A View from Campus: How Israel’s Image on the Media Battlefield Impacts Jewish Students
University students have become central to anti-Israel movements, with many of them participating in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and others organizations that are tied to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Even among those not directly involved in the BDS movement, a precedent has been set where, in order to be considered “woke,” one must hold negative views towards Israel.
While pursuing a degree in politics at the University of Birmingham in the UK, I frequently observed this dynamic, both on campus and on the “virtual campus” of university social media pages. Anti-Israel protests occurred on campus, but it was the discourse on university social media platforms that was particularly noteworthy.
I witnessed opposition toward Israel escalate to such levels of antisemitism that a university-run social media group I was a member of was forced to close down, and several students were investigated for offensive comments made online.
Despite these campaigns claiming to be progressive and human rights-based, their activity often disguised blatant antisemitism, targeting and vilifying Jewish students as a group.
It was not uncommon for myself and other Jewish students to be asked to defend the actions of the Israeli government both in lectures and in online forums, regardless of our personal political beliefs.
It is an extremely problematic double standard to hold the Jewish diaspora collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government. These movements would never hold other groups responsible for the actions of governments in the same way, nor do they hold Palestinians accountable for the actions of the Hamas terrorist organization. Furthermore, Hamas’ own contributions to the poor conditions and human rights violations experienced by Palestinians were often ignored.
Antisemitism is clearly a bigger motivation within these campaigns than being progressive or improving human rights.
On university online forums, misinformation and biased accounts of events were often used to demonize Israel and people that support them. Anti-Israel activists often diminished the role of terrorism in Israeli policies and actions. Misleading infographics with no context were often posted. Such one-sided information and the use of inaccurate and derogatory labels, such as “settler colonialists,” “ethnic cleansers,” “fascists,” or “endorsing Apartheid,” to describe those supporting Israel hindered the potential for constructive dialogue and were used to advance a hateful agenda.
Contrary to the progressive image that these movements try to portray, there is a significant presence of hateful discourse within the “wokeness” that is often promoted among students.
The centrality of social media within university life and the extension of the campus into the virtual realm drastically increase the reach of these posts. This has tangible consequences, not only creating a hostile environment for Jewish students online, but also in person on campus. No wonder so many Jewish students like myself often felt hesitant to openly identify as Jewish in university spaces.
Feelings of being unsafe on campus became all too common for Jewish students, especially during times of heightened tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Measures such as hiding Stars of David on necklaces or changing walking routes to avoid anti-Israel protests were often taken.
Israel must continue its efforts to improve its image on the media battlefield, particularly regarding social media platforms. This is crucial in advancing public opinion of Israel, especially among young progressives, who are potential future world leaders and influencers.
Furthermore, by addressing and exposing biased media coverage surrounding Israel, we can take important steps toward promoting Israel’s image in the media. But that would not be the only positive result. Shifting progressive attitudes toward Israel could also significantly impact the challenges Jewish students experience on campus in a positive way.
Addressing Israel-related antisemitism by promoting support for and understanding of Israel among students, would ensure a safer experience at universities and colleges for Jewish students around the world.