Building Relationships on Campus: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Groups

Non-Jewish ethnic and religious groups often know the least about Israel and the history of the Jewish people and thus are often easy targets for the BDS Movement. Jewish student leaders need to reach out to these groups and forge friendships by working on common causes and public service projects; we also need to support their causes whenever possible if we expect them to be there for us.

Building relations through events and dialogue

Typically, it will be easier for Hillel professionals and/or Jewish student leaders to engage the leaders of other groups to build coalitions since both parties are  interested in a relationship that will make them stronger. Individuals can also engage their peers, of course, and may be able to introduce friends and acquaintances to the Jewish student community.  As in other coalition building, politics may not be the basis for the relationship. Ties can be developed based on mutual interests in social justice or culture and information about Israel may be introduced  in an evolutionary manner.

Most, if not all, religious and ethnic groups are potential allies. These are just a few examples:

The Hispanic community: This is a diverse community that has a range of views based in part on their country of origin.  Students with backgrounds from South American, Central Americans Cuban, and Mexico may each have their own organization and/or perspective. One  important issue  for most of these groups is immigration, which, historically, has also been a concern of  Jews. As a group that is often held out as an example of the successful integration into American society, Jews  also understand the often difficult road to social acceptance.  Students may have experiences to share. Israel also has not been an important issue in the Hispanic community, so building relationships with Hispanic students may be an opportunity to convey information about Israel’s history as  a nation of immigrants as well as its historical narrative.

The African-American Community: Jews and African-Americans have a long history of working together to ensure civil rights. Today, there remains a strong shared interest in fighting intolerance whether it is in the form of racism or anti-Semitism. Still, relations have sometimes been strained over Israeli policies as well as domestic issues such as affirmative action. On some campuses, African American organizations are more politicized and sometimes hostile toward Israel. These do not typically represent the average student so, even on campuses where an association may be unfriendly, it may still be possible to find allies among the broader student body.

Model of success: An African American Student group took out ads in college newspapers around the country blasting “Israel Apartheid week” organizers for abusing the term.

Christians: Many denominations have longstanding ties to the Jewish community and Israel. Today, there is an especially strong evangelical Christian interest in supporting Israel. Christians United for Israel (CUFI) was established to represent many of these Christians and can be an ally on campus. On the other hand, some mainline church groups have been less friendly toward Israel so it is important to be familiar with the political and religious ideologies of different Christian groups. One group, in particular, to beware of is Sabeel, an Arab Christian nongovernmental organization based in Jerusalem. The group is an outspoken critic of Israel, one of the main coordinators for anti-Israeli advocacy among U.S. churches, and a leading proponent of divestment from Israel. Sabeel supports a “one state solution, two nations and three religions,” meaning that it advocates the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state.

Muslims: Historically, organizations representing Arab and Muslim students have been the most vocal detractors of Israel on campus. This is not universally the case, however, and, often depending on the leadership, it may be possible to find groups that are amenable to dialogue and with whom common ground can be found. If this is not the case, individual students may still be receptive to a respectful dialogue and may be willing to work on projects of mutual interest.

Always be on the lookout for other common causes or interests, as groups and individuals will likely return favors. Of course, social justice causes are always a great way to connect with any other religious or ethnic group, as making friends is as important as spreading our narrative.
Don’t be afraid to spearhead your own social justice cause and invite a broad coalition of students and organizations to join.

Resources

African American Preacher Tells the Truth About Israel [YouTube]

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