July 20, 2024
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The Need to Help Pro-Israel Groups on College Campuses

As the saying goes, the more things change the more they remain the same, but today the resurgence of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric and activity on college campuses is more organized than ever before. Meanwhile, pro-Israel students have been left to fend for themselves with no unified approach or message. While there are many groups trying to push back against the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric being promoted to college students, reinforcements are needed to ensure our voices are heard.

Prior to attending college, I was an active member of the New Jersey Jewish community. Jewish Community Centers (JCC) were my second home, most recently the JCC on the Palisades, where my father is the chief executive officer. My mother is the executive director of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield. Even a quarter of my high school graduation class was Jewish. I loved growing up in a state with so many opportunities that connected me back to my Judaism and was excited to go to college and find my new Jewish community. My experiences in the Garden State, though, did not prepare me for what I have experienced on campus.

As the president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity at Arizona State University, I am on the front lines of this issue. I work to combat ignorance and hate with education and awareness on almost a daily basis, but this fight is too important to rest solely on the shoulders of students.

A movement that disguises itself by saying it is fighting for human rights, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has swept across college campuses. According to a report by AMCHA, BDS was responsible for 86% of cases involving harassment of Jewish students while calling for an academic boycott of Israel in 2018. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a leading campus organizer for BDS, is a network of pro-Palestinian student groups throughout the United States that disseminates anti-Israel propaganda. They specialize in utilizing combative tactics such as setting up fake military checkpoints, passing out mock eviction notices and disrupting pro-Israel student events.

This academic year alone, in the weeks following the national SJP Conference, chapters bombarded campuses across the country with anti-Israel attacks. More than 15 campuses saw an uptick in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic actions, including a demonstration at my own school, which targeted an event hosted by Jewish organizations on campus that brought IDF soldiers to discuss their experiences with students. The event had to be moved to an alternate location, after students from SJP and other organizations took over the room in which the event was intended to take place. The demonstrators had signs reading “Long live the Intifada” and brought pro-Palestinian speakers to campus. Incidents like the ones I’ve personally experienced are tragically common on college campuses across the country.

My fellow student leaders in the pro-Israel community banded together to create an action plan to combat these incidents. This summer I am participating in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Government Advocacy internship program, which is giving me tools to enhance my advocacy for Israel. After discussions with my fellow interns in the cohort this summer, I realized that Arizona State University is just one of many schools that have experienced similar hostile actions.

Despite the false accusations SJP and other groups espouse, their efforts are changing minds. At the campuses where they have been active, an organized minority overwhelms an apathetic majority. This is proven by a study by the University of California, Berkeley, where 230 undergraduates were asked about various conflicts in the Middle East. Results showed that 43% of responders “care deeply” about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Clearly ignorance has contributed to anti-Israel sentiments, and benefited from pro-Palestinian groups efforts to turn the young generation against Israel. A study by the Pew Research Center analyzes individuals attitudes towards Israel and Palestine over a 10-year period. The study shows that millennials are the most pro-Palestine and anti-Israel generation so far. While every demographic saw a rise in their support for Palestine, it was coupled with a rise in support for Israel, except for millennials, who saw almost a 20% jump in support for Palestine and an 8% drop in support for Israel.

If anti-Israel activists are allowed to continue their efforts to change the minds of these young Americans, Jewish or not, the future of Israel’s support by the United States may be in doubt. It is up to all of us to continue to push back against the pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic groups on campus, and make sure students understand Israel’s true role in the world.

Eli Shenker is a rising junior at Arizona State University (ASU), studying non-profit leadership and management. Growing up in New Jersey, he is grateful for the expansive Jewish community, and prides himself on his roots and upbringing. During his time at ASU, Eli has become a prominent student leader, finding himself increasingly drawn to activism and service. He hopes to continue serving his community however he can for years to come. This summer Eli is excited to be participating in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s internship program, having the opportunity to work in the New York City council, attend workshops led by professionals and overall develop his advocacy skills and network.

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