A New Generation of Galvanized Young Jews Fight Antisemitism on Campus
JNS.org – IfNotNow (INN) has a plan. It’s determined, according to its website, to create nothing less than “a movement led by young Jews to reclaim the mantle of Jewish leadership from the out-of-touch establishment.” Or, more specifically, to be “the generation to end our community’s support for the occupation.”
These words written by young Jews are chilling to many for whom Israel is at the very least a safety net preventing future Holocausts and crimes against the Jewish people.
Only four years old, INN is now a force on American college campuses, much like the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). INN employs guerrilla tactics like hosting “anti-occupation” seders on campuses, training Jewish camp counselors to brainwash their campers about the “occupation,” intercepting Birthright Israel travelers to warn them of the “evils” of the country they are about to visit, and staging media events in which Birthright participants walk off their trips to join anti-Israel groups.
INN is not a lone gunman, but it’s emblematic of the explosive growth of the anti-Israel forces on American campuses — including student groups funded by Arab and Arab-sympathizing groups and anti-Israel faculty, many of whose salaries are paid by funded chairs that often bring millions into a university’s coffers.
A 2016 Pew Research Center report showed 27% of American young adults siding with the Palestinians versus 9% a decade earlier. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported a 57% climb in reports of antisemitism in the United States, including physical attacks and vandalism, many of them on college campuses.
Meanwhile, with some Jewish students hesitating to wear a Jewish star or an IDF sweatshirt for fear of verbal or physical attack — and others joining the demonization of Israel — the Jewish world appears to be slowly awakening from its slumber, determined to stem the onrushing tide.
Now, a new generation of strong Jews is beginning to emerge, forged by the fire.
Determined not to leave Jewish students (and Israel itself) undefended on campus, organizations are leading the effort in three key areas:
Information, Organization and Legal Support
Here are some key players, in alphabetical order:
AIPAC. Known for training college students on the intricacies of Israel’s history and current situation, the organization supports efforts on campus to advocate for Israel as part of “building broad coalitions in support of the US-Israel relationship.” Its underlying focus is on “the values of human dignity and freedom shared by our two sister democracies.”
Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). The largest international Jewish fraternity makes it a point to “create a pro-Israel presence,” says Israel department head Julian Markowitz. One potent defense against the BDS movement: encouraging its brothers to run for student government, where they can campaign and vote against BDS from the inside.
“I never expected the magnitude here at Cornell,” says incoming senior Jay Sirot. “There was a huge BDS campaign during Pesach and groups of professors in the middle of campus criticizing Israel; a long list of them signed a violently anti-Israel letter in the paper. A pro-Israel stance separates you socially, and if your professors are against it, it’s uncomfortable to be for it. But anti-Israel forces can only win if open dialogue is shut down. That’s why we create opportunities for honest discussion and hearing both sides.”
Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF). A little-recognized force for helping students caught in the crosshairs of anti-Israel forces is a school’s alumni base, according to ACF executive director Avi Gordon. “We hear from countless students on our 25 campuses who are bullied for defending Israel, and we believe that by creating a unified alumni voice, they’ll know they’re not alone.”
With schools relying on alumni for financial support and their reputation, Gordon adds that “alumni, including the 700 in our UCLA chapter … can be the added pressure a school needs to tip the balance to reject BDS and stop the demonization of Israel.”
One fly in the alumni ointment, argues Hamilton College history professor and Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization director Robert Paquette, “is that multi-million dollar endowments by Arabs and their sympathizers can render colleges immune to pressure from outside, including their alumni.”
AMCHA Initiative is a watchdog with eyes and ears trained on campuses across North America. Known best for its studies of BDS and other anti-Israel activities, AMCHA is also committed to “defend and protect Jewish students from antisemitic harassment on campuses,” says executive director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “We want to ensure they can express their identity safely and let them know we have their backs.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s slice of the campus-advocacy pie may be its interaction with administrations, as well as training campus police to handle anti-Israel and antisemitic violence. In addition, the ADL distributes a video “tool kit” for students and parents, featuring students who share their encounter with anti-Israel bias on their campuses, their reactions, and how they dealt with it. (See: https://www.adl.org/think-plan-act)
CAMERA, long known as a tireless media watchdog, now brings its expertise to campus with their training program and dozens of CAMERA Fellows monitoring their campus media, writing op-eds, and coordinating programs with other pro-Israel groups. “We go where there is a need,” says CAMERA executive director Andrea Levin. “With a focus on where there’s weak or underfunded pro-Israel structure, or none at all,” CAMERA gives support where students need it most.
Lawfare is a pro-Israel litigation fund providing pro bono legal services from 350 lawyers in its network for those dealing with antisemitism. Founder and executive director Brooke Goldstein says that Lawfare is increasingly called upon to provide legal services and support to defend Jewish college students against harassment and discrimination. “For too long, the Jewish community has not organized itself to provide basic legal services to Jewish students harassed on campuses,” she says, adding that in their suit against San Francisco State University, for instance, they made the case that “Jewish students have a basic civil right to attend Federally-funded schools absent unlawful harassment and discrimination.”
Maccabee Task Force (MTF), formerly Campus Maccabees, is focused on building strong coalitions to defeat BDS and other expressions of anti-Israel bias. Funded largely by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, MTF comes on to each of its 40 campuses with an open mind. “Our job is to listen to the students and the players,” says executive director David Brog. “Then we can help devise a comprehensive strategy — not just a few one-off events — tailored for the realities on the ground there, and provide the resources they need to do the job. We then share each success with other schools that might be able to benefit.”
StandWithUs (SWU), now in its 18th year of supporting Jewish students and defending Israel, finds itself in increasing demand during this time of mounting tensions on campus. Its Emerson Fellows on 90 campuses bring their peers up to speed on the history and role of the Jewish state, and combats BDS whenever it comes up. SWU also trains high-schoolers each summer to prepare them for the challenges they’re likely to face in college regarding Israel.
One focus: how to tell when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. “When I saw the first anti-Israel rally at my school, I felt confused and kind of alone,” says Ron Krudo. “But I was lucky; I found a Hillel Israel table and said, ‘Yes, I want to get involved.’” Six years later, Krudo heads up SWU’s campus affairs department, where he has a panoramic view of the campus scene, and oversees SWU efforts “to proactively share Israel’s story and combat anti-Israel rhetoric.”
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). ZOA Campus works with students on 120-plus campuses across the United States, bringing in speakers, mentoring students, and running student leadership missions to Israel. The ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice advocates for Jewish students who face harassment and discrimination on their campuses, including a groundbreaking civil rights action on behalf of Jewish students following years of harassment at the University of California, Irvine.
Strengthening Jewish Knowledge and Identity
A second battalion believes that a student who’s strong and secure in his or her Jewish identity — and carries the mantle of Jewish history, tradition, and destiny — is more likely to see supporting Israel as an integral part of their Jewish sense of self.
Hillel. Hillel is the world’s largest Jewish student organization, with a presence on 550 campuses across North America. “We work closely with a wide range of partners, but we’re also the hub of the wheel, pulling together students from around campus,” says spokesman Matthew Berger.
Maintaining that Hillel is “not just about responding to anti-Israel attacks, but about year-round advocacy,” Berger adds that Hillels typically find themselves at the center of the fight against BDS. “Even more important though, we engage Jewish students and instill an understanding of the true Israel — her culture, people, values, and history. That’s the most effective tactic for fighting the misinformation and the hate.”
Chabad. With Chabad on 265 campuses in North America, the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement impacts thousands of college students each year. Rabbi Chaim and Yocheved Boyarsky’s home, for instance, is open to the 700 Jewish students at the University of Ottawa. It also served as informal war room during the school’s BDS campaigns, most recently in March.
“All three times they tried to pass it here, many professors were outspoken against Israel, and our students were badly shaken. They saw it as a serious threat to Israel, themselves, and Jews in general,” says the rabbi. “And though in the end we’ve been able to defeat it, each time it’s a struggle.” Standing up for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself is “a byproduct of what Chabad does on campus,” he adds. “The stronger a student feels about being a Jew, the stronger their love for Israel. It’s that simple.”
Jews for Judaism is also working on strengthening Jewish students’ love for Israel by building strong Jewish identities. Los Angeles-based Rabbi Zalman Kravitz got his start fighting against those who missionize Jews. Now, working with bigger campus entities like Chabad and Hillel, “we connect students to an experiential Judaism, and build the critical thinking skills and confidence to challenge accusations with smart questions.”
Meor. Jewish education is the way into the Jewish student’s heart and mind for this organization, funded in large part by Olami.
Let Them Breath Israeli Air: Sending Them on Transformational Journeys
With an understanding that a personal experience can turn Israel from theory to reality, many organizations are sending Jewish students, and increasingly non-Jewish ones as well, to Israel.
Birthright Israel. Over the past 18 years, Birthright Israel has provided free trips to Israel for a whopping 650,000 Jewish young adults with the $3,000 per-traveler cost covered by donors committed to growing the next generation’s connection to Israel. Many students go on the classic 10-day experience, whereas others choose to follow a special interest, such as active (hiking and climbing, etc.), spiritual, professional, or gay and lesbian culture. (There is also an annual trip for young adults with disabilities.)
According to Birthright, research shows “that participants return home with a better understanding of Israeli society and their own Jewish identity, and feel more comfortable discussing these topics.”
Over the last 17 years, Hasbara Fellowships, a project of Aish HaTorah, has flown thousands of students to Israel. They’re trained to be peer educators about Israel when they get back on campus. And each year, TAMID sets up hundreds of business students in summer internships at leading Israeli companies.
Increasingly, SWU, Maccabee Task Force, and AIPAC are leading trips of mostly non-Jews to Israel, including student government leaders. Maccabee Task Force for instance took 746 mostly non-Jewish leaders from campuses facing the worst anti-Israel pressures to Israel on dozens of trips. Included were student leaders from African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American groups, along with gays and lesbians — groups that are often themselves marginalized and have historically joined campus anti-Israel coalitions.
“Even the most skeptical among them returned from Israel opposed to the BDS movement’s simplistic scapegoating of Israel,” says MTF chief Brog. “And many of these leaders acted on what they learned by working to oppose BDS at critical junctures upon their return.”