An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism.
Case Study: Johns Hopkins University
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.
Background: Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) was founded in Baltimore City,
Maryland, in 1876. It comprises the Krieger School of Arts and
Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the School of Professional
Studies, Business and Education (all located on the undergraduate
Homewood campus), various schools on the medical campus, the School of
Advanced International Studies (located in Washington,
DC), and a number of other schools. The undergraduate population
comes to about four thousand students, though including graduate
students there are approximately double that figure on the campus.
In 2000, about 10 percent of the undergraduates were Jewish; by 2004,
that number reached 13 percent. The students as a whole tend to be
politically conservative. The largest events on campus are lacrosse
games; Diwali Dhamaaka, a Hindu cultural event; and two symposia
dealing with domestic and foreign policy.
Introduction: Conflict on Campus
The current Arab-Israeli armed conflict, fought in a region far from
the United States, has developed a new front bisecting the university
quad. During the past four years this conflict has generated political
expression and activism at the American university. This article
strategically assesses the situation and examines the methods used
by both anti- and pro-Israeli activists, with JHU serving as a case
The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the few international issues
currently being debated on college campuses. The way in which these
controversies arise, and the goals of the anti-Israeli activists, are matters
The first important component of any sort of activism is organization.
Activists on both sides of this issue have joined together on
individual campuses to plan strategy as well as forming networks
between various locales. At the Homewood campus on JHU, the
Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI) was created in September
2000 to work to preempt potential anti-Israelism. In general,
these newly mobilized groups have learned to influence the mood on
campus by using various tools.
Tools of Activism
Most American universities have some student-controlled media including
an independent college newspaper, radio station, or television
station. These outlets, while affiliated with their university and covering
events that occur on campus, receive no funding from the institution.
Hence, the independent campus media becomes the voice of the student
body, but bears no accountability either to the school or the students
(who usually do not pay a subscription fee). In other words, this media
covers the university but cannot be limited or penalized by it.
The campus media plays other important roles. Prospective students
often look to the university newspaper to gain better understanding
of the institution, and alumni tend to use the campus media to
stay connected. Thus, the campus media acts as a link between many
generations of students.
Like mainstream media outlets, the university media closely covers
the events of the Middle East.1 Campus newspapers, radio, and television
feature news reports, opinion statements, and communications
to the editor. Because the university media both reflects and generates
interest and opinions, campus groups use it as a tool. Hence, this
media's focus on the Middle East, and particularly the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, has fostered campus activism.
At JHU as at other universities, anti-Israeli bias in the media
provoked the founding of a pro-Israeli group. After a series of news
and opinion pieces in the student Newsletter glorifying Palestinian
terrorism and maligning Israel's very existence, and after pro-Israeli
students' attempts to submit articles were repeatedly rebuffed, CHAI
opted for strategic targeting of the Newsletter. Pro-Israeli activists
who were also interested in journalism and foreign policy were encouraged
to apply to be weekly or biweekly columnists for the
publication. This proved effective.2 At the conclusion of CHAI's first
year, a cofounder who had become a columnist for the Newsletter
was named editor of the opinion section, and on his staff were three
columnists also involved in CHAI, ensuring that an article or column
expressing a pro-Israeli view would appear every week.3 Indeed,
by CHAI's third year, members of the group who were active writers
for the Newsletter were elected editor-in-chief and managing editor
of the publication.
Strange bedfellows. Detractors of the Jewish state have also used partnerships
to promote their cause. These strategic partnerships are made
with other political or cultural groups on campus that are considered
more mainstream than the anti-Israeli groups themselves, including
human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, feminist
organizations, groups affiliated with mainstream political parties, and
even some faculty organizations. The anti-Israeli activists exploit
naïveté, using anti-Israeli propaganda to imply points of commonality.
They have thereby made the "Palestinian issue" a focal point of debate
on American campuses, as many groups that are considered protectors
of equality and fairness become mouthpieces for the "Palestinian
An appropriate response to these partnerships is targeted education
campaigns. By holding meetings and events with groups susceptible
to these partnerships, pro-Israeli groups can preempt a united anti-Israeli front.
Some groups have brought Israeli women in leadership
positions to forge a sense of commonality with feminist groups; representatives
of Jewish refugees from Arab countries have helped demonstrate
shared interests with human rights groups.
The antiwar movement. The power of these partnerships became
evident in the wave of antiwar rallies on American campuses during
the run-up to the Iraq War. Many of these rallies (like those in other
settings) combined antiwar statements with anti-Israeli rhetoric, linking
the two stances.4 While relatively inconsequential at JHU, which
had a small antiwar movement, this proved an important means of
spreading the "Palestinian cause."5 At JHU the response was an article
appearing in the Newsletter that identified this phenomenon.
Individual partners: identifying influentials among the students. Partnerships
are not only forged between campus groups but also between
individuals. Since the character of campuses differs significantly, so
does the type of student who becomes influential. At some schools,
leaders of the student government are the influentials; at others, leaders
of the fraternities and sororities play that role; at still others, such as
JHU, leaders of specific groups, such as those who conduct symposia,
or athletes, have the greatest influence.
Relationships with such influentials can greatly affect the atmosphere
on a campus. There are two ways to exercise influence via
campus leaders: to develop good relations with these individuals, and
to encourage members of a pro-Israeli group to become these leaders.
At JHU, both paths were followed. First, CHAI sought to foster ties
in a pro-Israeli context among a number of different campus groups.
Thus, while the leader of an athletic team and the leader of the college
Democrats may not share the floor at many events, they could stand
together at a pro-Israeli gathering. Events were planned that would
further CHAI's pro-Israeli agenda and establish its role as a leading
organization. The first such event was the CHAI Leadership Dinner,
a private affair in which leaders of influential campus groups met with
the local congressman, Benjamin Cardin, the executive assistant to
the president, and the secretary of the Board of Trustees.6
Next, pro-Israeli activists who had an interest in joining other
groups were encouraged to do so and attain positions of responsibility.
By becoming leaders in activities outside those narrowly defined
as pro-Israeli, CHAI members were able to reach a larger audience.
Thus, pro-Israeli messages reached students with no particular interest
in the issue, helping to change the general atmosphere on campus.
This approach also prevents detractors from using campuswide
events as opportunities to attack Israel. CHAI members also took
part in planning and participating in the campus's Milton S. Eisenhower
Symposium and Foreign Affairs Symposium. Whereas, over
the past three years, these symposia had become open to anti-Israeli
and anti-American rhetoric, the CHAI involvement helped make
them more balanced. These events were particularly difficult to influence
because the chair of each year's symposium is selected by the
outgoing chair, with some applicants claiming that the nominations
are based on political inclinations, thus allowing anti-Israeli activists
to maintain these positions of influence (a practice also familiar at
other universities). For 2004-05, however, both symposia are being
led by CHAI activists.
University Jewry: a "natural" home? On most campuses the organized
Jewish community has been supportive of a pro-Israeli agenda,
at least to a limited extent. In these situations, the Jewish community
is a natural home for pro-Israeli activism and offers several advantages.
This more established community can provide assistance, financial and
organizational, with setting up a new group. Moreover, the founders of
a pro-Israeli political group are likely to come from the campus Jewish
community. At JHU, the eventual founders of CHAI met via Rabbi
Joseph Menashe, director of the campus Hillel organization, with
whom each had spoken privately. Leaders of the Hillel community, in
particular, often play this role of helping create a pro-Israeli organization.
Moreover, the established Jewish community had already forged
relationships with other campus groups and with leaders of the university,
such as officials in the President's Office.
Such activism can also help connect nonreligious Jewish students
with the Jewish community at large. Many of the pro-Israeli activists
are not particularly religious, but in this way become more integrated
with the Jewish community.7
Sometimes the Jewish community itself poses a challenge to pro-Israeli activity.
Jewish political views on campus are hardly monolithic,
and at some universities the Jewish student organizations have contributed
to anti-Israeli rhetoric. Jewish students have even been leaders
of anti-Israeli organizations. Although such anti-Israeli activists are
beyond the realm of inclusion, pro-Israeli groups need to attract members
of the pro-Israeli camp with diverse views. Many groups, however,
become too identified with a particular political "solution" to the
conflict and alienate part of the pro-Israeli camp. CHAI has chosen
to support the democratically elected leadership of Israel, and tends
to take a middle-of-the-road political stance.8
Involvement from the ivory tower. A university's tone is set not only
by the student body and their activities but also by professors. Not
surprisingly, schools that are home to outspoken anti-Israeli professors
tend to produce violent anti-Israeli activities among the students,
divestment petitions, and virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric. In the University
of California system in particular, professors have sacrificed the
disinterested search for truth to anti-Israeli indoctrination.9 Intimidation
in classes needs to be fought, and records of all anti-Israeli and
anti-Semitic occurrences should be kept for analysis by activists and
Professors can also offer significant assistance to activist groups.
At JHU, some professors have links to academics in Israel or are
themselves involved in pro-Israeli activity. In some cases, such as the
University of California at Santa Cruz, professors have banded together
to fight the anti-Israeli bias on their campus.10 Professors can
offer perhaps the most crucial assistance by working to ensure that
defamation of Israel is removed from classrooms.
The university itself, as an institution, is critical in setting the tone
on campus. Recently, university presidents have become increasingly
involved in dismissing divestment petitions.11 The change in atmosphere
sometimes results in part from activities unrelated to the conflict
in particular - for example, joint ventures by JHU and the Technion
in Haifa, or the inauguration of the Jewish studies program in JHU's
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Transgenerational activism. Alumni also have an influence on campus,
mainly via philanthropy. Jewish alumni tend to financially support
their alma mater to a disproportionate extent.12 Like alumni associations
in general, Hillel organizations keep records of alumni contact
information. Alumni tend to be interested in campus activities, in the
academic and social experiences of current and future students, and
in the school's reputation. Moreover, as donors to the university they
can demand that certain issues, such as those of intimidation and
academic integrity, are addressed.
Through Hillel, CHAI was able to gain the attention of alumni who
had graduated before the group's inception. CHAI managed to attract
alumni to the community - Jewish and universitywide - who had shown
no previous commitment to the campus or Hillel but were interested in
Israel-related activities on campus. Alumni support can be "positively"
financial - sponsoring a group or funding some of its activities, or
"negatively" financial - withholding donations to the university until it
deals with anti-Israeli rhetoric or activities. Assistance from alumni can
also come via connections and networking. CHAI benefited from meetings
organized by alumni who drew on their own work and community
relationships with other national and local Jewish organizations.
The role of the "off-campus" community. Universities are not isolated,
and the surrounding community influences politics and activities
on campus. Since the upsurge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, community
and national organizations have mobilized in an attempt to
affect national politics, and their target audience includes university
students. Groups such as SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax Assistance to
Israel), Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, and others have targeted
campuses to promote anti-Israeli rhetoric from the outside.
Conversely, certain Jewish and political organizations have created
departments to advance pro-Israeli and antiterror causes on various
campuses. AIPAC, Hillel International, AEPi fraternity, Hagshama,
The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and others
have been at the forefront of providing assistance and advice to student
pro-Israeli activists. It is important that the leaders of these organizations
understand the character of each specific university and tailor
their aid accordingly.
Pro-Israeli activists need to work off-campus as well. Many influentials
in the city or town of the university, in its Jewish and
general community, are quite open and welcoming to college students.
Participation in local groups such as the Jewish Federation
and the Jewish Community Center, and also in non-Jewish clubs and
organizations, can draw attention and assistance to the pro-Israeli
group. Moreover, many community members have some link to the
university as alumni, staff, or faculty and can play a role in affecting
the mood on campus.
For instance, CHAI has developed a close relationship with the
Hillel of Greater Baltimore and, through it, with the Associated Jewish
Community Federation of Baltimore. Such relationships provide
access to influentials in the broader Jewish community. Furthermore,
these relationships have helped make JHU a venue of community pro-Israeli
activities such as concerts and lectures, in addition to university-based
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
The main lesson from CHAI's experience is that it is crucial that
pro-Israeli activism be conducted strategically.
* * *
1. Many university newspapers use Associated Press and Reuters articles as
* * *
2. Personal correspondence, 4 August 2004.
3. It is legitimate for campus groups to have a voice in these media. Indeed, it
is the responsibility of the university media itself to enable such expression.
CHAI members may have been encouraged to write for the Newsletter, but
they obtained positions of responsibility because of their journalistic talent.
4. Brooke Neuman, "Is Anti-War E.ort Anti-Israeli?" The Newsletter (Johns
Hopkins University), 28 February 2003.
5. At many antiwar rallies, crowds chanted: "One, two, three, four, we don't
want your racist war, five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a racist state." Furthermore,
many of the activists donned pins such as "Zionism is Racism" alongside
pins such as "No blood for oil." Ibid.
6. The Gazette (Johns Hopkins University), 11 November 2002.
7. Although two of the original five founders of the organization had attended
a Jewish day school, all but one considered themselves secular-cultural Jews.
All had spent significant amounts of time in Israel, living and studying there.
9. Personal correspondence from Dr. Leila Beckwith, professor of psychology,
University of California at Santa Cruz, 10 July 2004.
11. In an address, Harvard President Lawrence Summers discussed the links
between the divestment movement and the growth of anti-Semitic incidents.
Lawrence Summers, Address at morning prayers, Memorial Church of Harvard
University, 17 September 2002.
12. At Northwestern University, for example, nearly 25 percent of alumni donations
come from Jewish graduates, whereas only 17.5 percent of the undergraduate
student body is Jewish (1997 statistics).
13. The JHU Campus Guide notes that approximately one-third of the students
major in the fields of international relations and political science.
YONIT GOLUB is a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and a
cofounder of the Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI). She is
a master's candidate at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
of Johns Hopkins, and has conducted research at the Jerusalem Center for
Public Affairs. Her essay was written during an internship at the JCPA in 2004.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect
those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The above essay appears in the Fall 2004 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.
Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org/), the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Fall 2004 issue will be available in the coming weeks. This issue focuses on "Emerging Anti-Semitic Themes."
From the Editor - Manfred Gerstenfeld
Foreword by Natan Sharansky
Foundations of an Israeli Grand Strategy Toward the European Union by Yehezkel Dror
Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism by Robert Wistrich
Watching the Pro-Israeli Media Watchers by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Ben Green
Abusing the Legacy of the Holocaust: The Role of NGOs in Exploiting Human Rights to Demonize Israel by Gerald M. Steinberg
International Organizations: Combating Anti-Semitism
in Europe by Michael Whine
Confronting Reality: Anti-Semitism in Australia Today by Jeremy Jones
Anti-Semitism in Canada by Manuel Prutschi
Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies by Susanne Urban
Iceland, the Jews and Anti-Semitism, 1625-2004 by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson
The Persistence of Anti-Semitism on the British Left
by Ben Cohen
Suing Hitler's Willing Business Partners: American Justice
and Holocaust Morality by Michael J. Bazyler
A Case Study: Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.: A Battleground
for Israel's Legitimacy - by Joel Fishman
An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism
Case Study: John Hopkins University by Yonit Golub
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