The start of the school year has again thrown the spotlight on college campuses, where partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are already staking their ground and eyeing their opponents with suspicion. The pro-Palestinian movement hasn’t yet gotten up to speed on the fallout from the summer’s war in Gaza, but pro-Israel groups are bracing for the usual round of harsh demonstrations, exaggerated attacks, and calls for universities to divest from Israel.
At Ohio University in Athens Ohio, the student senate president faced criticism when, in a video parody of the ALS “ice bucket challenge,” she poured a bucket of “blood” over her head in what she called a protest of the Israeli “genocide” in Gaza. At UC Berkeley, a Middle Eastern studies professor has co-organized an “international day of action on college campuses for Palestine” on Sept. 23 — the day before Rosh Hashana begins. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is in turmoil over the hiring and subsequent de-hiring (you read that right) of a Palestinian-American professor whose harsh words on Twitter during the Gaza war tagged Israel’s supporters in vaguely anti-Semitic language.
Examples like these grab headlines, as they should, although sometimes overlooked are the strong and persistent pro-Israel efforts that flourish on campuses across the country. Thanks to Hillel and a number of Jewish organizations working on pro-Israel advocacy — like the local Write On for Israel and Step Up for Israel — there is a growing cohort of young pro-Israel activists ready to defend Israel, counter the slander hurled at it, and, perhaps most importantly, engage other students in visiting, supporting, and celebrating the Jewish state. Their success can be seen in the paltry progress made by the divestment movement, and the confident pro-Israel activity seen from coast to coast.
The temptation for “outsiders” is to treat Jewish and pro-Israel students as victims of a larger, better organized, and more generously funded opposition. In truth, thanks to various organizations and the grass roots that support them, pro-Israel students are better equipped than ever to stand up to the challenges represented by the pro-Palestinian movement. Those concerned about the climate on campus mustn’t merely wring their hands but support those projects and institutions that are creating and sustaining the next crop of strong pro-Israel leaders.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly identified the university where a student senate president faced criticism for her parody of the ALS “ice bucket challenge.” She is a student at Ohio University, not The Ohio State University. NJJN regrets the error.