The Campus Challenge
The plight of Jewish students on college campuses is desperate. They are under siege from anti-Israel speakers, protestors and organizations, and they are being taught by professors who distort history.
What is particularly depressing is that the Jewish community has allowed the situation to persist. The climate on campus is worse than it was when I was in school in the 1980's, which just shows how little we've done to address the problems. I am traveling around the country speaking on campuses and I can't overstate the distress.
Most campuses have only a handful of Jewish students who are active. They don't have the resources they need. They don't know how to respond to the Hanan Ashrawis who regularly visit the campus or how to be proactive and demonstrate for Israel rather than simply defend it against attacks. They don't know basic history to explain the context of current events or to respond to the criticism of Israeli policies.
While the anti-Israel speakers and protests provoke the greatest emotional response, a more insidious danger has been allowed to go unchecked in academia, and that is teaching of revisionist history by faculty members. In his book, "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America," Martin Kramer documents one aspect of the problem: the creation of a whole field of study and special academic centers that are largely devoted to teachings that are hostile toward Israel. This has a far greater impact on future attitudes than a speech or protest.
Many organizations are working hard to help students, but more must be done. Here is an action-agenda specifically designed to fight the political war on campus:
1) Establish centers for the study of Israel and American-Israeli relations to counter the Arab-funded professors and centers around the country. Faculties are not going to hire professors who are pro-Israel — more likely the opposite. The only way to put Israel on the academic agenda is to fund professorships; visiting Israelis make little impact. In the last decade, this was done for the Holocaust, and now Holocaust studies is a robust field. Establishing chairs at key universities around the country and hiring pro-Israel scholars could make a lasting impression on thousands of students.
2) Provide students with the information they need. The Avi Chai Foundation is offering two free Jewish books to participants on Birthright Israel trips; a similar program could be established for students who meet some minimum requirement of involvement in an Israel-related organization. Students get much of their information from the Internet, so it is important to make sure material is on the Web. For example, my Web site, Jewish Virtual Library, has more than 7,000 entries on everything from antisemitism to Zionism and a recently updated online version of "Myths and Facts," a valuable tool for educating students about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is not difficult to get copies of speeches by anti-Israel speakers; the content and responses can be disseminated in advance of their visits so students can be prepared.
3) Provide funding for quality speakers to travel to the campuses. For example, every campus where Ashrawi speaks should have a pro-Israel speaker follow in her wake. Students aren't hearing Israel's side of the story and a good speaker can show that critics can be answered, and in a civil way.
4) Train students in Israel advocacy. Many students want to be active, but they don't know what to do. They can be taught how to write op-eds, ways to respond to critics and methods of building coalitions.
5) Incorporate campus and the community. Students should sit on federation and community relations council boards. The community must keep abreast of what is happening on the campus and respond to student needs. The community should participate in events, offer advice and guidance, help deal with the faculty and administration, and insure that students don't feel isolated.
6) Fund Jewish newspapers on campuses. A newspaper is a source of information, and it is also a way for students to be active and identify as Jews. Jewish community newspapers should provide guidance and establish mentoring programs.
7) Continue the Birthright program. There's still no better way to build a connection to Israel than to take students there. Programmers should include Israel advocacy training as part of the experience before, during and after the trips.
8) Share information. Turf battles preclude any one organization from being allowed to become the campus resource, but if multiple organizations cooperated in the implementation of the overall campus strategy it would save resources and help students. Some may claim everything is being done. Yet students complain to me about the same things I complained about when I wrote an almost identical article to this one in 1986.
We have the people and the information to do the job. What we need now is the commitment to spend the money necessary to implement these steps to win the war on campus.