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May 19, 2015 1:57 pm

Believe the Hype: Zionism is Losing the Battle of Ideas on College Campuses

avatar by Alex Margolin

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BDS supporters. Photo: Mohamed Ouda via Wikimedia Commons.

Haaretz reporter Ari Shavit paid a visit to two dozen U.S. college campuses and came back with a dire warning: the Jewish future is slipping through our fingers, he writes, referring to those who support Israel and Zionism.

What he found on his listening tour was a besieged Jewish community, squeezed between the extreme  rhetoric of BDS on one side and their own concerns about Israel’s policy on the other.

We feel like we’ve been abandoned on the battlefield, many of them told me. The anti-Zionists, they said, are accusing us of collaborating with evil, but Zionism doesn’t understand us and doesn’t speak to us; instead, it’s busy building more and more and more settlements.

Zionism, Shavit writes, has failed to provide “a reliable, relevant and inspirational narrative” to counter the “near-overt anti-Semitism” of the BDS offensive. “And when they arrive on campus and are exposed to anti-Israel venom, the Jewish and pro-Israel identity of many of them collapses.”

In other words, it’s a battle for legitimacy. And Israel is losing.

The signs are clear, even without Shavit’s poignant account of beleaguered students and tearful conversations.

Molly Horwitz, a candidate in last month’s student senate election at Stanford, removed all traces of her support for Israel from her Facebook page. Her campaign manager told the New York Times that Horwitz didn’t want Israel to be the focus of her platform.

“We did it not because she isn’t proud — she is — but the campus climate has been pretty hostile, and it would not be politically expedient to take a public stance,” the campaign manager said.

Commentator Shmuley Boteach wrote about the meek protest at New York University in response to a talk by vociferous Arab-Israeli MK Hanin Zoabi, who made headlines last summer when she refused to call the kidnapping of three Israeli teens an act of terror.

“How was Zoabi allowed to attack the Jewish state at a university with 8,000 Jewish students without a muscular show of Jewish pride and resolve?” he asked.

The answer is that Jewish pride and resolve will only take students so far when it comes to campus politics. What’s needed is a clear expression of Israel’s legitimacy.

That’s really what’s at stake with every encounter with the BDS, the leading source of Israel’s delegitimization on campus today. Pro-Israel students win more divestment votes than they lose, and even when they lose, no university administration has carried out an actual divestment. But the BDS understands that the fight is not over divestment. It’s about attacking Israel’s legitimacy, branding it a racist state that does not have the right to exist.

And it repeats that message over and over on campuses across the country. That’s why every divestment vote on campus must be treated as a chance to demonstrate Israel’s legitimacy.

Legitimacy is about calling for a lasting peace based on mutual understanding and mutual respect, instead of Israel’s destruction. It’s about Israel’s vibrant democracy and freedom. It’s about demonstrating that human rights for Israelis and Palestinians can only be improved through cooperation, discussion, and engagement, not boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.

And ultimately, legitimacy is about the justice of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people, even if some political decisions may not gain consensus agreement. But unlike societies that suppress dissent, Israel is an open society that allows for a plurality of opinions and a chance to win support and make a change.

This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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