Student activists at the University of Michigan (UM) made school history this past November after successfully lobbying the student government to pass an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) resolution. The first of its kind at UM, the resolution urged the university to divest from three Israeli companies, and was passed 23-17.
If the UM student government truly represented the student population, then this resolution would reflect widespread anti-Israel sentiment among students. Indeed, this is a concern for many Jewish and pro-Israel parents, who worry that American universities are slowly turning into hostile climates for their kids. But a new study cast doubt on this — finding that support for BDS at UM is, in fact, “virtually nonexistent.”
In a study of 3,000 students at UM, researchers found that only about 7 percent of non-Jewish students “somewhat” or “strongly” support a boycott of Israel. Among Jewish students in particular, that number was even lower: only about 2 percent of them say they would support a boycott of Israel. That leads us to an interesting question: how did the BDS resolution at UM pass if most students didn’t agree?
Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis University professor who co-authored the survey, told PJ Media in an interview that campus BDS victories are rarely reflective of the general student body. Instead, citing the successful BDS resolution at UM, Saxe explained that this is what happens when a “handful” of student activists successfully seize political power.
“What’s clear is that the UM resolution does not represent the views of most students on campus, but a small minority of students,” Sax told PJ Media, explaining that this is “what happens when a small group of people try to hold the political process of student government, but it doesn’t represent the views of most students.”
This paradox has played out at numerous college campuses in the last two years. Even as the BDS movement claims victories at an increasing number of colleges, student support for the movement remains low. At the three other colleges that Saxe and his team surveyed — Harvard University, Brandeis University, and the University of Pennsylvania — support for the BDS movement was in the single digits, Saxe told PJ Media.
Outside of small groups of particularly energetic activists, most students aren’t especially concerned with politics, Saxe also found. “I was a little surprised at how political issues are not the central issues,” he said.
“For the students we studied, political issues were always secondary to their own personal issues and concerns, anxiety, depression, concerns about whether they’re making it or not, and concerns about the cost of higher education,” said Saxe.
The study also found that a plurality of Jewish students report hearing anti-Israel remarks on campus, mostly from other students. More than 70 percent of UM students reported hearing anti-Israel remarks, which Saxe told PJ Media could involve comments like “Israelis are like Nazis” or “Jews behave like Nazis toward Palestinians.”
The study, published by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute (SSRI) at Brandeis University, drew on survey data gathered from nearly 12,000 college students. The SSI was established in 2005 and aims to develop “reliable and valid quantitative data about the American Jewish community.” The full study can be read here.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen