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February 23, 2016 6:20 pm

New Alum Group Aims to Fight Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism on Campus

avatar by Andrew Pessin

An anti-Israel protest at a college campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

An anti-Israel protest at a college campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

Distressed by what they saw as a surge in anti-Zionism and antisemitism on their campuses, alumni of several institutions recently formed a not-for-profit organization to address the phenomenon.

Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) was established, co-founder Mark Banschick told The Algemeiner, with the centrist aim to promote civility of discourse on campus in general and, as its mission statement asserts, “open and fair dialogue on college and university campuses regarding the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict.” The latter includes the demand for:

(i) a safe and welcoming environment for students and faculty who feel a connection to Israel; and (ii) a comprehensive education, rather than activist propaganda, with strespect to Middle East studies, including and especially with respect to Israel.

“Alumni are not merely cheerleaders and donors for their alma maters, but active stakeholders, whose degrees rise or fall in value with the reputations of their institutions,” Banschick saidAs such, he said, they are an important untapped resource in responding to disturbing campus trends.

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Members of ACF, he added, “care deeply about their colleges, approaching not as antagonists, but as protagonists,” encouraging academic norms that they believe ought to govern campus life –“but have begun to wither, leaving Jewish students, and especially pro-Israel Jewish students, vulnerable.”

With chapters already formed for alumni of Vassar and Oberlin colleges, more are on the way, Banschick said, claiming ACF has been receiving many inquiries.

The initial impetus for ACF occurred in early 2014, when a group of 39 professors at Vassar published an open letter to President Catharine Hill criticizing her opposition to an academic boycott of Israel. Several Vassar alumni, disturbed by what they considered to be the anti-Israel hostility of so many faculty members, created the group Fairness to Israel (FTI), and began discovering many “real problems” at Vassar, according to an op-ed Banschick published  at the time, such as: the arrival of Israeli Apartheid Week, the imbalance of campus programming and intimidation of a number of Jewish students.

FTI began reaching out to Vassar alumni to educate and mobilize them, and to professors and students to support those who were feeling marginalized by the campus trend. They began pushing for more balanced programming, assisted Israel-friendly organizations on campus, exposed misinformation being disseminated on campus and raised awareness about biased Vassar faculty and visiting speakers. They made themselves visible to the administration, and made their interest — “to make discussion of Israel be fair” — widely felt.

With FTI soon swelling to over 250 members, and with reports of antisemitic and anti-Zionist trends sweeping other campuses, the group thought its model could be replicated with alumni at other schools. ACF was born out of this idea, and was formed about a year ago, as an umbrella organization to develop and promote local chapters of concerned alumni. Recently, an ACF Oberlin chapter was formed, and so far has over 200 members.

“Whether you are Right, Left or Center, Jewish or non-Jewish, many are now worried about the narrowing of campus debate and the emergence of antisemitism. ACF offers a model that enables people to actually do something,” Banschick summarized, “We’re happy to help anyone who may be interested in starting or joining a chapter.”

For more information, see the ACF website.

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