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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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  • Issac

    The basic problem here is that Jewish students have been growing up with less and less Jewish education. Many believe all they need to learn is whatever is necessary to complete a bar/bat mitzvah because that is the end of their involvement in the Jewish community. It really isn’t the student generation at fault, but their parents’.

    A second issue is the reluctance to point out the fraudulence of Palestinian propaganda because one then has to go back and question the legitimacy of multi-culturalism. These twin gods have failed and until Jews are prepared to say so, we’ll be at a disadvantage.

  • Just look at the hate of that man holding up the ‘Divest’ poster! No comment needed.

  • Irving D. Cohen

    I have been amazed and shocked by the obvious lack of pro-Israel leadership and effectiveness in the propaganda war being fought on the college campuses of this country. It is almost as though we have conceded defeat.

    Where is the concerted effort, where are our brainy writers and experts on the subjects of propaganda and the media ?

  • Now I am depressed. I might be a naive European but I thought that the legitimacy of Israel was an old debate. Then, I might be even more naive as I thought it was clear, last summer, that the Hamas betrayed his disinterest in the Palestinians, and his willing-fullness to throw out all jews out of the region. It seemed obvious to me that *any* country receiving bombs tries to do something about that. In fact since that summer, although I was a long time partisan of a two state solution, I am no more sure of that. Maybe the Israeli should give the israeli nationality to the “palestinians”, and put all the members of the Hamas and apparented in jail, or banished, as they conspire against the sate, etc. They (Hamas, Hezbolah, …) are the one occupying territories, and used them as a battlefield against Israel. Israel should sue all responsible of defamation in the media. Words kill more than bullets. But arguing legitimacy is like accepting a revisionist thesis. Now, what happens on the US campuses, what people like Roger Waters repeats, depressed me. I see also how the media distorts the news, and the people who swallow the lies and remain deaf to reasoning and facts. They don’t see that antisionism is even graver than antisemitism, like if other countries could have the right to decide that a country has the right or not to exist.

  • brenrod

    the german owned newspaper haaretz and its rabid anti semitic editor are a prime cause of incitement to anti semitism globally because the wire services use them exclusively as they can be relied upon to spread anti Israel libels. Those spreading lies should be brought to justice with the charge of incitement. The lies on the US college campuses begin at haaretz and the Israeli left.

  • BDS tap into the ignorance of students who have no pre-conceived ideas about Israel. And to the ignorance of the pro-Israel students who – because of their ignorance – are not really confident in their pro-Israel stance.

    I have written a screenplay that has all the drama, suspense and passion of a feature movie – and through its story will reveal the lies of destruction that BDS spreads. And the beauty of life in Eretz Yisroel for all its residents who want to live in peace.

    I am a writer and need help bringing my screenplay to production. If you want to help – pleased contact me at

  • Abbushuki


    The phenomenon of Jewish indifference on campus is presented as if it is the product of a wrong message or the like. Wrong.

    It’s the product of the mixed marriages of their parents, extreme lack of knowledge of anything significant about Judaism, even less concern about Israel or the Jewish People.

    What is being witnessed are the final generations of American liberal Jews. These students, excepting the Orthodox, have an 80% chance of marrying non-Jews, then a 65% chance of a divorce and an even higher probability of not participating in or affiliating in the Jewish community. Participation in the Democratic Party provides a dues free, clergy free and guilt free substitute for a temple’s Tikkun Olam Judaism. Bye bye.

    Jewish identity is vaporizing in the liberal community and it’s time to recognize this. It’s too late for a cure. Liberal theology and policies have cemented the non-Jewish future of this generation. Of course there are some bright lights, but as a percentage of their cohort population their numbers are tiny and getting smaller.

    Even when there are leaders, their job is depressing as they cannot undo the apathy generated by the temples. It simply burns out those who try to lead on campus, when no one wants to follow.

    Trying to modify the case for Israel’s defense with Israeli appeasements, as Shavit would recommend, will do nothing to change this situation. It’s probably best to just recognize the facts and watch this American generation of Jewish descendants slowly drift further away from the dock of the Jewish People. You can thank Leo Baeck and company as you wave goodbye.

    • John Smith

      I’m sure that if Israel continues to act the way it has been acting, defying international law, killing thousands of innocent people, building apartheid walls, etc… That most people are happy to drift away.


    A major cause is the left-wing Jewish establishment.

    An example is the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. There editor-in-chief Rob Eshman and his mostly left-leaning colleagues embrace every lie about Prime Minister Netanyahu and the settlers.

    Rabbi John Rosove and his J St. cronies are widely quoted in the mainstream media with their condemnations of Israel for not vibrantly endorsing the left’s suicide proposals.

    Then there is BT’selem , breaking the silence, the new Israel fund, etc.

  • steven L

    BDS = Racism is doomed. Shavit is loosing it too.



  • Rosewood11

    I want to urge someone who has this information available to publish a list of products made in Israel, and companies that are from there. This should be forwarded to Christians United for Israel, and any other such organizations in the US. I know if that information was available to me (as I’m sure it is somewhere to the BDS adherents), I would seek out products from Israel. I also think there needs to be a investment firm that specializes in Israeli companies. There are many who would choose to invest in Israel if we knew which companies were from there. Right now, the only thing I’m aware of is SodaStream!