TEL AVIV – The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is not as big a problem as people think and is only present on certain campuses in the U.S., according to professors Theodore Sasson and Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the two professors challenged certain misconceptions about American Jews’ view of Israel during a debate at the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee.
“BDS is only a problem on certain campuses and on these campuses Jewish students perceive substantial hostility toward Israel,” Saxe said.
“What is interesting is that there are certain campuses where there is very little anti-Israel sentiment,” he added.
Brandeis University, where Saxe and Sasson are professors, is one of them. But even at Brandeis, a Jewish university, Israel is still “the most difficult issue for students to discuss, more difficult than sexual assault and serious problems,” Saxe said.
“There is a huge difference between hostile and least hostile campuses, and at the same time, the level of hostility doesn’t seem to affect the level that people feel connected to Israel,” he continued. “It has even been suggested that in the most hostile campuses it is causing the opposite effect, encouraging people to visit Israel to see for themselves.”
The professors also presented data that contradicts the widespread notion that American Jewry is shrinking.
“What we now know is that it is increasing, both among people who view themselves as Jewish and among people who have Jewish roots,” Saxe said.
In the last 26 years, those who identify themselves as American Jews has grown from 5.5 million in 1990 to more than 7.2 million.
However, Prof. Sergio Della Pergola from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem contests those figures with the claim that today there are only 5.7 million Jews in the U.S.
Saxe says the discrepancy may be due to the fact that people who are only “partly Jewish” are counted, something Saxe calls “a policy mistake.”
The Brandeis professors also found that today’s generation born to interfaith couples are much more likely to be bar mitzvahed or receive some kind of Jewish education.
“The central theme is that the gap is narrowing between millennials of intermarriage and in-marriage, but the gap can be further narrowed by significant college experiences with Jewish organizations,” Sasson said.
In addition, connection to Jewish organizations like Chabad and Birthright greatly impacts young people’s connection to both Judaism and Israel.
The professors showed that interaction with organizations such as Hillel and Chabad, and visiting Israel on Birthright trips significantly increases Jews’ emotional connection to Israel.
The professors lamented the fact that Jewish students who considered themselves “liberal” did not have a connection with Israel for the most part.
“This pattern was not evident in 2000. Then, there was no link between politics and an emotional connection to Israel; this is something new that we are seeing,” Sasson said.
“With BDS and anti-Semitism on campus persuading Jews not to come to Israel, this can represent a problem. There are causes for concern when looking forward.”