to Make of Universities’ ‘Apartheid
The shouting down of Israel's ambassador
at the University of California, Irvine,
and the arrival of "Israel Apartheid
Week" have yet again drawn attention
to the situation on American college
campuses. They have provoked the usual
anxiety about anti-Semitism, the treatment
of Israel and the attitudes of students.
Typically, the reactions have been
overheated and largely mistaken.
Irvine was an ugly situation that
was made possible by a school administration's
permissive attitude toward hate speech.
But it was just one case. While the
video of that event spread virally,
few people know that the Israeli ambassador,
Michael Oren, spoke the very next night
at U.C. San Diego without interruption.
Still, Yoram Dori, an adviser to Israeli
President Shimon Peres, was horrified
by the failure of students to fight
back at Irvine. He talked about the
old days, when Jewish students answered
every demonstration with a counterdemonstration.
In those days, we faced similar problems.
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the pro-Israel
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
was kept from speaking when I was at
U.C., Berkeley. But students then were
more poorly equipped to respond than
they are today. Students these days
are reluctant to "take off the gloves," but
we also teach them not to respond to
everything the detractors do because
it is sometimes counterproductive.
In that sense, today's students are
more sophisticated. At Irvine, the
protesters accomplished nothing but
getting themselves arrested and embarrassing
Apartheid weeks in early March --
when pro-Palestinians seek to equate
Israel's policies with the old South
African practice of racial separation
-- provide another case study in determining
whether countering or ignoring is the
best policy. The answer: It depends
on the campus and the anticipated impact
of the events. Globally, these events
are part of a serious delegitimization
campaign that needs to be addressed.
But on U.S. campuses this year, the
efforts were inconsequential.
Only about a dozen schools held events,
and they were overwhelmed by the more
than 20 "Israel Peace Weeks," where
pro-Jewish state students sponsored
events on campuses across the country.
These activities were in addition to
upcoming programs celebrating Yom Ha'atzmaut,
Israel's Independence Day.
All told, the Israel on Campus Coalition
-- a consortium of organizations --
recorded roughly 150 incidents on 100
campuses in the fall. On the face of
it, that sounds serious. But that means
that more than 95 percent of America's
3,000 colleges had nothing to report.
In addition, most of the incidents
were nothing more than a lecture or
a protest, or some other event that
was unlikely to make any lasting impact.
Only a handful of campuses had more
than one incident. The one with the
most -- New York University -- could
hardly be called a trouble spot for
In fact, more than 40 percent of the
incidents were speeches by one of seven
individuals/groups, so it is mostly
the same suspects touring the country
preaching to the converted. And the
report did not list the corresponding
pro- Israel programs held nationwide,
which I would argue had at least as
much impact -- if not more.
Perhaps the best indication of the
state of U.S.-Israel relations was
the latest Gallup poll, showing support
for Israel at 63 percent, just below
the all-time high of 64 percent, in
contrast to 15 percent who favor Palestinians
over Israel. Americans age 18-29 registered
the lowest level of support for Israel
and the highest for the Palestinians,
but that margin was still 57 percent
to 21 percent.
Despite the recent Goldstone report
on Israel's war in Gaza and other negative
attacks in the last year, Israel's
popularity has increased, while the
Palestinian Authority remains only
slightly more popular than North Korea
Still, the situation doesn't justify
complacency. On the contrary, it has
been achieved because of the time,
energy and resources poured into campuses
in the last decade to support Israel
studies, trips and advocacy. Now is
the time to build on what is actually
a positive trend.