Picture this: advocating on a college campus for a democracy that has legal protections of LGBT individuals, equal rights for men and women, protections of religious minorities, and has a vibrant economy that’s home to incredible technological, medical, and agricultural innovation. Then imagine being attacked, threatened, or shoved aside for doing this. Now you can better understand what it’s like to be a pro-Israel advocate at universities across the nation.
The pro-Israel movement at Syracuse University isn’t huge, but with upwards of 3,000 Jewish students, it has the potential to be. There are small-scale events which receive little attention, and are contributed to with little, if any, school funding. Currently, the sole pro-Israel group on campus operates under the umbrella of a larger prominent Jewish organization. For the most part, that group – which I am the president of – has been left in the dust.
In January, when I applied for my group to become an independent, recognized student organization on campus, the application was rejected. The grounds for this decision were that we had the capacity to function under the larger umbrella organization under which we were founded. The Office of Student Activities also shared concern with our group not being inclusive enough – that is, they felt the pro-Israel group would not be a space that was open to people of different racial, political, ethnic, and national backgrounds, and for students with varying opinions on Israel. It doesn’t take a genius to see through this message. The office had first forced us to remain under a Jewish organization – forcing the group to retain a Jewish aspect that could serve to turn away potential members – and then claimed that, as such, the group would not be open to the greater community.
Because of the decision by the Office of Student Activities – and the fact that it was encouraged by university staff – students on campus are missing out on engaging, enriching events as the voice of the pro-Israel group has been stifled.
There are no other pro-Israel student groups at Syracuse. Even with a recent effort to host a J Street event on campus and eventually form a group, this statement still holds true, as the mission of J Street, a group falsely claiming to be pro-Israel on campus, is to condemn Israel and Israeli policies while hiding behind the guise of being ‘progressive.’ As a progressive, Jewish, Israel advocate myself, J Street does not speak for me, nor do I imagine, does it speak for many members of this campus community. On their own website, J-Street states that they “hold Israeli policy – implemented by governments of all political backgrounds over decades –responsible for creating the current situation that threatens the security and the future of the national home of the Jewish people” There is no mention of any responsibility on the hands of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas for the wave of terrorism.
The pro-Israel group that I head up on campus is one that celebrates Israel through the country’s democratic policies of granting freedoms to LGBT individuals and ethnic and religious minorities. We pride ourselves on promoting the liberal ideals of the sole democracy in the Middle East and the fantastic technological and agricultural innovations it has produced in the last 68 years. J Street’s vision is not this. Allowing a J Street chapter on campus would only serve to divide the already-small pro-Israel community. The campus community at Syracuse is largely apathetic, and given the choice between a group that calls itself pro-Israel and a group that actually is pro-Israel will only lead them to shy away from discussion and discourse. What we need is unity, not internal divisions.
A proposed J Street event to be held at a prominent Jewish organization on campus was eventually postponed, but that doesn’t mean that J Street is gone. I fear that a small group of determined students will try to bring a chapter to campus in the near future; there’s also no doubt that they will seek to operate under the same Jewish organization my group is currently forced to be under. As a Jewish organization, J Street may turn non-Jews away because of its religious affiliation, and may turn Jews away because of its pseudo-‘support’ of Israel through constant scathing criticism of the Israeli government. However, Syracuse Students for Israel is open to students of all religious, cultural, political, ethnic and national backgrounds. It was a mistake for the Office of Student Activities to refuse recognition to the sole pro-Israel student group on campus. What are our prospects when another group that claims the same purpose comes along?
Editor’s note: This article was updated on 11/05/16.
Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at Syracuse University Shoshana Kranish.