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entries tagged with: Israel Apartheid Week

 

Action needed to combat campaign delegitimizing Israel

 

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

 
 

Engaging with Israel on campus starts with relationships

 

Be prepared

Educators help freshmen advocate for Israel

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Hasbara has brought more than 1,800 students to its biannual training workshops in Israel and is on more than 250 campuses throughout the United States and Canada. Hasbara also provides a variety of options to help extend the knowledge about Israel on campus, through various training classes, film screenings, and speakers for student organizations.

Area teens heading to college may encounter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior there — and educators and youth leaders have ways to manage an often overwhelming experience.

“For freshman going to college, it can be a very surprising experience, especially if you come from a tight-knit Jewish community, or a Jewish school,” says Andrew Getraer, the executive director of Rutgers University Hillel in New Brunswick. “Most high school students have never had to deal with such a variety of opinions and events, especially ones that may directly challenge their own.”

Getraer notes that while recent news like that of the Gaza flotilla raid is hard for government officials and adults to digest or respond to, “imagine how hard it is for 18-year-olds to hear Israel attacked on their own campus, just as it’s attacked on television news channels.”

Student groups often sponsor events condemning Israel, as The Jewish Standard has reported. Israeli Apartheid Week, for example, was held for its sixth consecutive year in March, on many campuses. According to the IAW website, the goal of the event is to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”

IAW often invites speakers who are known for their virulent anti-Israel sentiments and critiques. Michael Cohen, a Wayne resident who is entering his junior year at Boston University, said of a speech by Noam Chomsky, a persistent and harsh critic of Israel, during IAW at his campus, “Growing up in a relatively sheltered community that had a large Jewish presence, I never experienced anything like it. I was shocked.”

The most effective way to respond to such attacks, according to Lauren Krol, director of the Young Professionals of Hasbara Fellowships, is for students to learn, and for advocacy groups to educate them, “about Israel’s true nature, as a democracy and a peace-seeking nation.”

The organization, founded in 2001, aims to establish successful Israel advocacy on campuses throughout the United States and Canada. It provides information, fact sheets, and educational videos on its website, www.israelactivism.com.

IAW was a hot topic during Hasbara’s workshop last winter. Students taking it wondered why there wasn’t a more united response across campuses. The result, according to Krol, was “Israel Peace Week.” In 2010, this program made its way to more than 30 different schools.

Krol encourages supporters of Israel to keep in mind that “they are on the front line; they should use every opportunity they have to get across a positive image, and they must always remember the bigger picture.”

Rutgers’ Getraer explains that situations on some campuses are more difficult for Jewish students than others. “Any campus might have a wide range of opinions,” he says, “and some may be anti-Israel — this can be very upsetting or confusing for many students.”

At Rutgers, he says, students are encouraged to tell Hillel about hostility in their dorms, in class, or on campus, because it can help.

Another simple recommendation, he said: Pick a school with a Jewish community. “We have over 5,000 Jewish students,” Getraer says of Rutgers. “If students feel threatened, they always have a place to go.”

Northern New Jersey Hillel — part of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey — runs Jewish student clubs at Bergen Community College (Paramus), Fairleigh Dickinson University Metropolitan (Teaneck) Campus, Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah), and William Paterson University (Wayne). Director Rabbi Ely Allen explains that these local campuses do engage in classroom discussion and debate, but that overall, organized events like IAW are not as great a problem as on other campuses.

Allen says that college students are “in much better shape [to respond to anti-Israel attacks] because of Israel advocacy organizations that are partnering with Hillel; there are more and more of those organizations, which is definitely a big plus, because we all need to work together.”

 
 

Rutgers event links Israel, apartheid

Hillel fires back with facts, testimonials from Ethiopian, Arab, and gay Israelis

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Members of Israel’s minority communities come to Rutgers as part of the event “Get Me, Get Israel.” Courtesy Rutgers Hillel

An event last week comparing Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens to South Africa’s treatment of blacks under apartheid marked the latest in a series of anti-Israel programs at Rutgers University that some local Jewish leaders have characterized as an anti-Israel campaign targeting the school.

The Rutgers event took place in concert with “Israel Apartheid Week” events at numerous university campuses. While some Jewish leaders are alarmed at this trend, others are of the opinion that, try as they might, anti-Israel groups are not making headway in their efforts to delegitimize Israel in the U.S. And Rutgers Hillel last week mounted its own campaign to highlight Israel’s diversity.

The anti-Israel event, called “Israel, the Apartheid Analogy, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement,” held March 1 on Rutgers’ Douglass campus as part of “Palestine Awareness Week,” was sponsored by a group called BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice. BAKA has organized other events highly critical of Israel, including January’s “Never Again for Anyone” program featuring a Holocaust survivor critical of Israel.

Area Jewish leaders expressed outrage at what they characterized as a false and offensive comparison between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa, and pledged to help pro-Israel students at Rutgers combat what they believe is a deliberate campaign of disinformation.

“It is hateful and egregious to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa,” said Allyson Gall, New Jersey area director of the American Jewish Committee. “There are over 1 million Arabs in Israel who have the right to vote, to serve in Knesset, who have freedom of religion and free speech. When Jimmy Carter used the word apartheid in his book, there were African-American leaders here in the U.S. who called him to tell him using this word was wrong and he should not use it.”

She added, “When they throw around the word ‘apartheid,’ then I know they are not just pro-Palestinian, they are anti-Israel, because they are dead wrong.”

Leonard Cole, an adjunct professor at Rutgers who teaches at the Newark campus in the division of global affairs, decried what he sees as an anti-Israel “drumbeat” on campus and called on the university to condemn it.

Citing six separate anti-Israel events at the University’s New Brunswick campus in November/December and referencing last Tuesday’s event, Cole said, “There is no right to prohibit such an event, but neither is there prohibition of the president of the university or other university officials from condemning hurtful or outrageous or untrue statements or claims that come out of these events.”

In apartheid South Africa, according to Alan Elsner of the Israel Project, a non-profit organization that provides information about the Middle East, blacks had no right to form political parties, to vote, to live in certain areas, or to freely associate with whites, and South Africa’s government enforced this discrimination.

In Israel, he pointed out, all citizens including Israeli Arabs have the right to vote, to speak, to assemble, to form political parties, to freely associate, and to live where they wish.

The differences mean “there is not any valid comparison” between Israel’s government and South Africa’s during apartheid, said Elsner.

“I’m not saying Israeli democracy is perfect, but show me another country in the Mideast where minorities, women, and gays have the same rights as they do in Israel,” said Elsner, who worked as a reporter in South Africa during apartheid.

Jake Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, says his organization is working to “organize a movement to counter the BDS movement.” To that end, his and other area organizations including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish Federations of North America are organizing a conference at Rutgers June 1.

“The events on Rutgers campus are disturbing, but are a wake-up call to the rest of the Jewish community to remain vigilant and respond effectively, with a united front, and to do all it can to ensure that Israel remains a viable nation,” said Toporek.

BAKA Treasurer Michael Dunican, a Rutgers senior majoring in Middle East studies, told The Jewish Standard that BAKA organized the event “to spread awareness.” Regarding the charge that the apartheid analogy is false, Dunican said, “The response that the analogy is false won’t do. Diversity shares the same root as diversion and the issues we raised have not been addressed.”

Dunican added, “[Anti-Defamation League National Director] Abe Foxman recently made the statement that when these things happen at Rutgers, the BDS movement is gaining momentum.”

Foxman in fact told Ha’aretz this week regarding “Israel Apartheid Week” events: “There are 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. If it happens in 40 or 80 campuses, it’s upsetting, troubling, but it’s not dangerous.… Overwhelmingly, students either don’t care or they are pro-Israel.”

Foxman also said, “The only difference is that after the communications revolution, when something happens in Rutgers, the whole world knows. The communications revolution gives them a megaphone way beyond what they are and whom they represent.”

Ken Stern, director of the Division of Anti-Semitism and Extremism at the AJC, agrees.

“They’ve pushed this for 10 years, and not one college campus has divested [from Israeli investment],” said Stern. “I don’t see Israel apartheid week as it’s played out in the U.S. to date as having been effective in achieving the goal of delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the average person.”

Stern noted that the effort to de-legitimize Israel on college campuses has gained traction in Canada, and said there is a real danger in larger global efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State.

Meanwhile, Rutgers Hillel hosted its own series of events to coincide with “Palestine Awareness Week,” highlighting Israel’s diversity. A Feb. 28 event, “Israel at Heart,” featured Ethiopian Jewish Israelis and a Darfuri man who found refuge in Israel, all of whom made the case that “Israel is not an apartheid state,” according to Hillel Director Andrew Getraer.

Last Tuesday’s event, called “Get Me, Get Israel,” featured an Israeli Arab woman who has organized Israeli Arabs to do a year of national service to Israel and two Israelis who are members of the country’s LGBT community.

“They talked about the importance of seeing Israel not as a highly politicized country but as a diverse and accepting country,” said Raffi Mark, a sophomore at Rutgers majoring in American Studies who grew up in Wayne and who helped organize Hillel’s events.

Asked if he had any response to these events, Dunican said, “Regarding the event[s] with gay and Arab Israelis, at our event we had a Palestinian speaker and three Ashkenazi Jews.”

Heather Robinson can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 
 
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