Last year AICE published the study, Israel and the Campus: The Real Story, which exploded a number of misconceptions about Israel and the universities. We found, for example, that anti-Israel activity has not changed dramatically since the late 1960s. In addition, we documented relatively few incidents of anti-Israel activity (674), and those were confined to fewer than 3% of all American campuses.
One critic noted that we arrived at our figure for schools with problems based on the roughly 4,000 colleges in the United States, which also includes a large number of community colleges and commuter schools where we would expect less political activity. Even if we use a lower number, suggested by the critic, of 2,700 four-year schools, the percentage of schools where anti-Israel activities occurred is only 4%.
Another reaction to our results was: Sure, only a small percentage of campuses were involved, but they are the most prestigious ones that many Jewish students attend. Based on our data, this is not entirely true either. If we look at the 20 universities that had the most anti-Israel incidents (each had at least 10 and accounted for nearly half of all the incidents last academic year), only 7 are ranked in the top 50 and 13 in the top 100. The school with the most incidents (39), the University of New Mexico, is ranked #179 and only has about 250 Jewish students.
As the study noted, statistics don't tell the entire story. If you look at that list of the "worst" schools, nearly half have very strong pro-Israel student organizations and the campuses are known for their large, active Jewish student bodies. Schools in this category include Tufts and the universities of Maryland and Florida.
Several of the universities that typically have the most anti-Israel activity also have very strong pro-Israel groups. These include UCLA, Berkeley, and Columbia. Thus, the hostile students are already countered, if not overwhelmed, by those that support Israel.
The top schools already get the lion's share of campus resources, which is one reason they are so effective in setting the agenda and responding to detractors. The schools that need more help that were on our list are places such as New Mexico, UC Riverside, Ithaca College, Northeastern and Temple.
When it comes to allocating resources to campuses, the tendency is for the rich to get richer and to neglect many schools that need help. The obvious schools are also not necessarily the ones producing tomorrow’s leaders. When we looked at the schools attended by members of Congress, diplomats in positions related to the Middle East, the National Security Council, major CEOS and journalists, among the most popular schools were Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Brigham Young.
This year, we again anticipated a flurry of boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaigns, but as in past years, it didn't happen, at least not in the fall. Students instead are focusing on divestment efforts aimed at the fossil fuel industry. Even with the Gaza operation, which stimulated anti-Israel rallies around the country, the number of incidents AICE tracked in the fall of 2013 was nearly identical to the number in 2012.
AICE’s study also noted that it is more difficult to quantify the most nefarious activities on campus because they take place beyond public view in the classroom. Professors who use their positions to advance political agendas are rarely exposed by students out of fear of retaliation. Still, we know who many of the culprits are because word leaks out, their syllabi are public and some engage in public activism. The faculty, which remains on campus long after each class of students is gone, is powerful and often shapes the climate on campus.
Faculty also frequently put their weight on the balance between partisans in favor of Israel's detractors by sponsoring "academic" lectures, panels and events that are one-sided. A current example is the uproar over the Brooklyn College political science department cosponsoring a forum supporting BDS.
Cumulatively, there is a need to continue to support students at major campuses, but many other schools, often more susceptible to Israel’s detractors, need resources as well. One reason these investments did not pay off in past years is because there was not a corresponding commitment to the academic study of Israel. Establishing courses, programs, chairs and centers in Israel Studies, with the best professors, is the most important way to ensure students receive an education based on scholarship exploring Israel's history, politics and culture.
Mitchell Bard is the author of The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (HarperCollins) and Israel Matters (Behrman House).
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