Hard-Nosed Campus Group Softens Tactics

David Project Focuses on Selling Israel, Not Trashing Enemies

Campus Correction: The David Project gained notoriety for its hardline pro-Israel advocacy on college campuses, which often focused on attacking perceived pro-Palestinian institutions. It is changing tack, in favor of a more positive approach.
courtesy of david project
Campus Correction: The David Project gained notoriety for its hardline pro-Israel advocacy on college campuses, which often focused on attacking perceived pro-Palestinian institutions. It is changing tack, in favor of a more positive approach.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published February 21, 2012, issue of February 24, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Universities are, for the most part, not hostile environments for Jewish students. Large campus events in support of Israel can be counterproductive. And using federal civil rights laws to protect Jewish students from anti-Israel activity could create a backlash against them.

These are just a few of the surprising highlights in a new report from an organization previously known for its take-no-prisoners style of Israel advocacy.

The Boston-based David Project, one of a handful of Jewish groups devoted to campus activism on Israel, made a name for itself eight years ago when it produced the film “Columbia Unbecoming,” alleging that Columbia University was a hotbed of anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic activity. But now the group seems to have distanced itself from its aggressive approach. The David Project’s new agenda focuses on selling Israel rather than on reaming out its critics.

This new posture has been welcomed by groups such as Hillel, the national campus network of Jewish student centers. But The David Project’s original backers deride this softer strategy as a misguided approach for addressing the situation faced by pro-Israel Jewish students on campus.

“Sometimes, challenging Israel’s detractors is warranted,” said Executive Director David Bernstein, who took the helm in 2010. “But we also know that the goal of The David Project is to reach and work with as many Jewish students and professionals as possible. That takes a thoughtful approach to Israel.”

The David Project’s report, released on February 8, paints a nuanced picture of the challenges Israel faces on campus. Called “A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges,” the paper claims that universities are host to the worst anti-Israel behavior in America, even as the American public, more broadly, is supportive of the Jewish state.

But veering from the Israel advocacy world’s frequent position, the report makes a strong distinction between “anti-Israelism” and anti-Semitism on campus. Conflating the two does not “jive” with the experience of Jewish students who feel largely comfortable in American universities, the report warns. The problem, it stresses, is not anti-Semitism; it’s a “drip-drip negativity” about Israel that, Bernstein said, threatens to erode support over the long term.

“The chief concern, therefore, is not the welfare of Jewish students,” the report states, “but that a pervasively negative atmosphere will affect the long-term thinking of current college students, negatively affecting strong bipartisan support for Israel.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.