reform Leader for Israel

To strengthen the Reform pro-Israel voice on your campus, consider becoming an ARZA-KESHER Fellow. A program of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and the Union’s KESHER College Department, the ARZA-KESHER Fellowship gives college students the opportunity to facilitate dialogue about Reform Zionism in a pluralistic setting, lead Israel programming in partnership with campus Hillels, participate in ongoing education and advocacy training, and promote travel to Israel. For more information contact KESHER shaliach Dotan Harpak, dharpak@urj.org.




 


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