The U.S. college campus will likely be an increasingly hot battleground in coming months as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups contend with one another.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which has grown by nearly half over the summer, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), with chapters on 114 campuses across the U.S., are gearing up for fresh agitation to boycott Israel; while Hillel, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC], J Street U and the Israel on Campus Coalition are formulating their response, Haaretz reports.
Pro-Israel activists are girding themselves for a rough time ahead.
“On those campuses which are politically active there will be more tension than there has been probably since the early 1970s,” predicted Rabbi Howard Alpert, CEO of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, which covers 15 campuses, including University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore.
“There is scary [anti-Semitic] stuff that has happened in other places. One would be naïve or foolhardy to simply assume that it can’t happen on their home campus,” he said.
This summer’s conflict has spawned anti-Israel activity and driven their membership upwards.
“This Gaza attack has been able to catalyze a lot of people,” said Taher Herzallah, national campus director of American Muslims for Palestine, a group that backs SJP.
The Anti-Defamation League describes AMP as an organization that “promotes extreme anti-Israel views and has at times provided a platform for anti-Semitism.”
“Last year all across the country we saw ‘Israel apartheid weeks.’ I’m concerned this will be ‘Israel apartheid year,’ said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, which trains students to combat anti-Israel activity and funds pro-Israel programs.
While divestment resolutions are usually defeated, and even when they pass are merely symbolic, since the student bodies don’t control university investments, they are pursued nonetheless for their propaganda value.
Of the roughly 400 anti-Israel events on American college campuses in 32 states last year, said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, about 150 of them were BDS-related (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). While most of the divestment proposals fail, “the symbolism is important,” he said. “The fact that they haven’t succeeded in any way is beside the point. It’s a way to get other people to latch on to their cause and broaden the tent of opposition to Israel.”
The goal of BDS resolutions “is about atmospherics, to shake the confidence of pro-Israel students,” said the ICC’s Baime.
At UC Santa Barbara, divestment resolutions to the student government board in each of the last two years failed to gain approval.