Friday, December 03, 2004

An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism - Case Study

Anti-Israeli campus groups have made inroads at American universities by using the campus media, creating strategic partnerships with mainstream left-wing groups, and supporting certain members of the faculty and staff. Pro-Israeli activists who wish to combat this threat must respond to all three of these avenues by getting organized, utilizing the media, and maintaining relationships with organizations, campus influentials, and the Jewish community. The Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI) was created in September 2000 to enact these steps in seeking to preempt potential anti-Israelism on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.



Anti-Israeli activism - often called pro-Palestinian activism - stands on three legs: strategic relationships, professors, and the media. Each must be addressed systematically by pro-Israeli activists. Although CHAI, like most other pro-Israeli organizations on American campuses, began as an ad hoc, quick-response group addressing bias and misinformation, it quickly developed a larger mission. It geared its strategy to the specific character of JHU and concentrated on the types of activity most likely to succeed there. Since JHU tends to be cerebral and not actively political (that is, while many students study politics, they are not involved in political protests, debates, and large-scale campaigns), education campaigns, with emphasis on exposing bias in the media, were deemed the best approach.13 At the same time, CHAI established its niche in the university's Jewish community.

Once the on-campus approach proved successful, it was important to forge relationships within the university and the larger Jewish community. By involving university officials in the planning and execution of events, CHAI maintained a significant profile within the university. By planning events that drew the larger Jewish community to the campus, CHAI became an integral part of the Baltimore pro-Israeli community. Relationships with alumni and professors have also been critical in effecting long-term change on the campus. Finally, CHAI's connections with a broader pro-Israeli network have proved important for training activists and for planning and refining the group's activities.

Four years after CHAI's creation, all its original founders have graduated and left the area. However, the mark of success is that CHAI members now play a role in all the major campus organizations, and have maintained the ties with the university officials and faculty. Indeed, this campus has never become prone to extreme or violent anti-Israeli activity.

The main lesson from CHAI's experience is that it is crucial that pro-Israeli activism be conducted strategically.