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March 14, 2003 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-14

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Quiet, For Now

Pro-Israel push pays off on campus, but impact of Iraq war is unpredictable.

RACHEL POMERANCE
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

failure. Divestment petitions were rejected by univer-
sity presidents from Harvard to the University of
Michigan, and even engendered counter-statements
of solidarity with Israel.
In additiOn, anti-war rallies on college campuses
across America last week failed to mobilize a large
amount of pro-Palestinian activism.
• Less confrontation. The current academic year has
seen a growth of Mideast dialogue groups and admin-
istration-sponsored lectures. Alternatively, many
Jewish groups have discouraged followers from react-
ing to fringe pro-Palestinian activity. Both strategies

of campus affairs for the Anti-Defamation League. "It
is an opportunity for them to make their case to
much larger numbers of people, and to do it on an
New York City
issue that is of more direct concern to most
ro-Israel activists are gaining ground on
Americans than the plight of the Palestinians."
campus, but some wonder how an expect-
"The fact that the" anti-war "movement is sort of
ed war against Iraq could change the equa-
peppered with anti-Israel leaders and spokespeople,
tion.
we never know where it's going to emerge," said
The anti-war movement, many of whose leaders
Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus
also head pro-Palestinian groups, is the newest venue
Coalition, a coordinating body for Jewish groups on
for pro-Palestinian activity on campus. Jewish officials
campus.
fear that the inclusion of the
Anti-Israel activity still pops up on campus inde-
Palestinian agenda under the
pendently of the anti-war
anti-war umbrella could help
movement. At Rutgers
the Palestinians win broader
University, banners at
support among young
two student centers call
Americans.
for the liberation of
They fear, too, that if war
– Palestine "from the river
with Iraq fails or drags on, it
to the sea" — code for a
will empower the anti-war
Palestinian state to
movement and, with it, pro-
replace Israel, not live
Palestinian activists, since lead-
alongside it — and a
ers of the anti-war movement
Palestinian film festival
cl a im that American policy is
recently aired at
formulated to serve Israel's
Columbia University.
interests.
For the moment, how-
But anti-war fervor so far has
ever, the distraction of
failed to make great headway
war and the influx of
on campus: Most students are
pro-Israel resources has
ambivalent about war and view
allowed Israel advocates
the anti-war movement as a
to make headway. Even
hodgepodge of anti-establish-
at Berkeley — site of
ment causes.
some of the most violent
At the same time, Mideast
anti-Israel activism dur-
dialogue groups are on the rise,
ing the intifada —
contributing to a climate that is
"things are really quite
friendlier toward Israel than at
positive," in a "worst-
any time since the Palestinian
case-scenario kind of
The Oct. 13, 2002, pro-Israel rally at the University of Michigan drew 300 to the U-M Diag in Ann Arbor.
intifada (uprising) began more
way," said Berkeley
than two years ago.
Hillel's executive director,
When it began, the intifada sparked a burst of pro-
have resulted in less confrontation on campus.
Adam Weisberg.
• The impending war with Iraq. The peace move-
Palestinian activity that in some cases inspired acts of
There is still "very, very negative background noise
anti-Semitism on college campuses. Charges against
ment has had contradictory effects: While it may have on Israel," Weisberg said. An average student walking
Israel — couched in progressive language that attract-- exposed some students to the Palestinian agenda, it
across campus on an average day might hear some-
ed liberal academics — stunned Jewish students and
also has diverted the attention of many potential
thing negative about Israel — "that kind of stuff sinks
their campus organizations, which were ill-prepared
Palestinian sympathizers who are too preoccupied
in."
to respond.
with the conflict with Iraq to worry about other
But his operation is in "triage mode," he said, with
issues.
Two years later, a confluence of factors have bol-
new resources and staff offering higher-profile pro-
stered the confidence of pro-Israel activists on cam-
In addition, a small "pro-America" movement has
grams, cultural and educational events and advocacy
pus:
arisen in reaction to the anti-war movement — and it training.
• Fortification of pro-Israel activists. American
carries a pro-Israel bent. And polls, have shown that
The Berkeley administration also helped fund
Jewish organizations have responded to Mideast
most American students mirror general American
speeches on campus this year by former Mideast
activism on campus with new models of pro-Israel
public opinion, which is pro-Israel.
envoy Dennis Ross and former Israeli Prime Minister
advocacy for students. The effort has led to effective,
Ehud Barak.
War's Impact
pro-active programming for Israel and a cadre of
savvy student campus advocates.
Still, Jewish officials are cautious, and say war against
Dialogue Helping
• The failure of anti-Israel strategies. The divest-
Iraq could open a new front for Jewish students.
ment movement — a crusade for universities to drop
Another development is the birth of dialogue groups
The anti-war movement is a "gift from the Lord"
their investments in Israel — is widely regarded as a
on campuses across the country. At the University of
for pro-Palestinian activists, said Jeffrey Ross, director

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