Growing frustration with cookie-cutter national campaigns and a desire for a grassroots, student-led Zionist movement has spawned an increasing number of independent, autonomous pro-Israel student groups on campuses across North America. While refusing to take orders from a central organization, these clubs often work hand-in-hand with Hillel to promote Israel, relying on their familiarity with the student body and ability to say and do what they want without waiting for orders from abroad. I expect this sophisticated form of micro-targeting to become the face of university Israel advocacy over the next decade, replicating similar developments in the American political arena.
3. It’s Easy to Lend a Hand
Perhaps the best news about Israel advocacy on campus is that it’s easy to get involved, regardless of your academic status or income level. On most campuses, there is a small core of dedicated Israel activists, who regularly skip class, stay up late, and even postpone vacations in order to better combat anti-Israel demonstrations. Meanwhile, the university’s larger Jewish student population cheers them on from the sidelines, but declines their invitations to get involved.
This ought to change, for a variety of reasons. Obviously, Israel advocacy becomes increasingly effective as more and more students lend a hand. The effect is exponential, because each passionate Zionist who openly joins the cause will have tens or even hundreds of non-Jewish, non-committed friends on campus, who might receive their first serious exposure to the problems plaguing the Middle East via their friend’s advocacy.
But most Jewish students don’t become heavily involved in pro-Israel activity, which leads us to the heart of the problem. Anti-Israel forces on campus have failed miserably in achieving their stated goals: despite years of campaigning, no North American university has actually divested from Israel or companies that do business with it, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most non-committed students are frankly repelled by the gruesome, over-the-top verbal attacks staged against the Jewish State and its friends on campus.
As a practical matter, the BDS Movement and its fellow travelers have no effect whatsoever on the Middle East or domestic politics – but they are causing damage here, at home. On Canadian campuses where anti-Israel activity is most virulent and commonplace, Jewish students, even those not formally involved with Zionist clubs, become frightened and demoralized. Friends have told me that they feel unsafe wearing kippot or Star of David necklaces at York and Concordia Universities, for fear of anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist assault and persecution.
In truth, Israel advocacy on North American campuses is less about fighting for Israel than fighting for the right of Jewish and Zionist students to speak freely on campus, without being ashamed of their identity or beliefs.
Everyone can pitch in for this all-important struggle. Jewish students who wish to avoid the limelight can still contribute, whether by designing posters off-campus, writing pamphlets, or soliciting donations. Parents can help by encouraging their sons and daughters to seek out pro-Israel groups when they arrive on campus.
North American Jews are accustomed to fielding hundreds of financial requests from community organizations each year. While donating to your local Hillel branch is always a great option, more donors should consider lending money to the aforementioned grassroots, campus-specific pro-Israel organizations. These start-ups typically require far less money – as little as fifty or a hundred dollars can fund their activities for an entire semester. Better yet, these small clubs are extremely transparent, lacking the costly but necessary bureaucracy of a national organization.
Israel advocates are winning the battle on campus, rendering the melodramatic antics of anti-Zionist instigators irrelevant with confident displays of logic and poise. In my three years on campus, I’ve seen the BDS Movement tangibly lose steam year after year.
But the battle is not yet won. If we are to continue the struggle, and return the genie of campus anti-Israel sentiment to its bottle, we need the help of people like you.
Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting.com, Wikimedia Commons/Krzysztof Szyma?ski.