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Pro-Israel groups set to counter campus apartheid claims

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An “apartheid” wall erected during the last week of February at UCLA features information critical of, if not hostile, to Israel. StandWithUs

At universities across the globe, the annual springtime ritual known as Israel Apartheid Week is kicking off, and Jewish students and pro-Israel groups have been readying themselves to respond in force.

Unlike past years, when intense pro-Palestinian activity in the wake of Israel’s offensives in Gaza and Lebanon caught many Jewish students off guard, this year the pro-Israel community is ready with initiatives of its own.

The largest effort, Israel Peace Week, is helping to coordinate responses at 28 campuses and counting. StandWithUs, the Los-Angeles based pro-Israel group, is promoting a U.S. speaking tour by Israeli soldiers to counter claims that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in widespread misconduct during 2009 offensive against Hamas in Gaza. The David Project, the Anti-Defamation League, and CAMERA all have made material available online to counter the apartheid charge and help students disseminate pro-Israel literature.

Hasbara Fellowships, a campus Israel group affiliated with the outreach group Aish Hatorah, is promoting a film about anti-Semitism on campus through the Website Campus Intifada. And in Canada, where Israel Apartheid Week activity is often far more intense than in the United States, a pro-Israel initiative called Size Doesn’t Matter enjoyed a brief spell of notoriety when it released a sexually suggestive video that spoofed Israel’s smallness.

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In advance of Israel Apartheid Week, the pro-Israel public relations house BlueStarPR released a poster with information about how to cure “Anis” — anti-Israel fixation syndrome.

Continuing the below-the-belt theme, the pro-Israel PR house BlueStar released a poster with information about how to cure “Anis” — Anti-Israel Fixation Syndrome.

“On the pro-Israel side, I think there’s much more of a focus on this week than I’ve ever seen before,” said Eliot Mathias, the director of Hasbara Fellowships. “So many different organizations and groups. There is more of an awareness of what’s happening.”

Now in its sixth year, Israel Apartheid Week is actually two weeks, running March 1 to 14. Mainly confined to university campuses, the internationally coordinated series of events aims to reinforce the analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa and strengthen the activist tools that helped bring that regime to its knees.

Events often employ an element of political street theater — obstructing campus byways, for instance, with mock Israeli checkpoints or an “apartheid wall” — in addition to more conventional lectures and film screenings. Israel Apartheid Week is closely aligned with the so-called BDS movement — an acronym for boycott, divestment, and sanctions — and calls for an end to Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and the right to return of Palestinian refugees.

Given the harsh rhetoric and strident anti-Israel policies encouraged by the events, Israel Apartheid Week has united a broad spectrum of Jewish groups that while often agreeing on few other Middle East questions, have all condemned the Israel-South Africa analogy as illegitimate and anti-peace.

Joining StandWithUs, the David Project, and Hasbara Fellowships in their condemnation of Israel Apartheid Week are J Street and its campus arm, J Street U, and the liberal Zionist group Ameinu.

J Street has taken a slightly different tack from the other groups, largely eschewing on-campus fliers in favor of a campaign it calls Invest Don’t Divest, which aims to promote fund-raising for cooperative efforts between Israelis and Palestinians that “help set the context for a sustainable peace.” A spokesperson for J Street told JTA the group did not want its “nuanced pragmatic” approach to get lost in the “shouting match” that some groups engage in during Israel Apartheid Week.

And inevitably, the shouting does happen. Israel Apartheid Week reliably brings at least a few speakers each year who shock the campus Jewish community by tiptoeing ever so close to the line separating ant-Zionism from outright anti-Semitism — and arguably marching right over it.

Even so, the wider significance of Israel Apartheid Week is a matter of some dispute in the pro-Israel community. At many, if not most, American schools, little or nothing is done for Israel Apartheid Week, whose official Website lists events in 45 locations, only about a quarter of them in the United States. Anti-Israel activists at some schools — like the much-discussed University of California, Irvine — run apartheid activities other weeks that are not listed on the official site.

“In the U.S., I’m aware of some isolated pockets of activity, but in five years that IAW has been running, we haven’t seen it catch on in the mainstream campus community,” said Stephen Kuperberg, the director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an umbrella group comprising 30 groups.

Still, virtually everyone in the pro-Israel campus community agrees that the frequency and intensity of apartheid/BDS activity is growing. And some even link it to a spike in anti-Semitic activity on campuses. At the University of California, Davis last week, a Jewish student found a swastika carved into her dorm door.

“I think it’s absolutely a big deal,” said Lawrence Muscant, the acting executive director of the David Project. “The fallacious lie of Israeli apartheid is seeping into the maintream. It’s extremely disturbing.”

JTA

 
 

Local artist helps create new facet of Artists4Israel

Lectures designed to inspire pro-Israel artworks

Sheryl Intrator Urman’s desire to cultivate love for Israel took root in New Jersey’s artistic community.

In May, Intrator Urman, of Englewood, approached Artists4Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to promote support for Israel, to develop a new facet of its programming: a lecture series to stimulate artists to create work that highlights Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

“I wanted to create a series that would help artists,” says Intrator Urman. “I wanted to make a series that would help Israel.”

To realize this dual vision, she worked with Artists4Israel staff to develop the new program, called the “Response Art Series.” Featuring five debate and discussion events related to Israel, the program will include exhibitions for participating artists, culminating in a juried show of selected pieces.

The first lecture, which took place Monday at the 92nd Street Y, featured Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and radio broadcaster John Batchelor discussing “Challenges and Opportunities for American and World Jewry.” The next lecture takes place Sunday at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The subject is “The Palestinian Right to Israel” with Alex Grobman, a prominent Holocaust historian from Englewood.

Other organizations, including Jewish National Fund, The David Project, and StandWithUs.org, are coordinating with Artists4Israel. (See Artists4Israel.org.)

Intrator Urman’s vision included promoting these existing events to artists via Artists4Israel and arranging for the exhibitions.

“Sheryl took this idea and found a way to make it democratic and accessible to any wannabe Israel advocate,” said Craig Dershowitz, president and co-founder of Artists4Israel.

The idea is for artists to listen to the lectures, go home, and create art inspired by them. When the work is exhibited, not just the artists but also their families, friends, and other viewers will be exposed to pro-Israel views via art.

“When you have a reception … [with] friends of the artists and media, all of these viewers will now get a flavor for what the lecture was about because the artists will also have to make an artist’s statement about how the work relates to the lecture,” said Intrator Urman.

For her vision, Intrator Urman credits her local community of artists, specifically the groups Salute to Women in the Arts, a non-profit affiliated with the Art Center of North New Jersey, and the Jewish Bet Midrash in Teaneck.

She took inspiration for the project from the Jewish Bet Midrash. The “Response Art Series” is modeled on a project designed by that group, in which a rabbi and artist come to the synagogue and discuss a theme like “boundaries” or “beginnings” — and encourage group members to create art inspired by the talk. Then the group has a show at Temple Beth Sholom in Teaneck, where it meets.

Salute to Women in the Arts gives local artists the chance to exhibit their work, which the Response Art Series will do as well.

“I wanted to show my art but I didn’t know where to start, and these local groups gave me the opportunity to exhibit,” said Intrator Urman. “That’s what I’m trying to do for others. If they come to this Response Art Series they will have a place to show their art, even if it’s for the first time.”

She hopes the prospect of a juried show, with works selected for exhibit by a panel including gallery owners and academics, will also appeal to established artists.

Equally important to her is encouraging artists to make pieces to support Israel — and to raise awareness about Israel’s right to exist, Intrator Urman says. Artists4Israel seeks to reach both Jews and non-Jews with this pro-Israel message.

“Artists4Israel tries to reach out to artists no matter what faith they are,” she says. “We want people to understand Israel has the right to exist, just like France does [for example]. Israel is the only country that regularly feels the need to justify its right to exist, and we want to change that.”

Sometimes Jewish artists can be those in greatest need of hearing Israeli points of view.

“We have lots of Jewish artists who don’t know where they fall also,” Intrator Urman said. “We are doing this for the person who doesn’t know what they want to believe. There are many Jewish artists who don’t want to make art to support Israel. Artists are usually liberal-minded; not everyone wants to take a stand for Israel.”

The series of five lectures covers topics ranging from boycotts to water rights to perceptions of Israel in the media.

The series expands on an already existing element of Artists4Israel’s programming, the Dershowitz Center for pro-Israel Art. That program provides studio space to artists who are interested in learning about Israeli perspectives.

“We don’t dictate to the artist, and that’s what separates us from anti-Israel [sponsors of] art in the Arab world,” Dershowitz said.

Yona Verwer, a Manhattan painter who attended Monday’s talk, found unique inspiration in Batchelor’s discussion of an incident involving Saudi officials’ claims that appearances of exotic animals on Saudi Arabian soil were an Israeli plot.

“When they said sharks, pelicans, and griffin vultures were part of an Israeli plot,” she visualized an idea for a painting, she said, adding, “even nature is being used for anti-Israel propaganda.”

Artists and others interested in participating may call (201) 503-9796 for more information.

 
 

Israel and Jews worldwide should support an independent South Sudan

 
 
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