This weekend, the billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson will host a private meeting in Las Vegas of Jewish philanthropists and organizations, with the goal of devising a strategy to fight anti-Israel activity on college campuses. Representatives of Hillel, StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Federations of North America have been invited to take part.
In the past year, the BDS movement on campus has made modest but still troubling inroads, with student governments at 15 American universities adopting resolutions calling for divestment from Israel. Although these resolutions are largely toothless, they have great symbolic weight — signaling that Israel should be treated as a pariah, and its supporters as complicit in oppression. They quash meaningful dialogue on campus by grossly oversimplifying the Mideast conflict and supporting an agenda that will settle for nothing less than the end of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.
In battling these efforts, however, it is important that planners and philanthropists not mirror the black-listing, ostracism, and ideological narrowness that characterize the tactics of BDS. One shady pro-Israel website, the Canary Mission, is publishing lists of pro-Palestinian students and professors, in order to alert prospective employers to their on-campus political activity — suggesting, it seems, that they boycott the boycotters. And a New York-based group has made it its mission to “expose” organizations, like the New Israel Fund, that it deems insufficiently “pro-Israel,” and demand that other organizations shun them. (Organizers of the Las Vegas meeting, meanwhile, have left J Street off the guest list, a questionable move considering the group’s opposition to BDS and its popularity among left-leaning Jewish students.)
To fight BDS, the Jewish community must enlist the widest range of pro-Israel students, engage Jewish students on the periphery, refrain from posing ideological litmus tests, and resist matching the bullying tactics of the BDSers. Here’s hoping that what emerges from next weekend’s effort will be a comprehensive — and positive — strategy to empower pro-Israel kids to defend Israel and to educate others about the Middle East reality.