Over the past year, there has been a noticeable spike in reports of anti-Israel activity on U.S. college campuses. The Times of Israel reported the “marked increase” of BDS campaigns and rallies “as well as anti-Semitic incidents.”1 The ADL noted 520 “anti-Israel events” on U.S. campuses during the 2014-2015 academic year,2 a 38 percent increase from the previous year, and 44 BDS campaigns on 35 campuses.3
A New York Times article (May 9, 2015) would have us believe that the U.S. college campus is a veritable battlefield between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students, and where hate-filled shouting matches that border on physical violence are the norm, while “… the effort to pressure Israel appears to be gaining traction at campuses across the country. ” The article further details Israel divestment groups (BDS, or Boycott, Divest, Sanction) at “hundreds of major colleges, including Michigan, Princeton, Cornell, Maryland, Harvard, Florida State, Pittsburgh, and most of the University of California Campuses,” and goes on to describe that “everywhere, discussions are long and tense,” while Jewish activists note “more poison in the rhetoric than we’ve ever felt before.”4
An impassioned article by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky in the Jerusalem Post (May 19, 2015) is entitled “Campuses are flooded with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”5 He notes the increased worry about the trend and goes on to say that “today, nearly every American campus is awash in double standards, efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state and rhetoric demonizing Israel.” Israeli newspapers likewise have published dozens of articles covering the “rising tide of BDS.”6 Students, parents, and Jewish leaders confirm this, and add personal stories of being pelted with allegations of genocide, apartheid, and brutality. At UCLA this past year, a Jewish student running for student government was questioned about her “impartiality”; a similar scene played out at Stanford. Jewish parents and prospective students have begun to question “which campus is safe for their children.”7
But do these reports provide a full and accurate picture of what is happening on the American campus? And if so, to what extent should the American Jewish community and Israeli leaders be concerned, and what can they do?
This paper seeks to accomplish two goals. The first is to accurately summarize and analyze the “Israel situation” on the U.S. college campus today, in comparison to previous years. Secondly, this paper seeks to devise policy recommendations for the Israeli government and Jewish organizations and community leaders in the U.S. in order to better fight Israel de-legitimization on U.S. campuses.
This report was produced within JPPI’s ongoing Israel De-Legitimization project, and is a continuation and update of JPPI’s 2010 Annual Assessment, in which the atmosphere on the U.S. college campus was examined,8 as well as an internal paper written in 2012 regarding de-legitimization on college campuses.9 In preparing it, we conducted interviews with major pro-Israel organizations working on U.S. campuses today as well Israeli government officials tasked with tracking and fighting de-legitimization. We have also surveyed the major reports written on the topic as well as journalistic material in major Israeli and American-Jewish media outlets.