Campus Racists Again Fail to Turn Students Against Israel (Part 1)

Just as some people believe alligators are in New York sewers; many Israeli officials and American Jews are convinced American college campuses are aflame with delegitimizers and anti-Semites. Each year I try to disabuse people of this notion and put the very real problems we do have in context, and each year I fail. Nevertheless, let’s try again by looking at the past school year.  


Pro-Israel campus organizations experienced their usual summer angst girding for a year of anti-Israel activities. It seems every summer some ominous event either has recently occurred or is looming that is feared will provoke widespread anti-Israel activity. Campus organizations have become much better at educating students, recruiting faculty support and helping students learn the truth about Israel, as opposed to how it is portrayed by campus racists promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.


Last summer’s cause for concern was the first annual conference of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) where plots were hatched to mount a nationwide campaign to besmirch Israel’s image and promote BDS. A funny thing happened on the way to the war; however, most of the other side’s troops never showed up while an army of pro-Israel activists deterred the forces of darkness and aggressively promoted a positive, pro-peace, pro-Israel agenda. Moreover, many of the BDS proponents revealed themselves to be blatant racists and anti-Semites by, for example, denying Jews the same right to self-determination they assign to the Palestinians; singling Israel out for opprobrium and using the language of people who have a problem with Jews.


On the few campuses where the SJP and its allies created problems, their strategy was to launch blitzkriegs consisting of last minute proposals asking student governments to vote to divest from companies doing business with Israel. To their credit, pro-Israel students mobilized quickly to fight against these measures. Often, however, they did not do the necessary spadework over the preceding months to build coalitions, to elect informed student leaders and to establish relationships with student representatives.


Still, the BDS movement was marked by yet another year of failure. Once again, no universities have agreed to boycott or divest from Israel. Rather than mobilize a nationwide campaign, a total of nine student governments out of roughly 2,000 four-year colleges (less than 1%), considered divesting from Israel. Here’s their record:


  • A 10-3 majority of the Oberlin College Student Senate voted to divest from six companies that “profit from the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.”
  • The student government at UC Berkeley voted 11-9 to divest from companies affiliated with the IDF.
  • UC Irvine’s student government passed a divestment resolution by a vote of 16-0.
  • A divestment resolution passed 11-5 at UC Riverside, but was later rescinded by a 10-2 vote.
  • Similarly, UC San Diego adopted a divestment resolution by a vote of 20-12, but rescinded it by a vote of 10-2.  
  • Students at UC Davis voted against bringing a divestment resolution to a vote.
  • UC Santa Barbara’s student government defeated a divestment resolution.
  • Stanford students voted 7-1 against divestment.
  • UC Santa Cruz students rejected divestment 19-17.

As you can see from this list, only five schools passed resolutions calling for divestment and two of those were rescinded. Even the three “winning” votes were Pyrrhic victories because the universities will not divest from Israel.


Another farcical aspect of the BDS movement, and the notion that it reflects widespread student opinion, is that the five schools that passed resolutions did so based on the votes of fewer than 70 students (.08%) out of more than 90,000 undergraduates, most of whom were probably unaware of the vote or how their representatives were wasting their resources.


Coincidentally, in Ohio, where Oberlin is based, the State of Ohio recently purchased $42 million in Israel Bonds, bringing its total investment to $80 million. A total of 26 other states have invested a total of $2.5 billion in bonds, one more indication of the depth of U.S.-Israel relations and the commitment to invest in the strong economy of the only democracy in the Middle East.


On campus, universities targeted by BDS proponents typically reaffirm the university''s commitment to cooperation with Israeli scholars. UC Irvine, for example, has expanded its ties with Israel. In 2011, Cornell and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology announced a partnership to build a science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City. More recently NYU said it is planning a research institute at Tel Aviv University.


The campus is not without problems, as I’ll explain in part 2, but the BDS movement has not only failed, but backfired by stimulating even more support for Israel both on and off campus. Of course, that was last year….


Mitchell Bard is the author of After Anatevka: Tevya in Palestine and The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America''s Interests in the Middle East.