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entries tagged with: Raffi Mark


Rutgers event links Israel, apartheid

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

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).


Rutgers Hillel celebrates successes in combating anti-Israelism on campus

Honorees and others at last week’s gala are, front row, from left, Mark Busch, Michal Greenbaum, Katie Landy, Ruth Cole, Andrew Getraer, (not an honoree but Rutgers Hillel executive director), Rona Shein, Raffi Mark, and Frankie Busch (not an honoree but a co-chair of the event). In the back row, from left, are Liran Kapoano, Leonard Cole, Jeff Shein, Mariya Badu, Melissa Schoffer (not an honoree but a co-chair), and Sarah Morrison. courtesy Rutgers Hillel

It was a tough year for friends of Israel on the Rutgers campus.

But last Tuesday night, at the Rutgers Hillel Gala held in Livingston, student activists got a warm reminder that they don’t stand alone as community leaders from all corners of the state came out to support the 68-year-old campus organization.

“The Rutgers Hillel Gala was an overwhelming success by every yardstick,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel. “We surpassed both attendance and fundraising goals by comfortable margins and, perhaps most important, the evening was a social success thanks to the Hillel students who provided programming and master of ceremonies duties. The gala was a perfect end to a highly successful Hillel school year and provided a running boost to the $18 million capital campaign to construct a new Hillel on the Rutgers campus.”

Some 275 people attended.

Local students spotlighted include Sam Weiner of Paramus, who was one of the masters of ceremonies for the evening, and two of the undergraduates who received “Student Rising Star” awards: Mariya Badu of Fair Lawn and Raffi Mark of Wayne. Michal Greenbaum, originally of Teaneck, who graduated in 2007, received Hillel’s first Young Alumni Award.

Highlighting the connection between the campus community and the established Jewish community was the leadership award given to Leonard and Ruth Cole of Ridgewood. Ruth Cole is president of the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations, which is funding Hillel’s battles on behalf of Israel on campus. (See related story.) Leonard Cole is chair of the Birthright-Israel Committee of the Jewish Federations of North America and a faculty member at Rutgers, where he is an expert in bioterrorism and terror medicine on the faculty of the Division of Global Affairs.

Mark, along with Liran Kapoano of Highland Park, presented a program entitled Fighting the Delegitimization of Israel on Campus.

“Since November of last year we have been subjected to numerous anti-Israel events and a significant increase in campus tensions,” said Mark. “Rarely has a day gone by when we have not had demonstrations, op-eds, or events that seek to falsely cast Israel as an aggressive, apartheid state or even draw comparisons between the Jewish state’s defensive actions and Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.”

“Rutgers University has found itself on the front lines of international anti-Israel efforts, as well as some visiting programs that can only be described as anti-Jewish,” said Getraer. “I was very proud of the Hillel student leadership and how they rose to the occasion to delegitimize the delegitimizers.”

One such event, co-sponsored by pro-Palestinian group BAKA (Belief, Awareness, Knowledge, Activism) and IJAN (the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network), was entitled Never Again for Anyone. The premise of the event was that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis was equivalent to the treatment of Jews and other political prisoners of the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was advertised as “free and open to the public,” and so as a response Hillel organized a silent protest. Several students planned to sit in the front rows of the event wearing yellow shirts that said “Don’t Politicize the Holocaust” and, during one of the pro-Palestinian speeches, stand for a moment of silence before exiting. The event caught the attention of Jewish leaders from surrounding communities, and almost 400 people showed up to protest. Seeing that they were outnumbered almost three to one, the cost of admission, which previously was a suggested donation, suddenly became mandatory. The protest was thus held outside the event’s doors.

Hillel was on the front lines crafting responses to each anti-Israel event as it came up, as well as creating new pro-Israel programs to bring the community together. During Apartheid Week, Hillel set up a booth near BAKA’s apartheid wall and handed out cake with an Israeli flag design in the icing, as well as pamphlets, Israeli candy, and snacks. The overall feeling from the group was that the pro-Israel side attracted far more passers-by than the wall.

There were also many pro-Israel events that were not reacting to anti-Israel sentiment. For instance, IsraelFest, held just a few days before RutgersFest, included a large inflatable rock wall labeled Masada for anyone who wanted to climb. Participants left with bags and sunglasses labeled IsraelFest, as well as pamphlets and other sources of information on the Jewish state.

“This year has been a stressful year with constant reminders of the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel movement on campus,” said Mark, “but Hillel has remained not only supportive but a true safe haven against negativity which will only improve with the new staff.”

In addition to its pro-Israel activities, Hillel also is a resource for many Jewish religious and cultural events and activities, such as Birthright trips, ASB (Alternative Spring Break) trips to Guatemala, Israel, and New Orleans, and programs for freshmen to get acquainted with one another and Hillel.

Badu’s description of her experience with Hillel exemplifies the role of the organization in forging Jewish identity among students.

“I was never fully sure what Judaism meant to me as I was not raised religiously,” said Badu, who was born in Russia. “I was unable to identify myself with a specific denomination. Through Birthright and my experiences within Hillel, I have been truly able to embrace my identity and come to terms with my strong cultural ties to Judaism, which have come to be an integral component of my identity. Hillel played such a pivotal role in my college career and inspired me to continue to be involved in the Jewish community now that I have graduated.”

“Working with student leaders such as these every single day is one of the best parts of my job,” said Getraer at the gala. “The generation of Jewish youth today faces challenges like we’ve never seen before. We intend to give them the inspiration to become Jewish leaders.”

Anti-Israel graffiti on an "Israeli apartheid wall" set up on Rutgers campus.

Movie to marshal support for college Israel advocacy

Rutgers students to lead discussion

“We are in need at Rutgers,” said Raffi Mark, a student and Israel advocate on the New Brunswick campus.

“Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus,” a documentary detailing students’ struggles against anti-Semitism, will be screened at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus on Tuesday, Aug. 9. The 39-minute film was produced by Raphael Shore and directed by Wayne Kopping.

The congregation obtained the film with the help of Hasbara Fellowships, an organization that “trains students across the United States in Israel Advocacy,” according to Atara Jacobs, community and public relations coordinator for the organization.

A discussion moderated by Mark, of Wayne, and another Rutgers student, Sam Weiner of Paramus, will be held after the screening.

“When you send kids to college they should know what’s going on, and they should be able to talk about it in an intelligent way,” said Gershon Rosenzweig, chair of the Israel Awareness committee of JCC of Paramus and its past president.

Raffi Mark, left, Saskia Marina Photography and Sam Weiner Courtesy Weiner Family

According to the film’s website,, the documentary “offers a glimpse into the experiences of Jewish college students who are actively involved in the daily struggle of supporting the State of Israel and fighting against biased misinformation both in and out of the classroom.”

The JCCP’s Israel Awareness committee, founded in November, sponsors film screenings, visits of Israeli students to the shul, and discussions, among other cultural events.

Tuesday’s film focuses on the reactions of U.S. college students after Israel’s military movements against Gaza in 2008 and 2009, according to It explores Muslim organizations that have ties to American universities. It also highlights pro-Israel student activists and their campus campaigns.

Both Rutgers students plan to draw from their experiences as Israel advocates on campus when they lead the discussion.

Twenty-one-year-old Weiner, a senior, is “heavily involved with the Israel advocacy movement at Rutgers,” he said, and will be vice president of Rutgers Hillel this year. He also participated in Write on for Israel, an advocacy journalism program.

“The war to delegitimize Israel has found a home at Rutgers, and we don’t want this to last for long,” said Weiner. “We’ve had an incredibly successful year at Rutgers dealing with what went on there,” he said.

He refers to such programs as the touring Never Again for Anyone event, sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and American Muslims for Palestine. The Jan. 29 event at Rutgers, according to Weiner, “linked the actions of the Nazis in Europe to actions taken by Israel in 1948.”

The event featured two Holocaust survivors and two Palestinians. Israel supporters on campus reached out to the greater Jewish community in the area and 300 people turned out to protest it.

The event “crossed over the line into anti-Semitism,” said Mark, 20 years old and a junior at Rutgers. Mark was on the Rutgers Hillel student planning committee for Israel and this year will be the Israel chair of the Rutgers Hillel student board.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the event was “the latest effort by anti-Israel activists to exploit the sacred memory of the Holocaust for the purpose of painting its victim, the Jewish people, as the ‘new’ oppressor in the form of Israel.”

“The line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is being blurred,” says Hasbara Fellowship’s Jacobs.

The Hasbara program was founded in 2001 conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its mission, according to its website,, is “simple: educate, train, and motivate university students to be passionate, dedicated, and effective pro-Israel advocates on their campuses.”

The program also brings students to Israel. According to its website, Hasbara Fellowships has hosted more than 1,800 students from more than 250 college campuses.

Mark went on a Hasbara Fellowships program this summer, spending about two weeks in Israel. He said, “It’s the perfect blend of education, advocacy training, and experiencing Israel. With all three, you can come back to campus and not just give prepared responses about Israel but be able to say, I was there, I saw it.”

Though already heavily involved in Israel advocacy, the trip “gave me a stronger connection to Israel,” Mark said.

The screening is only the beginning of an awareness campaign by Hasbara Fellowships in the area, according to Jacobs. Seminars about Israel advocacy are being planned for the fall.

The film has been shown across the country and around the world, and screened by multiple Israel advocacy organizations. Mark has seen clips of it and said, “It’s a very powerful movie, and … is a call to action, especially locally in New Jersey.”

Rosenzweig hopes that the screening will make people aware of the situation on college campuses. “It’s about how we should make our citizens feel comfortable,” he said.

Weiner wants “to get across awareness of how hard [student advocates for Israel] are working to combat anti-Semitism on campus, and how [the community’s] support really helps…. One evening discussion is wonderful, but hopefully it will serve as a catalyst for people.”

“Gershon Rosenzweig was amazing in helping me screen the film at the JCCP,” said Jacobs. “This is going to be an eye-opening event for the community,” she said, adding, “we are very excited…. This is for them to get in the know about what’s going on in colleges around the United States.”

Film to be shown Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. at the JCC of Paramus. (See calendar listing.)
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