The 80-20 Rule and Israel Activism on Campus

by Tzvi Raviv

About one hundred years ago, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto realized that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population. Now known as Pareto’s principle, this concept is universal in nature. For example, in a supermarket, roughly 20% of customers will generate 80% of the income. Building on this principle, is it possible that 20% of the campuses in North America inspire 80% of anti-Israel activity?

If we look at patterns of anti-Israel activism, the same campuses appear over and over again. Two campuses from California, two campuses from the northeast area, and two Canadian schools. The pro-Israel network tries to respond to all the anti-Israel activities across the continent, but in reality, only a handful of schools actually serve as hubs for anti-Israel activism, while the rest of the schools simply follow their lead. Therefore, 10% of the schools inspire 90% of the anti-Israel activity. While nodes of the anti-Israel network are not actively innovating and spearheading anti-Israel initiatives, the hubs of the network are generating initiatives that are subsequently used by the 90%.

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is an example of one major campus-hub for anti-Israel activity. For many years, anti-Israel activists at UCI were innovators and pioneers in the delegitimization network. They were amongst the first campus activists to use the apartheid and holocaust analogies. Their tactics quickly spread to other campuses. Noteworthy was their systematic disruptions of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during his visit to UCI in February 2010. Thousands of anti-Israel campus activists around the world rallied together in Facebook groups in solidarity with the UCI activists, many declaring that they would replicate the same strategy on their campus if any Israeli were ever to visit.

What does this mean for the pro-Israel network? We have a limited pool of resources to combat anti-Israel activities on North American campuses. These resources tend to be disbursed in a fairly equal way throughout approximately fifty campuses. In this equal resource allocation system, the pro-Israel activists on hub campuses get equal resources and attention as pro-Israel activists on other, less influential campuses. As a community, we can learn from Pareto. If we want to undermine and paralyze the anti-Israel network, we must focus our resources disproportionately on the campus-hubs for anti-Israel activity.

Rutgers Hillel adopted an on-campus Israel activism approach that takes into account Pareto’s principle. Over the years, Rutgers has become a hotbed for anti-Israel activity. At the same time, an estimated ½ of New Jersey’s Jewish student population attends Rutgers University. The influence of anti-Israel programs coupled with the centrality of Rutgers University makes Rutgers Hillel a natural place for the pro-Israel community to invest. This summer, Rutgers Hillel launched a Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE), their newest initiative to promote Israel on campus. Currently, Rutgers Hillel is the only Hillel in the county with two full time staff members devoted exclusively to promoting Israel on campus. The establishment of RHCIE required a disproportionate allocation of resources, and was done so with Pareto’s principle in mind. If pro-Israel activists at Rutgers can neutralize degelegitimization activity on their campus, it will have a rippling effect.

Theoretically, for every dollar invested in combating delegitimization on hub campuses, we will get a significantly higher return on investment than we would investing that dollar on a non-hub campus. Does this mean we should neglect non-hub campuses? Absolutely not. But the time has certainly come to reassess strategically where our money will be best spent.

Tzvi Raviv is the Director of Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement.

Print Friendly
Pin It
Send to Kindle


  1. says

    Another 80-20 rule is that at least 80% of the campus students are not passionate one way or the other in the Arab-Israeli conflict and only 20% of the students have strong feelings. Often it is a battle between the few really anti-Israel students (less than 10%) and the pro-Israel students (also less than 10%) for the minds of the 80% of the students in the middle. Sometimes it falls out Muslims arguing with Jews over Israel’s human rights record while both of them are trying to get the American Christians to agree with their point of view. In order for the pro-Israel camp to win it needs to go on the offensive and pick topics which would gain attention on campus. Honor Killings and Female Circumcisions as well as Christian Flight from many Arab countries which have become more fundamentalists- are three topics which pro-Israel students need to keep their campus’ attention focused on. See the full article for this approach at the following link How to Win the Campus War

  2. says

    Insightful article by two expert activists who have been on the front lines of campus activism for some time. LIke at Rutgers, the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, which Isaac manages, has put tremendous resources into combatting delegitimization at UCI and to enhancing Jewish life on campus, with very positive results. We will reap the benefits if we continue to invest in developing pro-Israel leaders on campus and promoting vibrant Jewish life for our students.

  3. says

    I utterly reject the premise that advocating for peace, justice and human rights for Palestinians is “anti-Israel”. That’s a foolish and self-defeating claim. It will persuade no one but the already-persuaded.

    To succeed at your goal, you must hold a clear distinction between those who oppose Israeli actions and policies and those who are “anti-Israel”.

    The way to change what you characterize as “anti-Israel” activism on campus is to change Israel so that it no longer is committing the vast human rights abuses that it does. No amount of hasbara can negate the facts. No amount of money poured into campus organizing is going to make intelligent young Jews unknow what they already know.

  4. avram says

    I would be curious to hear from the authors the answers to the following:

    Does deligitimation have a working definition?

    How do you address progressives, Jews and non Jews, who have thoughtful concerns about Israeli policies? What shareable resources do you use in doing so? can you give a sample of your reading list,

    Israeli universities have a much more nuanced understanding of Zionist history without betraying the legitimacy of actions over the past century. (see Benny Morris “1948”). Working in an academic environment, what history do you espouse? How are your efforts received among faculty?

    One of the above commentators believes that the best defense is a good and dirty offense -demonize all things Arab? Would you ever take such an approach?

    thanks in advance for a reply.

  5. says

    Mivasair: nobody said that defending the rights of Palestinians is antithetical to being pro-Israel. I suppose it would be were Israel committing regular human rights violations, but it isn’t. Claims of Israeli oppression agains the Palestinians are either unsubstantiated or thoroughly debunked. Israel has treated the Palestinians with substantially more kindness and decency than any other nation. So no major change for Israel is necessary to cause people to be more pro-Israel: preconceived opinions about Israel are largely set in stone, and the facts support a pro-Israel stance, thus all is needed is increased activism and education.

  6. Isaac says

    Avram, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think you raise a lot of important questions. There is robust discussion within the Jewish community on how to define anti-Israel and delegitimization. There is such a wide array of opinions that I might even venture to say it is possible Tzvi and I even adhere to different definitions. Personally, I define delegitimization as active, ideological undermining of the right of Jewish people to self determination within their ancestral homeland. With this definition in mind, it is possible to be highly critical of Israeli policies, and even in direct opposition to the vast majority of Israeli government policies, but still not be classified as being part of the anti-Israel camp. In this same light, it is possible to be pro-Palestine (support the establishment of a Palestinian state) without being anti-Israel. In fact, the vast majority of Israelis would be pro-Palestine within the context of a comprehensive, final status agreement.

    Regarding Zionist history, I think it is important to always take into consideration various sources. The State of Israel is not perfect, and some (especially in the diaspora) have a hard time accepting that. So when confronted with non-traditional history, some have a hard time digesting. I have an appreciation for the academic approach; I find value in reading various sources, and thinking critically about each one.

    As far as demonizing Arabs, I have a tough time understanding how that can benefit the Israel. The reality is, a near majority of Israeli JEWS have lineage that immigrated from Arab countries. Some might argue that between Israelis of Arab-Jewish background (Mizrahim), and Israelis of Arab-Muslim and Christian background, Israel is actually an Arab-majority state. In order for us to effectively advocate for the Israeli people, we must follow their lead and break out of the zero-sum mentality. This means it is no longer we win in full or they win in full. It is possible that a win for the Palestinians can come alongside a win for Israel and vice versa.

    Hope that answers your question Avram, and I’m certainly curious to hear your thoughts.

  7. Avram says

    Isaac, thanks for your most thoughtful reply. There is wisdom, truth and courage in what you say and to take issue with the nuance of a given phrase or sentence would be ego driven quibbling on my part.
    I use the word courage because outside of the campus world your important work is perceived and justified as a winner take all war by other means and not being the proud Jewish and Zionist voice in that informed conversation leading toward resolution of conflict without denying either side the integrity of their dreams and aspirations.
    Kol Hakavod and shabbat shalom.

  8. Avram says

    Thanks for your honest and courageous answer. It is gratifying to know that your work on campus differs from the take no enemies approach at least my federation thinks they are funding.
    Kol Hakavod and shabbat shalom!

  9. Abraham Ben-Zeev says

    It is impossible for me to imagine that REAL peace will ever come to that region of the world. (just look at the history… since record keeping began) An uneasy peace, (like Israel has with Jordan and Egypt), is probably the best we can hope for at least in our life time. The best that we can achieve, in in my opinion, is that Israel remains strong militarily… and that as many Jews as possible provide political and financial support to this jewel of the middle east.
    I can understand that naive young university students use Israel as a scape goat to channel their fears and uncertainties of entering adulthood. Israel is such an easy and visible target as it takes up far more TV and other news time than it’s size would dictate. I think that ultimately these campus activities have little or no political value in any real sense.

    In many ways throughout history, Jews were always a political thorn and often a scape goat and in spite it all we have survived against insurmountable odds… no other people can claim that achievement. I don’t think that Rutgers or UCI or any other university campus propaganda poses any real threat to Israel’s security. It does however provide a livelihood to many people in the news media. As we all know… disturbing news sells better then good news.

    Helped by the collective Jewish psyche, …perhaps… I hope… we have a higher power on our side. “Am Israel Chai vekayam la netzach”