Can Pro-Israel Advocacy-Activism Premised Largely on Casting Israel in a Favorable Light Continue to Avoid Discrediting anti-Israel Messengers and Messages

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The McGill Student Society’s Judicial Board (SSMU) ruling against BDS last week is obviously very welcome news. This decision was applauded by B’nai Brith and CIJA, and should be commended by all pro-Israel organizations.

It is however – in context – a small, but important step in the battle of words and ideas for the hearts and minds of Canadian students regarding Israel and Jews, especially since much campus anti-Israel activism degenerates into antisemitism.

This decision, as Aidan Fishman, B’nai Brith Canada’s Campus Affairs Coordinator notes in the B’nai Brith communique on the issue, will likely have a salutary effect on keeping BDS motions from hereafter being put before the SSMU and other Canadian university student unions and councils.

That said however, the BDS movement is only one facet of anti-Israel campus activism that has for years been pursued by some faculty members and many campus student organizations – be they anti-Israel at their core or only collaterally so.  More well-known is Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), first hosted in 2005 by the University of Toronto, which quickly thereafter became an annual event on most Canadian campuses and beyond.  IAW on Montreal’s McGill, Montreal and Concordia Universities is endorsed by 23 campus organizations. On other campuses, IAW similarly draws much the same support.

Whether it is in Montreal or on other Canadian campuses, reports of the anti-Israel activism agenda for years has included many accounts that the intensity, relentlessness and aggressiveness of such activism has caused Jewish students to feel intimidated, fearful and insecure.

Compounding those fears is the fact that university administrations often justify taking little if any action to protect their Jewish students from the more egregious and mendacious anti-Israel, antisemitic campus activism, by citing mantras of “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom.”

Campus anti-Israel activism has revealed itself to be committed, determined, unrelenting, uniformly messaged, energized, passionate and increasingly aggressive. Anti-Israel activists have also demonstrated great creativity and inventiveness in finding ways and means to get their Israel- and Jew-hating messages across.

If only campus pro-Israel Jewish advocacy could be characterized as their anti-Israel counterpart.  It can’t.

Pro-Israel campus advocacy, in very deliberate calculated fashion, avoids efforts to challenge, undermine and discredit anti-Israel activists and their dishonest, demonizing and delegitimizing messages.  Such avoidance is explained by CIJA and other Jewish leaders following CIJA’s advocacy approach, with claims that such kind of advocacy could lead to an anti-Israel backlash where anti-Israel views could become even more widespread and ingrained, both on and off campuses.

Given that concern, pro-Israel advocacy is largely limited to encouraging pro-Israel views by only presenting Israel in a favorable light.   That favorable light however, seems to be dim by comparison to the harsh anti-Israel light, given how prevalent and widespread varying degrees of anti-Israel views are on campuses. Even more worrisome is that a great many students take those anti-Israel views with them long after they have left university.

This decision by the Judicial Board of McGill’s Student Society will hopefully be a setback for Canadian campus BDS movements.

It is dangerous however, for pro-Israel Jewish organizations – on and off campus – to become complacent and underestimate the oft-proven inventiveness, creativity and resourcefulness of anti-Israel, antisemitic campus organizations. It would thus be no surprise if we soon see the campus BDS movement finding ways – direct or indirect – around this setback.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that many of our nations’ future leaders have been, are or will be exposed to anti-Israel, antisemitic perspectives and views while attending university. Such exposure creates the obvious risk of their catching the anti-Israel, antisemitic bug, perhaps chronically so.

Given that, our Jewish leadership really needs to start questioning their assumption that efforts to discredit anti-Israel advocates will lead to anti-Israel sentiments widening and deepening. Is there really any proof to support that assumption? If so, what is it? Is it still valid?

Secondly Jewish leadership must start questioning their implicit assumption that by only exposing students and faculty to a favorable light shone on Israel, our future leaders’ will somehow be immune to becoming infected by the anti-Israel, antisemitic campus bug. Alternatively, there is the necessary following implicit assumption that, if perchance, our future national leaders are so infected at university, once they leave campus, Jewish leadership will be able to cure them of that infection.

Jewish leadership – on and off campus – would do well to revisit their traditional pro-Israel advocacy approaches and assumptions and dare to address the foregoing points and questions. With that, traditional pro-Israel advocacy assumptions and approaches will either be better validated or seen to be in need of some tweaking and adjustment.

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