Why does anyone care about BDS campaigns on American college campuses?
One reason is that it makes Jewish students uncomfortable. Some say it creates a hostile environment that makes them feel unsafe. An increase in anti-Semitism on campus often accompanies BDS resolutions.
As snowflakey as our kids have become, they will get over their discomfort.
The more significant concern is that Israel’s detractors will impact non-Jewish students and turn them against Israel, adversely affecting U.S. policy over time.
As I’ve argued repeatedly in columns, the current situation is no worse than the campus climate of the past. It seems more serious because of the constant media attention and the almost total absence of any reporting on the positive developments on campus (e.g., the growth of Israel studies, exemplified by the program at Berkeley, a longtime hotspot for Israel’s detractors).
Even when you look at the worst campuses, the anti-Israel activists are typically a minute fraction of the student body. To give a few examples from this year, BDS resolutions adopted by student governments at Ohio State (the president did not sign it), the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (killed due to irregularities), the University of California, Riverside and Louisiana State University received 14, 17, 11 and 36 votes, respectively.
The press also uncritically reports the latest anti-Semitism statistics and fails to distinguish between the nearly non-existent cases of physical attacks on Jewish students and the majority of incidents, which are vandalism. You may have heard, for example, that anti-Semitic incidents increased on campus by 27% last year, but you were not informed that the number decreased 24% from its 2017 high. Also, consider the 155 total incidents ADL reported in 2021 were spread over an entire school year and thousands of schools across 50 states.
Some will argue that we are seeing the impact of campus anti-Israel activity in polls showing that young adults (historically, Americans become more pro-Israel as they get older), liberals and Democrats have become more critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinians. It’s one thing to express a negative opinion about Israel to a pollster when asked a specific question, however, and another to act on that view. Supporters of Israel are far more passionate than critics and more likely to engage in political activity.
So far, the adverse poll results have not translated into policy. On the contrary, despite some proposed bills that are anti-Israel, legislation that is adopted at the federal and state levels continues to be overwhelmingly pro-Israel—from the more than $4 billion in federal aid to the anti-BDS laws, executive orders and resolutions adopted by 35 states.
We assume that hostility towards Israel, especially on elite college campuses, could lead to future policy changes. This has not happened to date. Interestingly, many of the most anti-Israel politicians did not attend these schools.
Here are the alma maters of Israel’s most virulent critics:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.): Boston University
Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.): North Dakota State University
Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.): Boston University/Boston University Metropolitan College
Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.): Wayne State University/Western Michigan University Cooley Law School
Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.): University of New Haven
Cori Bush (D-Mo.): Harris-Stowe State University for one year and a diploma in nursing from the Lutheran School of Nursing.
Betty McCollum (D-Minn.): College of St. Catherine
Marie Newman (D-Ill.): Marquette University/University of Wisconsin-Madison
Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.): University of Georgia
Not an Ivy Leaguer in the bunch. If Israel’s detractors are so influential, shouldn’t we see graduates from the most hostile campuses adversely affecting U.S.-Israel relations? This is not to say they don’t exist, maybe not in Congress, but certainly, some can be found in the U.S. State Department, the media and non-political areas of life such as business.
Still, think about all the state legislatures and governors who oppose BDS. Those are also folks likely to become members of Congress.
Many states have robust ties with Israel that have only grown in recent years. At least 35 states and the District of Columbia have signed cooperative agreements with Israel. Check out the economic benefits the states derive from trade with Israel. New York exports to Israel led the way, totaling nearly $3.6 billion in 2021. It’s not just the big states like New York, California ($1.4 billion) and Texas ($1.1 billion) that benefit; so do smaller ones like Oregon ($1.5 billion), Arizona ($413 million), Georgia ($280 million), Ohio ($238 million) and South Carolina ($113 million).
Israel’s detractors also haven’t had any serious impact on American business. Yes, Ben & Jerry’s got a lot of publicity for its boycott, but that didn’t turn out too well for its parent company, Unilever, which has now reversed the policy after states divested from it. Ironic, isn’t it, that the only divestment is not from Israeli companies or U.S. companies doing business with Israel but from companies that boycott Israel.
Meanwhile, every major technology company, from Microsoft to Google to Meta to Apple, operates in Israel. Intel has huge microchip manufacturing plants in Israel. Israeli and American defense contractors have ongoing relations thanks to U.S. military aid and various joint programs. American companies are constantly acquiring innovative Israeli startups like Waze and Mobileye.
Graduates of universities also go to work for these companies. Yes, you have the case of a handful of employees at Google and Amazon protesting one project in Israel, but that did not change those companies’ commitment to it.
Being Jews, we are naturally cynical, if not pessimistic. Even if we believe Mitchell, some of you are thinking, the situation will get worse. Those liberal Democrats trending against Israel in the polls will come to power.
At the moment, having nothing to do with Israel, “the Squad” and other progressives are facing a backlash, and folks like James Carville have warned Democrats their political futures are endangered by fealty to the woke.
In the midterms, you will not see many candidates running on an anti-Israel platform. Those who do will be opposed by candidates who will receive massive support from the pro-Israel community. Because of the demographics of their districts, it may not be possible to knock off the members of “The Squad,” but its numbers are not likely to grow.
Today, by any measure—military, economic, political—U.S.-Israel relations are as strong if not more robust than they have ever been despite six decades of anti-Israel campus activity.
Friends of Israel, take the win.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”