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.