'Massive drop in US Jewish college students' support for Israel'

As anti-Israeli fervor intensifies in US colleges,researchers warn against losing the next generation.

June 22, 2017 14:22
3 minute read.
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A worker cleans the stage near Israeli and American flags . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NEW YORK – Support for Israel has dropped 27 percentage points among Jewish college students in the US since 2010, a study released by Brand Israel Group at the Herzliya Conference this week revealed.

According to the research, in 2010, 84% of US Jewish college students leaned toward the Israeli side of the conflict with the Palestinians. But in 2016, only 57% did, believing Israel falls short with values such as human rights, tolerance and diversity.

In addition, Jewish college students grew increasingly supportive of the Palestinians, with a jump from 2% in 2010 to 13% in 2016.

Brand Israel Group originally commissioned the study in 2010 and at the time found even unaffiliated Jewish college students had very positive attitudes toward Israel.

But since 2010, the American- Israeli relationship endured some rough patches, including major policy disputes on subjects such as the Iranian nuclear deal, Israeli settlements, tensions between former president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a rise in anti-Israel initiatives on US campuses.

The updated study in the fall of 2016 sampled more than 2,600 Americans from key demographic groups, including Jewish college students.

Researchers found that although since 2010, claimed knowledge of Israel has increased by 14 percentage points, the public is still not more favorable to Israel. On the contrary, favorability decreased, especially with the general college student population, among the most hostile to Israel.

In 2016, 54% overall expressed views in favor of Israel, compared with 73% in 2010, a decrease of 19 percentage points. For Jewish college students specifically, 82% held positive views of Israel in 2016, compared with 95% in 2010. The same trend was noted for African-Americans, Hispanics and Democrats surveyed.

These numbers are not much of a surprise considering the place Israel occupies in the typical US campus environment.

Thirty-six percent of US college students said they have witnessed anti-Israel activity on campus, and most students, 77%, say the subject of Israel either rarely or never comes up.

When asked the same questions, Jewish students seemed more attuned, with 48% saying Israel comes up in discussions on campus and 62% saying they have seen anti-Israel activity. In addition, 31% of Jewish students have experienced antisemitism. More than half of those said it was related to anti-Israel attitudes.

“Current communications approaches are not stemming the negative trends,” researchers wrote. “They generally focus on ‘the conflict or beyond the conflict’ and set up the wrong paradigm. Neither approach targets the people we need to reach with the message that will overcome their issues with Israel/ Israelis.”

The study acknowledged a solid base of core support for Israel comprised of Jews, evangelicals, older Americans and the political Right, but noted that college students overall, Jewish college students and minority groups are populations that Israel is at risk of losing.

“We need to reach out to at-risk groups who largely don’t care about the details of the conflict, and we need to address their concerns about the decency and morality of the Israeli in general and in the context of the conflict,” the report said. “At-risk segments represent the future of America and American Jewry.”

To turn these trends around, Brand Israel Group suggested making sure messages about Israel were unanimous and to push back against charges of immorality. As far as Jewish students are concerned, the researchers believe pro-Israel efforts should target them even before they reach college by considering starting Birthright programs earlier or exploring ways to connect bar and bat mitzvas to Israel.

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