Pro-Israel Strategy Faces Campus Setbacks

Divestment Push Advances at Brown and Cal-Irvine

Campus Debate: Students at the University of California-Irvine debate a proposal to call for divestment from Israel.
josh Friedman
Campus Debate: Students at the University of California-Irvine debate a proposal to call for divestment from Israel.

By Seth Berkman

Published November 29, 2012, issue of December 07, 2012.
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Following Oren’s contested appearance there, some Israel supporters made UC Irvine a testing ground for their different, softer approach. Among other measures, five Tel Aviv University science and engineering lecturers were hosted on campus to showcase the country’s contributions to cutting-edge research. Idan Raichel, an Israeli musician whose work is a synthesis of European, Asian and Middle Eastern music, gave a concert on campus. And student organizations, such as the Irvine Global Innovation Group, were created to host panels promoting Israel’s success in creating start-up companies.

The programming’s aim was to favorably influence students’ attitudes toward Israel while avoiding the kind of hard-edged confrontation with anti-Israel activists that some say only gives those activists publicity.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy group that emphasizes a more aggressive approach, called the programming at UC Irvine “productive and positive,” but said that groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which promotes divestment, will continue to oppose pro-Israel agendas, regardless of the tactics.

“The SJP really has a one-track agenda, and that’s the problem,” Rothstein said. “The pro-Israel camp can do what they want, but SJP keeps doing their negative programming.”

In a press release sent after the UC Irvine resolution passed, supporters of divestment called the action a “historic move that could initiate a domino effect across America’s campuses.” The website The Electronic Intifada proclaimed the timing of the vote “a sharp blow” and “embarrassing” to pro-Israel organizations.

But supporters of the softer pro-Israel strategy say that the latest push for BDS will not alter their goal. David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, called the resolution “a testing moment,” but described the student government that voted for divestment as “an insignificant student body with no standing.” Siegel, who has worked closely with UC Irvine administrators since he arrived in the summer of 2011, said that the passage of the resolution “is not going to have any impact on our strategic approach…. We believe the best response to divestment is to double down on proactive investment…. We believe BDS is the past.”


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