The academic year in review: Part 1 - The good news
As the academic year approached its end, anti-Israel activity escalated across the country - it was more intense in spring than earlier months. Still, overall this was not an especially turbulent year on campus, despite a few high-profile incidents. Many organizations will highlight the problems students encountered, but it is also important to be aware of the positive developments over the past year.
Anti-Israel activity has been a feature of campus life for more than 40 years, and there is little evidence it is any worse today than in past years. The character of some of the attacks has changed somewhat, from advocacy for the Palestinians to increasing efforts to delegitimize Israel. Many of us expected the Goldstone Report to be a major source of ammunition for the Israel-bashers, but in the end it had little impact on campus. The Gaza War is already too remote for students who were more focused on their next midterm.
It was not until school was nearly over that anti-Israel students at Berkeley and UC San Diego tried to ram divestment measures through their student governments. Substantively, both measures were meaningless, but symbolically, they would have allowed the blacklist, demonization and slander movement a chance to claim victory. In both cases the measures were defeated. They are likely to be resurrected and brought up on more campuses next year, but the BDS movement has thus far failed to convince a single university to adopt its anti-Semitic agenda.
Perhaps the most high-profile incident of the year was the shouting down of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine. Like a similar incident involving Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia, the despicable treatment of Oren was held out as evidence of the anti-Israel climate on American campuses. What got less publicity was the fact that Oren spoke the very next night at UC San Diego without incident. In fact, he spoke at numerous campuses, and Irvine was the only one that interfered with his speech.
What about Brandeis? Yes, more than one hundred students objected to the university inviting him to be the commencement speaker. You probably heard about that, but did you also know that more than 5,000 other students and faculty signed a petition in support of the invitation? Oren spoke and was greeted warmly. Still, protesters trying to silence Israeli voices may be one of the more serious issues that need to be tackled in the coming year.
The usual guerrilla theater also took place on several campuses. "Apartheid walls" were occasionally in the news, but did you hear about the one at UCLA that was taken down after the wall's builders were outnumbered by Israel's supporters?
The annual hate-fests known as "Israel Apartheid Week" were held on about a dozen campuses. They were overwhelmed, however, by more than twice as many "Israel Peace Weeks" held across the country.
Remember the angst caused by the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference? The group doesn't exist anymore and they haven't had a conference in years. In fact, there are no serious anti-Israel student conferences anymore. By contrast, the Israel on Campus Coalition and a number of other groups had pro-Israel conferences attended by hundreds of students and, the grand-daddy of them all, the AIPAC Policy Conference, attracted more than 1,200 student activists this year.
The Iran issue is seen as perhaps the most important foreign policy issue of the day, but the general student body displayed no interest in the issue. On the positive side, some student activists, primarily Jews, did get motivated and learned the virtues of lobbying their elected officials. Unfortunately, the measure they supported, calling for tougher sanctions against Iran, is opposed by the administration and was consequently shelved.
The fact that the situation is no worse, but also no better, than 40 years ago suggests the ongoing need to keep up our guard. We need strive to do a better job of preparing the incoming freshmen class for what they are likely to face next year. We must provide more resources to the returning students and devote still more energy to ensuring they have an opportunity to study the politics, history and culture of Israel with the best scholars.