“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” might be the official motto of the pro-Israel community. Each summer groups anticipate anti-Israel activity will flare up on America’s campuses and work to prepare campus professionals and students to respond. Increasingly, groups have come to the realization that it is far more effective to set a positive agenda than to constantly defend Israel against detractors. While some groups still believe that every attack on Israel requires a response, most now try to respond strategically by evaluating whether a reaction is needed and the intensity of that reaction.
During 2012-13, the overall campus climate was, as it has been in most years, marked more by apathy than confrontation. For example, one interesting development – or rather non-development –was the failure of anti-Israel groups to mobilize activists to address the conflict with the Palestinians. A good example was that on one of the more troublesome campuses, UC Davis, a total of 15 students showed up for “Nakba Day.”
The armies fighting for truth and justice also prevailed over the forces of darkness across the country. Perhaps the most surprising victories over the racists occurred in Canada, where anti-Israel activity has been particularly virulent on several campuses. One of the worst, York University, revoked the club status of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) until January 2014. The University of Manitoba also banned its chapter of SAIA. At Regina College, a school with a handful of Jewish students, the student government voted to rescind an earlier vote in favor of divestment.
One annual concern is Israel hate weeks. This year, 62 campuses in the U.S. held some type of hate week (up from 45 last year). The number is alarming, but campus stakeholders told us they were unconcerned by these festivals of Israel bashing because they have become rites of spring that attract little attention or student participation. They are also overshadowed by Israel Peace Weeks and Israel celebrations.
Last year, the Israeli Foreign Ministry found that Jewish media produced far more coverage of these events than anyone else, including the sponsors. This was true again this year as many pro-Israel activists felt compelled to defend Israel, often unwittingly helping the delegitimizers by using the A word to distinguish Israel from South Africa.
Altogether we tracked 809 anti-Israel events in the U.S. on 139 different American campuses. Last year, 674 incidents occurred in North America on at least 133 universities in the U.S. and Canada. As we documented last year, a significant percentage of incidents occur on a handful of campuses — 40% on just 20 campuses this year, which means the other 60% were spread across 119 campuses. Thus, contrary to the conventional wisdom, 93% of the 2,000 four-year U.S. colleges reported no anti-Israel activity.
One of the critiques made regarding last year’s data was that most of the incidents occur on elite campuses. The data did not support this; besides, even if this were true, it would assume that some of the smartest students in the country can’t see through anti-Israel propaganda. If you take Ivy League schools alone, in 2012-13 they account for 70 incidents (9% of the total) spread across 8 universities. Keep in mind also the incidents we are talking about are not violent attacks on Jews; typically, they are just lectures or demonstrations.
Everyone would prefer that no anti-Israel activity take place on campus, and it is important to do whatever possible to minimize it, but perspective is important. Strategic responses are more effective than knee-jerk ones. Not every anti-Israel incident requires a response and not every response has to be at the nuclear level.
Today, support for Israel among the general public is higher than it has ever been and, while support is lower among students, this is primarily because they are not informed or interested, not because of anti-Israel activity. Recently the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada signed an agreement with the Association of University Heads of Israel to facilitate, promote, and support collaborating regarding research and student exchanges. This does not minimize the importance of educating students and preparing them for what they may face inside and outside the classroom. Young Jews need to know their history, feel an attachment to Israel and be confident in their identity so they can make a contribution to the Jewish people and Israel throughout their adult lives.