After 20 years of activism across the country, anti-Israel groups appear to be one step closer to achieving their stated goal of forcing universities to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel.

All across the country, schools are capitulating to the demands of protesters waving flags of Hamas and Hezbollah. The protests have been led by students and professional activists in many parts of the country, and in a first, at the New School, the protests aren’t just faculty-supported, but faculty-led.

In a shameful surrender to demonstrations that violated several university policies, Brown and Northwestern agreed to hold formal votes to divest from companies doing business in Israel. Harvard and Rutgers also capitulated to pro-Hamas protesters and agreed to put divestment from Israel onto the negotiating table. Even if the efforts at these schools prove to be successful, this is a far cry from the 155 universities that formally cut ties with South Africa in the 1980s as a protest to the country’s record on apartheid.

Until now, the debate over BDS has largely been isolated to the halls of student government. Despite 50 campuses passing resolutions encouraging their college administration to cut ties with Israel over the past two decades, not a single university has formally done so. Instead, many of America’s elite universities have doubled down on their relationship with the Jewish state. The number of study abroad programs to Israel increased during the same time period. Columbia University, the epicenter of today’s battle, introduced a dual degree program with Tel Aviv University in 2019, where students split their time between the two universities.

Despite their record of failure thus far, why are anti-Israel groups continuing to push for BDS against Israel? The answer is their intention isn’t just to discontinue what are often meager contributions by their university to Israeli companies, it is to make campus inhospitable to Jewish life.

Friends of the Jewish state must internalize this to understand their true intentions and, ultimately, to devise a plan to fight back.

Extremist activists want to force all Jewish students to make a choice: you can choose to be accepted on campus and accepted in society. Or you can choose to be a proud Zionist Jew. But you cannot choose both.

How do advocates for the Jewish state begin to fight back when anti-Israel groups orchestrate social pressure campaigns, both on campus and on social media, to confront Jewish students with this dangerous and false binary option?

The answer lies in directly combatting the goal of the anti-Israel mob. If they want to demoralize and dehumanize Jewish students, we must ensure they have pride and confidence in their Jewish identity. This includes investing in identity-forming experiences, whether that means travel to Israel, meaningful encounters with Israeli peers, spending a summer interning at an Israeli company, or volunteering in the Jewish state alongside Israelis.

Numerous studies over the past two decades have proven that peer-based travel to Israel is transformative in shaping Jewish identity, forging stronger connections, and increasing confidence in Jewish young adults. According to a recent study by the Cohen Center at Brandeis University, less than a third of Birthright Israel participants felt “very much” connected to Israel prior to their trip to Israel. That number doubled after their 10-day educational experience.

The feeling of connection led to dramatic rates of pro-Israel activism, especially after Oct. 7. The rate of overall involvement in pro-Israel activity more than doubled after their Birthright Israel experience last summer, with those involved in Israel activism three times or more increasing by fourfold.

Over the past few weeks, I have been inspired by the countless number of Jewish students who have courageously stood up to the anti-Israel mobs on their campuses. These students demonstrated resilience in the face of hatred. They did not back down, and they demonstrated that Jewish students will not be intimidated.

The campus debate over Israel is no longer contained to the halls of student government, and it’s never been about divestment. The stakes are much higher now. We must combat this head-on by fueling pride and confidence and fortifying resilience in our Jewish students. We did not choose this battle, but if we do this right, our future leaders will be stronger and better prepared for the battles ahead.