The good news in the annual report by the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) is that there is a surge in pro-Israel activity in the US. The bad news is that anti-Israel activities are also up.
During the 2014-2015 academic year ICC tracked 1,630 anti-Israel events at 181 colleges and universities nationwide and 3,753 pro-Israel events at 213 schools. However, in the wake of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the number of US campuses with anti-Israel activity jumped by 31.2 percent, from 138 during the 2013-2014 academic year to 181 during the 2014-2015 academic year.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) established a presence on more than 40 new campuses, bringing the total number of campuses on which it operates to more than 150, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) established its first-ever student chapters at 14 colleges and universities.
Calls for anti-Israel boycotts, divestment initiatives, and sanctions continued to rise on college campuses, particularly on the West Coast and in the Midwest, but were defeated at approximately the same rate as the prior academic year. The anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) ran 44 campus campaigns, a 132 percent increase over the 19 campaigns seen during the 2013-2014 academic year.
SJP and its allies continue to deepen their involvement with “social justice-oriented” organizations on campus. This year saw efforts by anti-Israel groups to build coalitions with “progressive” campus organizations that deal with issues such as LGBT rights, fossil fuel divestment, private prison reform, racial discrimination, and immigration reform. SJP supports these social justice groups in their causes and in turn receives support from these campus organizations and their supporters.
According to the ICC, “Anti-Israel campus activists have adopted a deliberate strategy for engaging these largely progressive organizations by forming personal relationships with influential activists. In addition to this crossover support, anti-Israel campus groups increasingly share members and leadership with these organizations.”
The anti-Israel movement on campus is also benefiting from significant professional support, with national organizations such as the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USCABI), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Palestine Legal, and JVP offering cost-free legal representation, political strategists, researchers, web developers, graphic designers, and communications services. In February 2015, AMP opened an office in Washington, D.C., headed by the organization’s national director of media and communication. In April 2015, JVP hired its first full-time national employee dedicated to campus affairs.
Palestine Legal (formerly known as Palestine Solidarity Legal Support) bills itself as “the only legal organization in the United States exclusively dedicated to supporting the movement for Palestinian rights.”
The organization, which has four full-time lawyers positioned across the country, is part of the broader National BDS Campus Support Team that provides resources and on-the-ground assistance to anti-Israel students promoting BDS on their campuses.
The 2014-2015 academic year saw several firsts for pro-BDS activists on campus, among them the adoption of the referendum strategy, in which an entire student body is asked to vote on an anti-Israel BDS measure. Seen at only one campus prior to this past academic year, referenda were introduced on six campuses this year. This academic year also saw the first BDS battle at the community college level.
More pro-Israel activism, too
However, despite the increase in activity by Israel’s detractors on campus, ICC data reveals a sharp uptick in pro-Israel activism at campuses nationwide.
During the 2014-2015 academic year, ICC recorded the formation of more than 100 new local pro-Israel campus organizations. Pro-Israel students are increasingly disciplined, coordinated, and strategic thanks to the leadership of a broad coalition of national pro-Israel organizations. These pro-Israel students are organizing gatherings for influential student leaders, public celebrations of Israel, and film screenings and lecture series, among other activities. According to ICC data, the number of campuses hosting pro-Israel activity has increased, from 167 campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year to 213 during the 2014-2015 academic year.
Nationwide, anti-Israel groups have coupled Palestinian rights with the struggle for racial justice by focusing on the alleged power and privilege of Jewish and pro-Israel Americans. Anti-Israel protesters at large-scale protests across the United States, which began in August 2014, have attempted to link the Black Lives Matter campaign with the anti-Israel movement. The slogan “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime” has been used in dozens of protests across the country.
This dynamic also played out on campus. ICC observed strong ties between SJP and many African-American student groups during the 2014-2015 academic year. SJP devoted a substantial portion of its October 2014 national conference, titled “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the U.S. to Palestine,” to strengthening the organization’s ties with the African-American community.
As recently as May 2015, SJP student activists were actively involved in Black Lives Matter-linked demonstrations. SJP presidents from Washington, D.C.-area universities (George Mason University and American University) actively participated in protests in Baltimore, Md., following the death of Freddie Gray. Stanford University student activists and community members attending a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march in California’s Bay Area capitalized on the publicity surrounding the event, unfurling a large Palestinian flag midmarch, drawing a direct connection between African-American and Palestinian struggles. In January 2015, a delegation of African-American activists traveled to the West Bank with a group called Dream Defenders, which describes itself as “an uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing.”