The Millennials are also the most activist generation of college students since the Boomers who marched on behalf of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. "From Darfur to campus janitors," says Wayne Firestone, the incoming national president of Hillel, "this generation of Jewish students is showing a greater concern for what's happening to the other" -- organizing rallies to bring world attention to the atrocities in Darfur and demonstrating solidarity with campus maintenance workers seeking better compensation packages. Some 1,000 Jewish students joined this past year's Hillel-sponsored relief missions to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, where they cleared debris and repaired roofs. "Many of these students feel passionate about being Jewish but aren't necessarily religious," says Cindy Greenberg, director of NYU's Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. "[Jewish-led social action] allows them to express themselves Jewishly in ways they can feel really proud of."

 

The Middle East Conflict - New Issues, New Solutions

At the onset of the second intifada in 2000, a war of words mirroring the Arab-Israeli conflict engulfed many American college campuses. Pro-Palestinian groups hosted conferences denouncing Zionism, aggressively campaigned in favor of Israel divestment, and staged demonstrations - in some cases erecting replicas of Israel's security barrier, which they referred to as "The Apartheid Wall."

It wasn't the first time that the Middle East conflict had made its way to campus. After Israel's Six-Day War victory in 1967, many campus radicals who opposed the Vietnam War embraced the Palestinian cause. This created a quandary for some left-leaning Jewish students, says Professor Sarna. In some circles, being "a good liberal meant opposing Israel, because Israel was thought to be imperialist."

The Middle East conflict a generation later has, however, been markedly different. Then, Israel's occupation and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza was being debated. Today, the issue is Israel's very right to exist as a Jewish state. "It has not been a matter of discussing policy," Professor Sarna says, "[but] about analogizing Israel to South Africa, to an apartheid state that must be dismantled."

Israel's defenders have responded by launching an educational and cultural counteroffensive. Partnering with several private Jewish foundations, Hillel has trained student volunteers to become pro-Israel advocates and, joining forces with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, established the Israel on Campus Coalition. Today, the ICC encompasses twenty-seven diverse American Jewish organizations -- from the Anti-Defamation League to the Jewish National Fund -- all of which advocate for Israel through joint sponsorship of pro-Israel campus programming. The result is a less defensive and more mature Israel advocacy on campus -- and, overall, it seems to be paying off, bolstering student support for the Jewish state, one event at a time.

Israel campus advocacy has also become more progressive. In the past, Jewish students who loved the Jewish state but were critical of specific Israeli policies could seek solidarity with the centrist and somewhat hawkish campus-based Israeli public affairs committees. Today, at twenty North American campuses they have the option of joining the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ), united under the banner "Student Activists for Peace in Israel/Palestine." The UPZ's "2006 Peace Accords Campaign" calls on Jewish and Muslim student leaders to develop a framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Groups of Jewish and Muslim students are in the process of drafting accords to be presented at the annual UPZ conference this November.