Survey Finds Students Do Not Support Academic Boycotts of Israel

Student support limited despite student government BDS resolutions

Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall calling to boycott Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements

Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall calling to boycott Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements / Getty Images

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A survey found the majority of students at four American universities do not support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel, despite the student government at one of the schools studied passing a BDS resolution this semester.

Non-Jewish and Jewish students alike at Brandeis University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor were overwhelmingly against a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and scholars, according to a study released this month by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis.

Brandeis was the only school where over 10 percent of non-Jewish students expressed any support for an academic boycott of Israel, or less than 70 percent of their Jewish peers said they "strongly disagree" with boycotts, according to the report.

At the time the surveys were conducted, during the 2015 to 2017 academic years, none of the four institutions had seen a BDS vote and student support for such a motion "appeared limited."

Michigan-Ann Arbor last month passed its first ever anti-Israel resolution in a blind vote by the student government. The process has been criticized as non-transparent, and supporters of the motion—which was rejected by the university and the regents—were caught making disparaging comments about Jews.

Leonard Saxe, director of both Steinhardt and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, who co-wrote the study, said he believes the report's results hold true even after that vote.

"Despite a small number of people in student government being able to manipulate the situation to get a yes vote, it doesn't mean all or even majority or academics or of students are in favor," he said.

He added that he thought the question, which asked only about one specific form of BDS—academic boycott—would have been understood "broadly enough" by students to make it possible for searchers to extrapolate a conclusion about BDS feeling at those schools writ large.

"This study puts it into perspective: BDS is not a major problem," said Saxe. "BDS doesn't represent the views of a large proportion of people, and certainly not of Jews."

Max Samarov, executive director of research and campus strategy at Israel education non-profit StandWithUs, said, "The phrasing of the question certainly made the chances of finding many who would support it [BDS] lower. Academic boycotts, specifically, are wildly unpopular."

Samarov added that the he did not believe responses favorable to a general BDS move would be "substantially higher," but that a bump would be expected.

Saxe said a BDS vote could "mobilize apathetic students to learn and care about Israel."

Saxe said his team intends to release deep dive reports on other schools by the end of the academic year.

Rachel Frommer

Rachel Frommer   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Rachel Frommer is a staff writer with the Washington Free Beacon reporting on campus issues, including anti-free speech and anti-Israel activity. Prior to the Free Beacon, she was the senior campus correspondent at The Algemeiner. Her work has been picked up by Fox News, Newsweek, and the New York Post. She graduated from Touro College in 2016 with a BA in English literature. Her Twitter handle is @Rachel_Frommer, and her email address is frommer@freebeacon.com.

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