Hillels to be commended for proactive stance
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Earlier this year, it seemed not a week went by without this newspaper reporting on anti-Israel activity in the Bay Area, especially on college campuses.
U.C. Berkeley emerged as the local epicenter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), with Cal’s student senate barely defeating an Israel divestment bill last semester.
Some in the Jewish community fretted at the time that Jewish students and Jewish campus organizations fell short in mounting countercampaigns. They worried the pro-Israel message faded amid the din of anti-Israel hysteria.
This week we learned some encouraging news. With the new school year, Hillels across the country intend to be more proactive.
Hillel has long been a haven for Jewish college students seeking a taste of home. With the surge in anti-Israel activity on campus — from BDS petitions to shouting down visiting Israeli speakers –– Hillel had to adopt another role: help Jewish students deflect efforts to delegitimize Israel.
This summer, students and Hillel administrators from across the country attended workshops, one of which taught students and staffers to effectively prepare for and respond to anti-Israel activism.
In one simulation, the student government of a fictional university put forth a bill to have the institution divest from Israel. Participants devised methods for defeating the bill. Launching divestment measures has become a key component in the national strategy of campus anti-Israel activists.
Fortunately, thus far divestment bills have been defeated in all but one small college in the Northwest. But as Hillel leaders noted in our story on page 2, the activists no doubt will be back this coming school year, and most likely with a vengeance.
The anti-Israel camp, especially on campus, has grown increasingly well organized. Its supporters have mastered the art of messaging and, in some cases, spreading disinformation.
In the past, pro-Israel students and mainstream Jewish groups on campus were caught flatfooted time and again. Eager to appear accommodating or to avoid stridency, they struggled to persuade fellow students that there are two sides to this story.
The tide may be turning. With Hillel making this concerted effort, we may soon see a more balanced debate and a more vigorous rejection of shrill anti-Israel voices.
With the end of summer, students are returning to campus. Like so many in the Jewish community, we hope for a respectful dialogue. But if not, we trust the pro-Israel side is ready.