Generating more positive campus discourse on Israel at Bringing Israel Home event

by | Jul 12, 2013 | What’s Happening

Sunday, August 11

As it does every year, Gallup released its findings earlier this spring regarding American sympathies towards Israelis and Palestinians. Historically, support for Israelis has been stronger than support for Palestinians, so this year’s results shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who follows these data. Americans, by a margin of 64 to 12 percent, expressed greater sympathy for the Israelis, matching an all-time high. This, Gallup notes, is part of a trend of increased support for Israel over the past decade. All good news, right?

By drilling down, however, we get a more complete and complicated picture of American attitudes. Support among Republicans and older citizens remains strong. However, only 55 percent of those surveyed aged 18-34 expressed greater sympathy with Israelis, compared with the 64 percent overall and 71 percent for those 55 and older. Does that data suggest that young people are expressing greater solidarity with Palestinians and their struggle, at the expense of Israel? Well, no.

In fact, the level of support for Palestinians remains flat among all age cohorts (though it rises to 24% among those self-identified as politically liberal). This indicates, as The David Project’s White Paper A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges argued last year, support for Israel is declining among the college-aged population, not to the benefit of the Palestinian side, but to non-involvement or non-interest. In the long-term, this lack of interest can pose great challenges to the U.S.-Israel relationship—and the strong political and financial backing that comes with it—than whatever personal friction might exist between leaders of the two countries. Finding ways to build support among younger cohorts is absolutely essential if the pro-Israel community wants to maintain the relationship that allows for almost 300 Senators and Congressmen to attend AIPAC’s Policy Conference, and for an Israeli Prime Minister to receive nearly 30 standing ovations during an address to the joint houses of Congress.

Too often as a community, we work ourselves into a frenzy when we see examples of anti-Israel activities, especially on the college campus. This usually reaches a peak in March as anti-Israel groups on many campuses nationwide participate in some form of Apartheid Week, a semi-organized attempt to demonize the Jewish state. At other points throughout the school year, anti-Israel groups erect mock checkpoints or invite outside speakers to bash Israel, Zionism and American support for the region’s only democracy. In reading reports of such spectacles, we assume that support for Israel must be dwindling and that hordes of young students are joining the anti-Israel camp. Some community leaders suggest that the pro-Israel campus community needs to be more vociferous in its response, challenging the detractors by calling out their lies or hypocrisy. “Going negative,” one well-known activist suggests, should be an integral component of campus activity.

There are times, of course, when we need to respond, and respond strongly—if a student is intimidated or harassed, physically threatened, or if his or her academic standing is affected for supporting Israel. However, our overall goal should be to generate a more positive campus discourse on Israel and to help ensure long-term support for Israel in the political arena. Focusing on those objectives does not necessitate attacking the detractors (which often gives them more publicity than what they would otherwise receive), but rather calls upon us to employ a more nuanced, relationship-oriented approach. Such an approach is much more likely to increase support for Israel among a generation of students that reacts better to thoughtful engagement than rancorous debate.

At the Bringing Israel Home event, my colleague and I will delve deeper into this issue and discuss with students more thoughtful approaches to activism, including the use of their personal experiences and connection to Israel as key components of their efforts. We are confident that students can be successful in shaping the conversation on campus; it just requires a new perspective and different strategy.

For more information on the August 11th event or to RSVP, please contact Robin Mancoll, Director of the Community Relations Council at

by Todd Young, director of Campus &
Educational Initiatives at The David Project