Headlines about a study just released by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise imply that anti-Israel
activity and sentiment on college campuses is at a minimal level, seemingly contradicting the argument that campuses
are "on fire" against Israel.
In my opinion, the coverage of the study is misleading. Here are three reasons why:
First, look at the statistics the study produced. No less than 674 anti-Israel events occurred at 108 US and Canadian
universities during the 2011-12 academic year. One-third of the incidents took place on 10 campuses. Does that mean that this is an isolated problem on a handful of campuses? Well, no.
If 1/3 of the events (about 225) took place on 10 campuses, then according to the study, about 450 anti-Israel events took place at 100 other campuses. That’s an average of 4-5 anti-Israel events per year on those campuses. Does this alone mean the campuses are "on fire"? Not necessarily – though if one considers the regularity with which students are exposed to the advertising for and execution of such events on these campuses, the seriousness of these events should not be trivialized.
Secondly, the coverage says that these 108 campuses comprise only 3% of campuses in North America, implying that anti-Israel activity is an isolated issue. But among these 108 campuses are the largest and most influential universities in America, including Ivy League schools, elite liberal arts colleges, and prominent state universities. It’s also a safe assumption that minimally 75% of Jewish college students attend these 108 campuses.
So yes, this activity may be at a small percentage of schools, but the particular students being reached are future decision makers, political leaders, journalists and educators. And just as worrisome, large numbers of Jewish students are being exposed to these activities, many of whom are unprepared to respond and lack the understanding of their context.
'Israeli Apartheid Wall' at Columbia University (Photo: Gilad Shai)
Thirdly, the number of anti-Israel events reported does not give the full picture of anti-Israel activity on campuses. For example, it is commonplace on many campuses to find anti-Israel editorials or letters to the editor in campus newspapers. These sorts of incidents were not measured in the study. A serious problem on many campuses, as noted in the study, is anti-Israel professors who use their pulpit to criticize and at times, demonize Israel. This trend was also not measured in the study.
So what is the accurate picture of anti-Israel activity on campus today? It is certainly not the case that an average student walks through campus on a daily basis feeling that Israel is under attack. On most days, on most college campuses, Israel is not an issue – "out of sight and out of mind."
But, on approximately 100 of the largest and most influential campuses across North America, there are anti-Israel activities happening out on the quad, in the classroom, and in the campus media, throughout the year. Perhaps more worrisome, the most sophisticated anti-Israel activists realize that "behind the scenes" advocacy can at times be more effective. Reaching out to left-leaning and often uninformed student groups on campuses to build coalitions and relationships; mobilizing sympathetic professors to promote and encourage their extracurricular anti-Israel activities; lobbying student governments to divest from Israel - these are just some of the often untracked and unknown tactics of the anti-Israel movement.
The pro-Israel community has come a long way over the last 11 years that I have been directly involved through the Hasbara Fellowships. There is no doubt that pro-Israel students today are more educated, prepared, supported and confident than they were in the past. On many campuses, the pro-Israel side is certainly "winning" - by crafting the dominant narrative on campus about Israel, building meaningful and enduring relationships with student groups and leaders, and reaching out to those who are not already committed to being pro- or anti-Israel.
But despite our successes, it is important to acknowledge that anti-Israel activity is not going away and is certainly not an issue to sweep under the rug.
Elliot Mathias is the founder and Executive Director of Hasbara Fellowships (www.hasbarafellowships.org
), a pro-Israel advocacy training program for university students across North America. Hasbara Fellowships is a program of Aish International.