Over the past year, I have obtained public records that shed light on how the Israel lobby works on US campuses. At UC Berkeley, my alma mater, as well as at UC Hastings School of Law, the documents reveal how the Israel lobby pressures university administrators to interfere with campus activity - both academic and political - that addresses Israel's policies towards and treatment of the Palestinian people.
My requests were made in the shadow of two high-profile backlash campaigns to counter events at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings School of Law. In March 2011, esteemed legal academics and practitioners attended a conference called "Litigating Palestine" at UC Hastings School of Law.
On the eve of the conference, the UC Hastings Board of Directors voted in a closed emergency meeting to withdraw its sponsorship of the event without explanation. Though the conference was permitted to proceed, the Dean of the Law School was asked not to give opening remarks as planned.
A year earlier, a historic decision by UC Berkeley's student government to divest from companies profiting from Israeli human rights violations and war crimes and occupation was overturned in response to similar pressure. Though the bill initially passed with a 16-4 majority, the student body president vetoed it and, after weeks of intense lobbying, the student senate was one vote short of overcoming the veto.
Though the fact of lobby pressure is a matter of common knowledge, it requires demystification. The records I obtained tend to reveal some of the ways in which the lobby actually applies its pressure. They contain valuable lessons for those who wish to defeat it. I draw several hypotheses from these documents.
Foremost among them is the proposition that the lobby's influence stems primarily from the fact that, despite public criticism, it is largely uncontested by organised campaigns. Subject to intense pressure, university administrators often make decisions they do not like because they feel they have no other choice.