Millions of American students are back in the classroom this week, mostly looking forward to making the grade and getting one step closer to graduating. Foreign policy issues are largely off their charts – not so different than the American public at large.
The Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts are among those issues that most American students are neither interested nor knowledgeable in. And while generalities are always dangerous to make, I say with certainty that this overall indifference toward the Middle East also afflicts the vast majority of Jewish students. I make these general statements not after reviewing some scientific survey, but rather on my nearly three decades of personal experience in fighting the battle for Israel on college campuses. And what a battle it is.
But with such a high level of indifference among students, why does this battle rage on in the first place? The answer is simple. First, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus mostly occurs among the faculty, including many Jewish professors. I possess a list of thousands of American academics calling for a boycott of Israel. The number of Jews among them is overwhelming.
Second, among students, anti-Israel sentiment is its strongest in Middle Eastern studies departments and research centers, decades ago hijacked by anti-Israel teachers, and in many cases funded by Gulf Arab states. Frighteningly, present students and researchers are the future staffers of the U.S. State Department and the intelligence community – they are the America’s future foreign policy makers. Clearly, the anti-Israel sentiment on campus is dangerous not just for Israel and her supporters, but for the future direction American foreign policy worldwide.
Third, Israel’s enemies in the U.S. for years have put their energy into coalition building. Liberal secularists, socialist revolutionaries, right-wing isolationists, and others who agree on very little, if anything, join forces when Israel is involved. Pro-Israel students are often confronted with this unholy alliance, united by their hatred and the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) against Israel. In the face of the overall indifference, this anti-Israel coalition on campus creates the false impression that Israel is a pariah state.
To combat these forces, supporters on campus must do a better job at presenting Israel’s case with clear, straight, and concise facts. Moreover, supporters must create local and national coalitions that encompass the entire spectrum of the pro-Israel forces, Jews and non-Jews alike.
On the eve of a new academic year, I make an urgent call to the pro-Israel community. But time is running out. Israel is able to win this war on American campuses, but Israel’s supporters must act quickly and decisively. My only question is: Who’s coming with me?
Dr. Josef Olmert is a JPC contributor and Adjunct Professor at American University. He is a well-known Israeli Middle East expert and brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.