North American university campuses have increasingly become hotbeds of anti-Israel activity. Student governments have passed BDS resolutions, student groups promote Israel Apartheid Week, and students who support Israel’s right to exist face open hostility. My daughter, who recently graduated from the Toronto Jewish high school, CHAT, tells me that few of her classmates applied to York University because they perceived intense anti-Israel activism pervading the campus.
Many campus organizations promote Israel throughout North America. Most target Jewish students by conveying only positive messages. Hillel, the most effective Jewish campus organization, prohibits the use of its facilities to interact with Palestinians or debate Jewish students who support BDS. On some campuses Open Hillel, a new Jewish student organization committed to open discourse, has been created to challenge Hillel policies thus weakening Hillel’s effectiveness.
Canada’s Jewish advocacy organization, The Center for Jewish and Israel Affairs (CJIA), lists its top three priorities as protecting Canada from anti-Semitic hate speech, protecting student rights, and countering those who slander Jews and Israel on campus by giving students the confidence to stand proudly with Israel.
Most recently, gambling magnate, Sheldon Adelson with other Jewish billionaires and several mostly right-leaning organizations has raised fifty million dollars to create Campus Maccabees. It plans to recruit students in both the U.S. and Canada to be “with us or against us” and encourage students to demonize the demonizers. The jury is out on whether this money is well spent.
Given the right-wing policies of the Israeli government, the violence in the West Bank, and the continued expansion of settlements, none of these attempts at Israel advocacy on campus may prove effective.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it is the growth of JStreet U, the student arm of JStreet, which like JSpace advocates a two state solution, respect for Palestinian rights, and opposes the growth of settlements and BDS. Remarkably, JStreet U has elected Amna Farooqi a Pakistani American Muslim as its president for 2015-16.
Here is her speech at J Street’s 2015 National Conference.
Electing a Muslim as president clearly shows the ability of Jews and Muslims to build bonds and support Israel as a Jewish, democratic country. The example of JStreet U will show others that they can support Israel while recognizing both Israel’s failures and its wonderful accomplishments.