When the student government legislature at the University of California, Irvine voted unanimously for an anti-Israel divestment measure recently, the vote was not just a setback to the pro-Israel cause — it appeared to throw into question a broad new approach that some pro-Israel advocates have been promoting to move discourse on Israel, as they put it, “beyond the conflict.”
The strategy, which involves playing up other aspects of Israel’s society and culture, such as its science and high-tech achievements, seemed more subject to doubt when an official advisory committee at Brown University, in Rhode Island, approved a divestment recommendation around the same time. The committee called for dialogue with the school administration about Brown’s possible investment “in firms whose products and services are being used to commit human rights violations in Palestine.”
In June, Arizona State University’s student government also passed a motion calling for divestment.
Ironically, just one week before the November 13 measure passed at UC Irvine, the Israeli news site Ynet — the outlet for Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s second-largest daily newspaper — published a story hailing what it described as a pro-Israel turnaround at that campus.
Only two years earlier, a group of Muslim students had disrupted a campus speech there by Israel’s envoy to the United States, Michael Oren, at one point briefly forcing him from the stage.
The ensuing controversy gained the campus a reputation as a center of anti-Israel sentiment. But now, the Ynet story declared, the campus “has become a hotbed of pro-Israel activity.”
The student government vote — which now goes to two other bodies for approval before being submitted to the administration — seems to refute this assertion, and put two years’ worth of pro-Israel advocacy on campus under a shadow.