Yesh Śmol ba-Ḳampus! The Triumphs and Tribulations of Two Left-Wing Student Union Factions in 1970s Israel
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Yesh Śmol ba-Ḳampus!
The Triumphs and Tribulations of Two Left-Wing Student Union Factions in 1970s Israel

They say that a French student wakes up every morning, takes a bottle of cognac from his closet, drinks, and runs to protest. A British student wakes up in the morning, pulls a bottle of whiskey out of his closet, takes a gulp, and runs to learn. An Israeli student wakes up in the morning, takes a bottle out of his closet, fills it up, and races to grab an appointment with the Ḳupat Ḥolim [medical clinic].1

In February 1970, the above anecdote appeared in “Ḳampus—Daf la-Sṭudenṭ,” the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv’s weekly section dedicated to events and issues relating to the lives of university students. Though the intention of the allegory is to be humorous, it reflects widely held popular perceptions of Israeli university students as politically obedient individuals concerned primarily with integrating into the state establishment and reaping its bureaucratic benefits at a time when their global counterparts were seen as focused on intellectual pursuits and political activism.2 Perhaps because of such views and their staying power, Israeli university students rarely appear in scholarship treating Israeli history, society, and politics, aside from brief and occasional references in work treating developments in Israeli political culture in the 1960s and 1970s.3 Most of these references to students relate either to the small but much-noticed extra-parliamentary movements in which a number were active, such as Matspen and Śiaḥ, or to the way in which Israel’s Student Unions were ineffectual and manipulated by mainstream political parties.4 In the 1970s, however, there were at least two left-wing Student Union factions,5 that, though exclusively based in the traditional institutional framework of Israeli Student Unions, remained completely independent of association with outside political parties and evoked the “spirit of ’68” in their ideological and practical approaches.6 One of these groups was Yesh, a group founded in Haifa in 1971 whose name means “to have” or “there is” in Hebrew.7 The other was Ḳampus, an acronym for Ḳvutsot la-Me’uravut Poliṭit ṿe-Ḥevratit Sṭudenṭialit (Groups for Social and Political Student Involvement), which was founded in Jerusalem in 1974.

Yesh and Ḳampus, both of which attracted Jewish and Arab students as members, were not the only left-wing or “bi-national” organizations that functioned [End Page 33] on Israeli campuses in this period nor were they the only independent groups to vie for the leadership of Israeli Student Unions at this time.8 Yesh and Ḳampus stand out, however, for the support they gained in the course of their activities, which very well may have been numerically greater than that of some contemporaneous independent left-wing movements that operated primarily outside of traditional institutional venues.9 It should be noted, however, that this consideration is based on a comparison of the number of student voters who supported Yesh or Ḳampus with inexact estimates of those who belonged to the Israeli left-wing activist groups Śiaḥ and Matspen. Though the former indeed appears to be considerably larger than the latter, it is not inconceivable that the majority of “members” of Matspen and Śiaḥ were more active than most of those students who showed up to vote for Ḳampus or Yesh. This ambiguity reflects a seemingly unavoidable challenge that comes with researching groups whose membership records are no longer available, if they ever existed. Regardless, there is no doubt that when compared to contemporaneous far left-wing parliamentary factions in Israel, Yesh and Ḳampus both represented a broader ideological spectrum and proportionally achieved greater electoral success.10 Despite this, Yesh and Ḳampus seldom appear in scholarly work covering the history of protest activities, political culture, or peace advocacy in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s or in other periods.11 The general absence of Yesh and Ḳampus from the academic literature, I argue, is rooted in the fact that their activities were based within Israel’s Student Unions, organizational frameworks that have been noted for the limited parameters of their members’ political activism, and their leaders’ co-optation by...


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