A Progressive Zionist's Guide to Campus Activism

Concrete steps an activist can take to draw like-minded individuals into pro-Israel, pro-Peace activism, while simultaneously providing a strong, credible voice on campus.


Progressive Zionists on campus face a unique set of challenges. On one hand, these individuals are criticized by those on their left opposed to Israel's fundamental right to exist. These same students draw ire from many of their Jewish peers arguing that Israel is unequivocally correct under all circumstances. This predicament predictably leaves many progressive, pro-Israel students confused, disillusioned and jaded. Many disengage from the issue, others from the campus Jewish community entirely.

Fortunately, some students do remain engaged in the issue. Those remaining active on the issue often feel they are fighting a lonely battle. While sometimes it seems that they are the only ones pursuing a pro-Israel, pro-peace position, there often remains a solid silent bloc of both Jewish and non-Jewish students supportive of such a message.

Some students contend that it is incredibly difficult to reach out and court these students into advocacy. There are, however, some concrete steps an activist can take to draw like-minded individuals back into the fray, while simultaneously providing a strong, credible voice on campus for the pro-Israel, pro-peace viewpoint.

Part 1: Being an individual pro-Israel, pro-Peace voice on campus

One way to make a difference is to be a recognizable pro-peace voice on campus. There are several effective ways to accomplish this:

Idea 1: Write op/ed articles or letters to the editor of your school newspaper

As a polarizing issue on many college campuses, debate surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can occupy much space on the opinion page of a campus newspaper. Most of these columns represent the two political extremes. Many campus editors will welcome a nuanced, well-written op/ed from time to time. Try to keep these submissions between 500 and 650 words. Keeping the length down will increase the chance of it running in the newspaper.

Letters to the editor are also an important way to get a point across in writing. Most campus opinions editors prefer not to allow full length op/eds responses. Short, concise letters will increase your credibility as a resource in the campus debate.

When looking for possible writing topics, reference the APN website at www.peacenow.org for issue briefs and other resources.

Idea 2: Reach out to campus Jewish leaders

The job of Hillel professionals, as well as the main responsibility of Jewish student leaders on campus, is to ensure that all aspects of the campus Jewish community are being served. Seek out the Hillel director and Jewish student group president and try to get communal support for pro-peace activities.

Idea 3: Reach out to campus Arab/Muslim leaders

Reaching out to the Arab/Muslim population on campus serves a dual role. On one hand, doing so increases the likelihood of encountering moderate members of their community. On the other hand, doing so can begin to create the kind of trust necessary in moving forward in a constructive manner on campus.

Idea 4: Reach out to professors in related fields

Sometimes faculty in related fields - such as Middle East studies, religion and Judaic studies - have a special interest in the peace movement or know others who do. Connecting with them early on can help ensure success in luring good speakers to campus, or having them agree to speak at an event themselves.

Part 2: Holding events, building a mailing list

Holding events is an effective way to engage individuals on campus. Events also facilitate the creation of a mailing list that will help spread the word about future events and opportunities. After spending time cultivating relationships both with the campus Jewish community - as well as the campus Arab/Muslim community - getting the word out about an event and ensuring a good turnout becomes much easier. Certain types of events are easier to put on than others.

Idea 1: Screen a Documentary

There are several documentaries that could be a draw on campus. "Straddling the Fence" by Thomas L. Friedman or Frontline's "Shattered Dreams" are potential choices.

Idea 2: Utilize a professor

Between talking with Hillel professionals and meeting with some professors, it should be easy to identify one or two professors willing to speak at an evening event.

Idea 3: Call APN

Call Noam Shelef, APN's Grassroots Coordinator at 202-728-1893 to see if there are any individuals in the local area willing to speak at on campus.

Idea 4: Local resources

Individual Hillels have tremendous reach into their respective communities. A Hillel director might be able to reach out to influential individuals in the community and draw them into coming to speak on campus.

Part 3: Tabling on campus

Tabling is another activity that can help spread the word on campus. Tabling sometimes can be effective in increasing attendance at future events.

Idea 1: Seek literature from advocacy organizations

Contact groups like APN and request literature be sent to your campus.

Idea 2: Seek literature from participatory organizations

Some students are looking for something to do during the summer or after they graduate. Approach groups such as APN, Interns for Peace and Seeds of Peace who offer internship and volunteer opportunities, to inquire whether they would be interested in your handing out their literature on campus.

Part 4: Hosting big events

On some campuses, holding high profile events will yield a large turnout, on others turnout could prove disappointing. Planning and executing a high profile event requires a lot of planning and work. It is best to try no more than one such event each semester.

Idea 1: Contact APN or other major organizations

APN, along with many other pro-peace organizations, often schedule speaking tours with high profile speakers. Contact them early in the year so that even if there is not a tour currently scheduled, they will be in contact when one does get scheduled.

Idea 2: Start looking for funding

Most tours come at a serious expense to the organization hosting them. As a result, a higher priority is placed on events the organization itself wants to do with the speakers. Offering to allay some of the costs for the host organization will bring you to the top of the list in terms of programming. A good place to start is at Hillel, where the staff may know of funding opportunities. Also consider approaching the university president and the student government. Both may have funds earmarked for event sponsorships and might be willing to support an event of this kind. You may also want to search for other grants to apply for.

Idea 3: Work out logistics

Putting together a high-profile event introduces a whole new set of logistical concerns. Book a room early; rooms accommodating large groups are often get booked way in advance. After booking the room, determine what kind of set up is needed and provide it to the university two weeks in advance of the event.

Idea 4: Aggressive publicity

To maximize turnout, look for new ways to generate publicity for the event. Contact your student newspaper to place an ad; they often have student group discounts. Seek out different campus groups that might be interested in co-sponsoring the event. Doing so will broaden your reach in drawing students to the event.


Part 5: Dialogue Groups

While incredibly worthwhile when successful, dialogue groups are among the hardest projects to pull off on campus. Both intra-Jewish and inter-faith dialogues provide a unique set of challenges. The most important challenge to overcome in both instances is trust. If relationships haven't been formed that could help facilitate the dialogue, it will probably have a hard time succeeding.

Idea 1: Intra-Jewish dialogue

Start small; identify several individuals from a variety of different political viewpoints on the Middle East conflict and ask them to participate. Consider recruiting a Hillel professional or other experienced individual to facilitate the dialogue. After setting up a group there are a few different directions it could potentially take. One is to have a set topic to discuss at each session. Another approach is to have a free-flowing conversation.

Idea 2: Jewish-Muslim/Jewish-Arab dialogue

Jewish-Arab/Muslim dialogue groups are an ambitious venture. Consider starting by reaching out to members of the Arab/Muslim community. If they seem amicable to such a venture, proceed slowly. Develop a mutual set of guidelines and begin meeting in a small group. If this succeeds try to expand its reach and goals.

For more information please contact APN Grassroots Coordinator Noam Shelef at 202/728-1893, or email at nsapn@earthlink.net