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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

 
 

Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Israeli grass-roots effort fights flotilla fallout

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A scene from the video satire “We Con the World,” which mocks the outpouring of condemnation of Israel’s flotilla raid. Latma

TEL AVIV – Two days after last week’s flotilla incident, with Israel weathering a hailstorm of international condemnation, a group of young Israelis hunkered down in a Tel Aviv recording studio to produce a satirical music video they hoped would become a weapon in the battle for world opinion.

“We Con the World,” a spoof of the 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie song “We Are the World,” was promptly e-mailed, Facebooked, and Twittered around the globe, becoming an instant YouTube phenomenon. (See jstandard.com/thebiglipowsky.) As of Tuesday, it had received some 2 million hits.

The lead singer, dressed in the white hat of a ship’s captain and given the name “Captain Stabbing” (a reference to Captain Stubing of the TV show “Love Boat” fame), opens by crooning in a thick mock Turkish accent, “There comes a time when we need to make a show, for the world, the Web, and CNN.”

Singing in a Jackson-style falsetto, another character picks up the tune: “We’ll make the world abandon reason. We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas is Momma Teresa.”

The video is one of several grass-roots Israeli efforts to put out a pro-Israel message to the world in the wake of the confrontation aboard one of the ships on the Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turkish activists dead and several Israeli navy commandos injured. The confrontation has stoked worldwide anger at Israel.

In a bid to redirect that anger and lay the blame where they believe it should lie — the Turkish activists who they say provoked the confrontation at sea and the anti-Israel terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, Hamas — some Israelis are mounting their own citizen responses to make the case for Israel’s enforcement of the blockade of Gaza and tough line toward Hamas.

These Israelis, many of them young, have established new groups on the online social networking site Facebook and built new websites to promote Israel’s perspective on the flotilla raid as well as on the blockade of Gaza. One student group even plans to launch its own flotilla — a fleet of boats it hopes will humiliate Turkey by calling attention to the plight of the Armenians and Kurds, who are known to be suffering under the Turks.

Israel maintains it was acting in self-defense after passengers on one of the Gaza-bound ships in the flotilla attacked Israeli commandos boarding the ship with clubs, knives, and even two pistols stolen from the soldiers. Critics of Israel’s actions have promoted a different narrative of the May 31 raid, painting Israel as the aggressor against an aid shipment in international waters.

Just two hours after the flotilla incident, Dan Illouz, 24, said he created a Facebook group called “The Truth About Israel’s Defensive Actions Against the Flotilla.” A recent Canadian immigrant to Israel and law school graduate, the group soon took off and now has more than 70,000 members.

“I saw there was no response from the government and I wanted to get something out there,” he said. “I know people from the navy and I knew stories on the news made no sense, and I wanted to get a group of people together to spread the story once it was available.”

Illouz also formed a new Website, Israelflotilla.weebly.com, to accompany the Facebook page. He can track who views and forwards his posts, and through the Website he has formed a group of some 200 volunteers who use his talking points in letters to newspaper editors and their elected officials.

“It’s not the first time Israel has been attacked, and every time we see a lot of media bias,” Illouz said. “There is a need out there to train Israel advocates in social media, a new generation of leaders who understand this sort of communication.”

The Israeli branch of the advocacy group StandWithUs, which works mostly with university and college students, also was quick to form its own online messages, creating a Website called Flotilla Facts.

“The idea of Websites is a multiplier,” said Michael Dickson, the Israel director of StandWithUs. “The messages and images and videos we find most effective we put in bullet-point form that can be understood and re-sent. We also have them in Tweet form to be sent out on Twitter,” the online messaging service.

The site is viewable in 14 languages, including Turkish. Dickson said readers from Turkey represented the fifth largest group visiting the site. One of the videos the site helped circulate was “We Con the World.”

Karni Eldad, 36, a music producer, helped produce the “We Con the World” video.

“It struck a chord because people know that the media coverage was one-sided,” she said. “Nobody wants to hear more about the fighting, but when you talk in a funny way you get a laugh. And you get the truth.”

Eldad, whose father is Knesset member Arieh Eldad of the right-wing National Union Party, said, “So many people have watched it; it’s unbelievable. I am proud it’s made an impression, that it’s had an effect.”

Arieh Eldad praised the work of his daughter, who — together with friends who run a political satire group called Latma led by Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick — created the video.

“It shows how individuals and civilians feel something wrong has been done to the State of Israel by the international community, and this is a way to stand up and expose that hypocrisy,” Arieh Eldad said. “It’s a very efficient tool for doing that.”

Shlomo Balas, the director of the Latma Website, told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that he decided to strike back with satire the day of the raid.

“The blood was boiling in my veins,” he said. “I immediately called the site editor, Caroline Glick, and said to her, ‘We have to do something.’”

A report in Yediot congratulated the video’s creators, saying they had “defended Israel better than any of the experts.”

Not everyone was a fan, however. Some in Israel and abroad have criticized the video’s depiction of keffiyah-wearing, knife-wielding Arabs as carrying racist, anti-Muslim overtones.

Israel’s Government Press Office initially sent an e-mail to foreign correspondents with the video. Soon after, an e-mail was sent rescinding the message and stating that the video had been sent by mistake.

(To watch the video, and for more updates on the flotilla fallout, visit www.jta.org/bigstory.)

JTA

 
 

Area shops for Israeli goods in response to calls for boycotts

_JStandardLocal
Published: 10 December 2010

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, StandWithUs, in partnership with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, declared BIG (Buy Israel Goods) Day to counter anti-Israel activists in New York City who planned to demonstrate and call for boycotts of Israeli products. Schools, synagogues, and organizations around the tri-state area and across the country mobilized and participated in this day. People bought a range of Israeli goods, from Ahava beauty products to Wissotzky tea, from Israeli wines to Dorot Herbs. “The idea of this day was to show those who call to boycott Israel that there will be a larger call to buy Israeli products and invest in Israel,” said Avi Posnick, East Coast regional coordinator for StandWithUs.

target='_blank'>www.BuyIsraelGoods.org includes a locator of stores that carry Israeli products.

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Gale Bindelglass buys Israeli products at her local supermarket. standwithus

The Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey mobilized the community. Gale S. Bindelglass, co-president of Women’s Philanthropy of UJA-NNJ, said, “Our family loves Wissotzky Tea, made in Tel Aviv. It was a pleasure to buy my tea on BIG Day, I made the purchase at our local Shoprite of Oakland; they carry a variety of Israeli products, including produce.”

Joy Kurland, the director of the JCRC, added, “Clearly, the success of the BIG campaign demonstrates the importance of community mobilization and its effectiveness in countering efforts aimed at the delegitimization of Israel. Our regional JCRC looks forward to continued collaboration with StandWithUs in the implementation of future proactive Israel advocacy initiatives.”

The Frisch High School in Paramus organized a BIG day at school. Students sold Israeli snacks during breakfast and lunch and in a few classes. They sold Elite chocolate bars (the first to sell out), Klik chocolate bars, Chanukah gelt, and Bissli. According to Frisch student Eric Tepper, “The main point was to educate.” Students and administrators also wore “Buy Israel Goods” buttons provided by StandWithUs.

Throughout New Jersey, communities and organizations helped to mobilize their communities to take part in BIG Day.

Stores reportedly sold out Ahava products wherever they were protested in Maryland, Denver, Arizona, Philadelphia, and other sites. BIG even stretched across the miles to London, with Jews and non-Jews participating.

“This was a huge success,” said Posnick, “and it will happen again. This day was part of a larger BIG Campaign that StandWithUs is launching. The BDS movement planned Nov. 30 to target Israel, forgetting that this day coincides with the beginning of Chanukah when the Maccabees triumphed over those who wanted to destroy Israel.” (BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.) He added, “We must remember that the BDS movement advocates destructive rather than productive measures and undermines hope for peaceful co-existence. Its only goal is to defame, cripple, and damage Israel.”

More information about this campaign can be found at http://www.standwithus.com. The website

 
 

Local organizations promote Israeli goods to counter boycott

‘Buy Israeli Goods’ day set

In the face of an international campaign designating March 30 as a day to boycott Israeli products, national and local Jewish organizations are organizing supporters to fight back with their wallets.

Pro-Israel and Jewish groups in the United States are calling on supporters to buy Israeli goods to counter a global anti-Israel boycott coordinated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. The website of the BDS campaign calls for “divestment from corporations that allow and profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

StandWithUs, a New York-based nonprofit pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, has designated Wednesday, March 30, as Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) day. It is working with area Jewish agencies, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, to rally Israel’s supporters to buy Israeli goods on that day and in general.

To that end, StandWithUs has set up a website, www.buyIsraelgoods.org, in cooperation with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a New York-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting U.S.-Israel commerce, providing information about vendors and establishments that sell Israeli products.

Organized by product categories and geographical regions, the website provides information on finding everything from Israeli-grown coffee to Israeli-designed jewelry.

Avi Posnick, regional coordinator for StandWithUs in New York, said that “BDS is calling for March 30 to be a global day to boycott, and we are encouraging people to go to all the places and to use all the products that are being targeted.”

StandWithUs maintains that boycotting Israel actually retards the development of Palestinian society and therefore the cause of peace.

“We feel the BDS movement is hypocritical because it’s hurting the very people they say they are trying to help,” said Posnick. “They are only hurting cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that can improve the lives of both. Palestinians and others have told us it doesn’t help peace — it divides people.”

The JCRC sent out a message to its network, including rabbis, agencies, day schools, and congregational schools, “encouraging them to participate and including the information we got from StandWithUs,” said Joy Kurland, regional JCRC director.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, who chairs the JCRC, is coordinating the local counter-boycott effort. He believes that one of the greatest threats to Israel today is a tarnishing of the Jewish state’s image via a campaign to delegitimize it.

Borovitz thinks American Jews can play a vital role in countering the boycott.

“I think that one of the greatest dangers that we face today as friends of Israel is this movement that is known as Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” said Borovitz. “Those three tools are being used to delegitimize Israel. We’ve got to counter that. It’s an interesting and important role we American Jews can play.”

He says Israel’s detractors have modeled their strategy on what was used to “disinvest South Africa.”

“Buy Israeli Goods is our campaign to encourage people to combat this boycott,” he said. “[People should] buy Israeli goods because Israeli goods are of high quality — Israel has the same right to compete in the economic marketplace as any nation.”

StandWithUs has created an additional website, www.Standwithus.com/bds, to provide information, including talking points, and other ways to respond to the BDS movement.

 
 
 
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