Pro-Israel Campus Groups Need To Become A Real Movement

Once again, articles about anti-Israel groups on U.S. campuses peppered the Jewish and secular press this week, leaving the impression that Jewish and pro-Israel students are being harassed, intimidated and compromised.

The ADL, in a November 20 blog titled, “Anti-Israel Activity Prevalent on Massachusetts Campuses This Year,” listed nine events that have occurred since September, including a “Festival of Resistance” at Smith College that culminated in an anti-Israel rally outside Northampton City Hall.

Haaretz reported that Wellesley College’s Hillel director and Jewish chaplain were fired after they asked for a meeting with Wellesley’s Students for Justice in Palestine leaders. The Times of Israel reported about SJP’s planned illegal activities against Jewish students and Israel.

Divestment organizers at UCLA, representing a wide coalition of students from all backgrounds and sectors of campus, celebrated a milestone victory for social justice with the passage of “A Resolution to Divest from Companies Engaged in Violence against Palestinians” that singled out Israel.

Once again, pro-Israel groups reacted independently and inconsistently. Some worried that generating outside attention might inflame the situation, making campuses even more vulnerable. Some planned Israel advocacy trainings and sponsored thoughtful opportunities for dialogue. Others rose in defiance, loudly defending Israel against unfair resolutions.

One challenge they all faced was how to address these injustices without legitimizing them. David Suissa, in his opinion piece on the facing page, proposes a solution that is both proactive and constructive.

He suggests that all pro-Israel groups unite behind a single slogan so potent that it will reframe the debate over Palestine in a way that can empower all students, Jewish and non-Jewish, to support Israel.

His idea? “Israel can save the Middle East.”

Think about what might happen if the various pro-Israel groups banded together as a true movement that spoke with one voice and one goal: to draw attention away from Israel’s flaws and towards Israel’s position as the only positive and democratic influence in the Middle East and the only hope for transforming the chaotic region.

Who knows what could happen? Maybe someday the articles about pro-Israel activity on U.S. campuses might just outnumber their counterpart’s.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on December 4, 2014.

Supporting Our Children

Our college students are under pressures most of us did not encounter when we were their age. In addition to the expected stresses of academic and social adjustments, they are part of a generation that must struggle with financial anxieties over how they will bear their share of the exorbitant cost of their education and whether they will find a job in this very competitive market when they graduate. This fall, they must also contend with the burden of what it means to be a Jewish student on an American campus. The summer’s war in Gaza has led to an increase in global anti-Semitism, including pro-Palestinian protests and activism on campuses throughout the country. Some of the rallies, meetings and letter-writing campaigns have been organized by groups expressing reasoned criticism of Israel in respectful ways. Some of the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist demonstrations, however, are hateful attacks against Jews and the Jewish State that embrace Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic slogans. Most of our children have never encountered such openly hostile and aggressive targeting during their lives.

Many campus Hillel organizations have recognized the problem and are offering additional support and resources. For example, at Tufts University, where the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will hold its national conference October 24-26, Israel educational programming and advocacy training are available for all interested students. Nonetheless, the presence of so many students, academics and activists who sponsor “Israel Apartheid Week” and promote the movement that advocates boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel will be unnerving.

And what about our students who do support a two state peaceful and just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Where can they find a safe place for thoughtful, nuanced civil dialogue in the current polarized environment where even some of their parents have drawn bright lines between what it means to be pro-Israel and what it means to be anti-Israel?

We need to make the time to talk to our young adult children and support them as thinkers in their own right.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on October 23, 2014.