Ninety-seven percent of American and Canadian colleges have no documented anti-Israel events on campus according to a recent study by The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. So then why does The David Project even exist (besides my desire to keep my job)? These numbers are probably surprising to many in the Jewish and pro-Israel community. After all, with the way Israel is portrayed by various news outlets, human rights organizations, international organizations (including the United Nations), it is easy to assume that most students on college campuses would be demonstrating against the Jewish state. This we know, is not the case.
I was recently invited to speak on this very issue to a group of 40-50 people at a synagogue in central New Jersey. During the introduction (I was one of two invited speakers), the moderator began talking about the rise and spread of anti-Israel events and sentiment on campus. When it was my turn to speak, I let the audience of mostly older adults in on a little secret, “College campuses are not burning.” While there are certainly challenges (from faculty, outside agitators, and some student groups) for the pro-Israel community contributing to a negative perception of Israel, especially on some of the better known universities and liberal arts colleges, the idea that the pro-Israel community is constantly under attack is simply not true. Although questions were held until the end of my speech, I could tell many were surprised by what I was saying.
Our mission at The David Project is to “move the needle” on colleges in terms of campus sentiments toward Israel. If we are not proactive now, I told the audience, we risk a gradual erosion of the steady bipartisan support for strong U.S.-Israel ties. In my new role as Campus Engagement Manager (which I only started last month), it is my responsibility to help develop the tools and resources for students across the country to build and cultivate relationships with their friends and peers on campus outside of the pro-Israel community. We in the pro-Israel community have not done enough to reach outside of our walls when talking about Israel. Instead of preaching to the choir, or confronting the small minority who protest Israel, let us talk to those in the middle. This will be the group that will determine the future level of friendship between the United States and Israel.
That night, the audience was not expecting to learn about relationship building and The David Project’s 10 Habits of Highly Effect Israel Advocates which includes listening campaigns and connecting with others' values; they came to learn how to confront Israel’s detractors. It took my entire presentation as well as the question and answer session to show that that strategic plan The David Project is rolling out with our student partners is a winning one. This nuanced approach is certainly not as flashy and newsworthy as maybe the “old school” approaches of Israel advocacy, but it is one that I know will accomplish great things.