Article Library / 2015

2014-2015 Annual Assessment

The following policy recommendations are divided into two groups: the first is directed at the audience in the university setting: students, faculty, administrators, and donors; the second deals with key actors who would need to implement the recommendations, namely: the American Jewish and pro-Israel community and the Israeli government.

Students

  • Adopt a pro-active agenda – rather than focus solely on denying anti-Israel claims or fighting BDS resolutions (which must be done anyway), proactive initiatives are recommended; for instance, pushing pro-Israel resolutions in student governments. With respect to the apolitical majority of students, it seems that whoever initiates first and sets the agenda gains the upper hand. Also, pro-Israel students should be encouraged to become more involved in student governance.
  • Show the human side/the positive – Activists report success from showing the human side of Israel (even if complex) and its positive aspects – such as the recent Nepal rescue operation or Israelis who share their “personal stories.”61 Especially helpful are narratives highlighting Israel’s democratic and liberal aspects.
  • Coalition building and outreach – Jewish and pro-Israel groups must continue to reach out to as many student groups and campus influencers as possible, looking creatively to find commonalities (LGBT’s and gay rights in Israel; environmentalists and similar issues in Israel, etc.). A number of organizations are already working with this strategy and report positive effects.
  • Student and pro-Israel groups should organize non-Jewish student group missions to Israel in order to see the complex issues upfront and bring Israeli student missions to the U.S., including Ethiopian and Arab students.
  • Increase cooperation, coordination, and transparency between pro-Israel groups active on campuses – although some groups have found their niche in bringing other groups together, there are still some groups who do not cooperate or even communicate regarding their campus activity. Such cooperation could serve as a force multiplier for pro-Israel activists.

Faculty

  • While it is difficult to prevent faculty from expressing opinions, more pressure can be placed on those known to hold biased views, especially if their topic of expertise is far removed from Israel. Students can report such behavior to the administration or enlist pro-Israel groups in “name and shame” operations to expose especially egregious professors who eschew academic principles when opinions opposite their own are voiced.
  • Jewish and pro-Israel groups, the Israeli government, and Israeli universities should increase their efforts to establish “Israel studies” departments at American universities. Moreover, visiting Israeli professors, in any field, have been seen to have a positive effect on bringing about gradual shifts in perceptions of Israel on even the most poisonous campuses.

Administration and Donors

  • Donors, many of whom are Jewish, should be engaged to fund new Israel Studies courses, chairs, and departments filled with non-biased faculty. In some cases, donors can be used to pressure university administrations to exercise oversight regarding “activist” professors (Steven Salaita).
  • Jewish students and groups should lobby administrations harder to curb anti-Israel activity that spills over into anti-Semitism. While anti-Israel speakers take up the mantle of “academic freedom,” administrators should be forced to uphold the standards they would apply if any other minority were targeted.
  • Administrators should disallow or at least refuse university funding for anti-Israel events that incite hatred.
  • A number of administrations have come out against BDS – this trend should be encouraged, both in announcements as well as actions, including increased cooperation with Israeli universities.

The U.S. Jewish Community and Jewish Organizations

  • The American Jewish community should be more vociferous in demanding recognition of the strong connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and in dispelling the attempted linkage of the Palestinian conflict to other “oppressed minority” and colonization narratives.
  • The Jewish community should clarify that legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is acceptable, but questioning Israel’s right to exist is not. That said, we note this will be exceedingly difficult as different groups within the Jewish community define de-legitimization and legitimate criticism differently.
  • Jewish communal and organizational leaders should consult with pro-Israel student leaders. While some organizations have close communications with students, in some instances students feel that “out-of-touch” professionals dictate to them without first considering their points of view.
  • The Jewish Agency’s successful joint Shlihim program with Hillel currently has 65 emissaries that cover twice as many campuses, and is set to expand to 75. This program should be expanded both in terms of personnel and budgets.

The Israeli Government

  • Although the Israeli government could do more vis-a-vis the U.S. campus situation, it must recognize that the American Jewish community and pro-Israel groups should lead this fight, as is the case now, and offer behind the scenes support:
  • Israel needs to treat the campus effort as a front in Israel’s soft war against de-legitimization and BDS. To that end, the government should formulate a comprehensive government-wide strategy, appoint a strong operational director who reports to the prime minster, and grant an appropriate budget.
  • The government should provide, or at least assist in maintaining, a situation-room function that provides an up-to-date picture of all anti-Israel efforts on campuses, and provide timely and accurate information on events in Israel to American pro-Israel groups seeking such information. Currently, these groups must traverse a complicated Israeli bureaucracy to get accurate answers to deflect false or exaggerated accusations.
  • When necessary, Israel should help provide intelligence capabilities, for example, regarding potential funding of anti-Israel groups and provide support (behind the scenes) for “lawfare” or economic warfare efforts.
  • The government should initiate a project that brings together various hasbara organizations, such as the Jewish Agency, and help organize and fund training for advocates and diplomats – for students and shlihim who go to the U.S., as well as those who come to Israel on high-school and college programs. A similar program should be funded for college students in the U.S.
  • In general, Israel needs to take into consideration its actions and the comments of senior politicians and officials – how they will likely be perceived abroad and the impact they might have on Jews and non-Jews who are at the front lines of the war on de-legitimization. While we are not recommending Israel make national security decisions based on this factor, it should be cognizant of the “international price” it may pay for local actions or rhetoric.
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