Canada’s universities are home to our country’s future leaders, so when it comes to campus advocacy, the stakes for our community are high. To put it bluntly, there is indeed a problem on campus…but it is not what many in our community think it is.
Anti-Israel activity on campus strikes a nerve. Anti-Zionist activists are offensive in their message, outrageous in their tactics, and – in the deliberate misuse of the language of human rights – disingenuous about their true goals.
But to what extent does a fringe student bearing an anti-Israel placard in a campus square impact student opinion? To what extent does that individual persuade a student union or university administration about the “merits” of Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS)? Or, to paraphrase an analogy I recently heard: would we feel threatened by a small group of anti-Israel protestors on Parliament Hill? In the context of the Canadian Government’s strong support for Israel and the Jewish community’s significant engagement in federal politics, would the presence of such marginal voices really matter?
Campus is similar to the political realm, where the success of our efforts depends on our engaging, educating, and building strong relationships with key influencers, such as Members of Parliament, political staff, and journalists. The success of Jewish students in preventing anti-Israel trends from gaining mainstream acceptance depends on effective relationships with campus decision-makers and opinion leaders. When it comes to challenges like BDS, the actions of anti-Israel activists will not be the deciding factor; the reactions of student council representatives, university newspaper editors, and the heads of faith and ethnic groups on campus, among others, will be crucial in determining how these issues are dealt with on campus.
Concentrating on key target audiences – and refusing to be sidetracked by the actions of marginal activists – is at the core of the training, resources, and campaign support we provide to Hillels and Jewish students across Canada. While our focus is targeted, our goal is ambitious: to ensure that university leaders, from student councils to faculty to administrations, reject all efforts to demonize Israel or undermine the rights of Jewish students.
While there are many examples of this strategy in action, I offer a few recent highlights from CIJA’s campus work. In the past five months, CIJA has:
- Put in place a full-time Campus Program Coordinator to assist students confronting anti-Israel campaigns. Recruited from the ranks of a federal political party’s headquarters, Allyson Grant’s wealth of experience and on-the-ground support proved invaluable for students combating BDS at the University of Waterloo (UW). Last week, after an intense two-week campaign, undergraduate students voted to reject a referendum calling for the severing of ties between UW and Israeli academic institutions by a vote of 2,329 to 1,803.
- Launched a nation-wide series of in-depth focus groups of Jewish students to gather firsthand data about their experiences with antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and academic freedom. CIJA has conducted sessions in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Montreal, Halifax, Toronto, and London, with sessions in Ottawa and Winnipeg scheduled in the near future. The first of its kind in Canada, this research will enable CIJA and Hillel to better understand advocacy challenges and opportunities. We will share the results at the end of the school year.
- Kicked off a record-breaking year for CIJA’s campus missions program in which we will host more than 60 non-Jewish students – including rising political leaders and student union executives – on intensive, fact-finding trips to Israel. Often described by participants as life-changing, these trips open minds to the realities of the Middle East and provide CIJA with key allies in the effort to counter BDS on campus.
- Sponsored successful Israel-themed events that have enabled hundreds of non-Jewish students in Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Guelph, and Vancouver to experience Israel as a hub of culture, equality, and human rights and for their Jewish hosts to share their love of Israel.
- Hosted a professional development training program for Hillel staff, enabling representatives from campuses across Canada to gather in person, share best practices, and learn from CIJA and other advocacy experts. This year’s training focused on international BDS trends, social media advocacy, and CIJA’s latest public opinion research on Canadian attitudes toward Israel – providing Hillel with an early window into polling data that will be shared with the broader Jewish community in an advocacy education campaign later this year.
CIJA, the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations, together with Hillel is having a direct impact in building support for Israel and the Jewish community among the next generation of Canada’s leaders.
David J. Cape
PS: If you are a student or parent facing a challenge on campus, please contact us at email@example.com.