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March 6, 2016 7:28 am

Report Shows ‘Growing Internal Divisions’ Among Anti-Israel Activists on Campus and Other Good News

avatar by Andrew Pessin

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ICC Fall 2015 report. Photo: ICC website.

ICC Fall 2015 report. Photo: ICC website.

A report released last month analyzing American campus trends concerning Israel, contains several surprising and important results.

Perhaps the most important point in the “Fall 2015 Campus Trends Report,” produced by Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), is that there are signs of growing internal fractures within the anti-Israel camp.

In a section called “Divisions in the Anti-Israel Movement,” for example, the report observes that “a growing minority of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) activists identified divestment as a distraction,” and “disputed the effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.” Indeed, not a single university has heeded the BDS call and actually divested, even where its student government passed a BDS resolution, and a growing number of states and even the federal government have, in recent months, been passing anti-BDS legislation.

The report continues:

In December … SJP New York City published an article urging students to divert support for divestment resolutions to community outreach efforts, arguing that ‘near exclusive focus on BDS’ had prevented efforts to secure the downfall of Zionism and a ‘liberated Palestine.’ The Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel responded … with harsh criticism, describing the article as damaging to Palestinian solidarity efforts.

As a result of these internal disputes, according to a section called “Emerging Anti-Israel Trends,” anti-Israel activists are starting to diversify their strategies. For example, SJP and its allies are actively making alliances with other popular campus protest movements and advocacy groups, such as Black Lives Matter, LGBQ and women’s rights groups.

“Having enjoyed relatively limited success in securing passage of BDS resolutions …” the report notes, “a frustrated and opportunistic SJP has inserted anti-Israel language into the public demonstrations and grievance platforms of these campus agitators.”

The anti-Israel groups are also now investing energy into holding large public rallies and demonstrations; interrupting pro-Israel events; and engaging with surrounding communities to turn them against Israel.

While Israel supporters must still keep a close eye on these changing strategies, overall this appears to be quite good news for the pro-Israel community, as it shows the anti-Israel campus movement is perhaps declining from its honeymoon phase.

One other piece of good news in the report, and somewhat surprising, is that despite what the media perhaps suggest, pro-Israel activity on campus actually outruns anti-Israel activity, and by a significant margin.

In the past two calendar years, for example, the report documents 1,408 total anti-Israel events across 159 campuses (in 2014) and 162 campuses (in 2015), while there were 3,388 pro-Israel events across 163 campuses (in 2014) and 193 campuses (in 2015). Focusing just on campus lectures and speakers, in those same two years, campuses hosted 435 anti-Israel speakers, while hosting 796 pro-Israel speakers.

Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, shared some thoughts with The Algemeiner about the report and about trends in the campus BDS movement, an issue he has worked on for the past two years.

“Radical political movements,” Pollak said,

often follow a similar trajectory. For years they operate in obscurity, slowly building, organizing and growing through trial and error. Then they burst into the open and experience a thrilling period of rapid growth and notoriety. Their enemies are caught off guard and unprepared, and their activists feel strong, confident and on the winning side of history. Crucially, the radicals start to believe, emotionally and intellectually, that their victory is inevitable. But then the victories do not come. The enemy not only does not surrender, but reorganizes, rearms, and counterattacks – and then it dawns on the radicals they are in for a long, bloody fight. What is likely occurring in the ranks of the BDS movement is the beginning of this phase, and the accompanying internal debate about strategy.

Pollak continued:

There’s another dynamic at work in the campus BDS movement that will begin to erode internal morale. BDS, like many radical movements, is comprised of a handful of senior activists who understand the real strategy and goals of the cause, the long-term delegitimization of Israel and a much greater number of younger, less sophisticated activists who believe their work will quickly force universities to divest from Israel. At some point it begins to dawn on the younger cohort that their dream is not going to come true, and a measure of disillusionment starts to set in. Given the contrast in the past few years between the intensity and confidence of BDS activism and the absence of concrete victories, it wouldn’t be surprising if precisely this dynamic is setting in. But there is one big caveat, of course. The benefit for the BDS movement of using campuses as their battlefield is that every fall, a fresh supply of dupes arrives on campus.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) is a national organization whose aim is to strengthen the pro-Israel movement on campus, offering numerous resources toward that end, such as grants, fellowships and research. It produces its reports on campus trends every year.

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