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Tips for fighting campus anti-Israel activity

Local groups combine to give advice for college students and parents

 
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At “Fight Back,” Jake Binstein, a graduating senior at Rutgers University, Jake Haber, a BCHSJS alumnus and freshman at the University of Michigan, and Laura Adkins, an NYU sophomore, talked about anti-Israel campaigns they have encountered on their own campuses.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you know that anti-Israel sentiment and activity on college campuses is growing. Many of these hate-based initiatives pass the “3D” anti-Semitism litmus test developed by Nathan Sharansky and adopted by the U.S. State Department. They are the new face of anti-Semitism our teens must be prepared to counter as they head off to college.

For example, mock eviction notices were slipped under some colleges’ dorm room doors by pro-Palestinian groups who say that forced evictions are part of Israel’s “apartheid policies” ... to “cleanse the region of its Arab population.” Lie-filled Israeli Apartheid Week campaigns have become annual campus events. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is trying to gain a foothold on campus as well, led by student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine as well as by pro-Palestinian community groups and even some high profile anti-Zionist Jews like Max Blumenthal.

At the University of Michigan, this anti-Israel coalition forced the Student Council to vote on a resolution calling for the University to divest from companies that invest or operate businesses in Israel, staging sit-ins and threatening council members to influence their vote — albeit unsuccessfully.

This week, the University of California schools were the focus of controversy, when anti-Israel groups at UCLA tried to get student council candidates to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t go on trips to Israel sponsored by certain Jewish organizations. And closer to home, the right-wing Anti-Zionist “Never Again for Anyone” tour made a stop at Rutgers University to link atrocities committed at Auschwitz to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

Perhaps more insidious are cases where visiting “scholars,” community leaders, and even university professors use their lecterns to espouse anti-Israel propaganda, spinning it to look like academic research.

Unfortunately, Jewish students are not always sure how to respond to anti-Israel foment on campus, or even if they should respond, and many times they feel unequipped to speak up against the tide of hate they encounter.

Last week, the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies hosted an evening program for parents and college-bound teens in the community. The evening was a follow-up to the school’s yearly “Stand Up with Israel” schoolwide program. Co-sponsored by ZOA, StandWithUs, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, the program was designed to bring awareness of these troubling campus events to a wider audience, and to teach parents and students how they can respond. More than one hundred people — teens and adults — attended.

Below are the eight scenarios StandWithUs presented to the students, along with some specific advice on how to fight back:

• Encountering problems with a professor espousing anti-Israel propaganda is especially difficult because challenging a professor could affect your class grade. Among the options offered were to ask the professor clarifying questions — especially if you don’t want to out yourself as a pro-Israeli advocate — or to ask the professor respectfully to cite his or her information sources. Or you can meet with the professor privately after class to express your concerns. You also can go to the head of the department and explain that you’re hearing a very one-sided argument in class.

• If there is an anti-Israel group such as SJP that brings a hate-filled speaker to campus, how do you counter it? Options include attending the lecture with a group of friends and asking questions in a polite and non-inflammatory way; bringing in your own pro-Israel speaker as a countermeasure; promoting or helping to run other pro-Israel events; or writing an article in the school newspaper (or publishing a blog or on social media) about the event and its bias.

• During “Israel Apartheid Week,” a yearly event on college campuses across the country, mock “Apartheid Walls” are brought to campuses to whip up anti-Israel sentiment. Suggestions to counter it include hosting a seminar to explain how Israel isn’t an apartheid state; going directly to the administration of the university and complaining that the anti-Israel activists are engaging in hate speech; handing out sweets (or cups of SodaStream drinks) with a fun fact about Israel; and having a public display with positive messages about Israel.

• What do you do when your student government tries to get a university to divest from Israel? Suggestions are to “boycott the boycott” with the help of the local Hillel house; draft a new bill to combat the bill offered; and prepare and hand out a point-by-point review of the anti-Israel rhetoric refuting them with facts and figures.

• When the school newspaper publishes an article about the “brutality” of the Jewish state, or the IDF is demonized, what is a student to do? Among the suggestions offered were to send a letter to the editor, write an op-ed, or bring IDF soldiers to the campus to give lectures and put a human face on those people who are being called “aggressors.”

• What do you do if one of your roommates comments at dinner that Israel should return to the Green Line, and people around the table nod and agree? You can ask clarifying questions to the speaker, ask where they got their information, and also share positive, personal stories about Israel.

• When an anti-Israel group plans to show anti-Israel films, especially if it is sponsored by one of the school’s departments, and students are given extra credit if they attend, how do you respond? You can host your own pro-Israel movie night and discussion, and write to the school newspaper about the bias being portrayed.

• A new thing on campuses this year is the “open Hillel,” which advocates bringing in anti-Israel speakers to campus. To combat this phenomenon, you can bring your friends to the events they sponsor and respectfully ask clarifying questions (see the second entry); maintain your own pro-Israel groups (or create one if none currently exist on campus); talk to the leadership in your community and craft a support statement to the tradition Hillel organization; and tell Hillel that you don’t support it being an “open Hillel.”

While the situation certainly is upsetting, there are many resources to enlist for help so you don’t feel like you’re fighting back alone. Contact the campus Hillel and organizations like StandWithUs (http://www.standwithus.com), and the ZOA (http://www.zoa.org), among others. Check out their websites for materials and fact sheets, and reach out to them for assistance to deal with particular situations that arise on your college campus — or your child’s.

Finally, as was encouraged by one of the college students speaking at our event, Jewish college-bound students should make sure they know the history and facts of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and conflicts. This way they can zoom out to provide compelling arguments and context when Israel’s detractors hurl false claims and misleading sound-bites.

Beginning next year at BCHSJS, our elective course “Israel on the College Campus” will become a mandatory course for all graduating seniors, to give them the tools and confidence to fight back against anti-Israel/anti-Semitism on campus.

 
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