Israel advocates have made it clear that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations will not go unnoticed.
In response to Ahmadinejad’s presence at this week’s General Assembly meeting in New York, more than 15 campuses across the country have joined an awareness campaign sponsored by Hasbara Fellowships. The most prominent events are being planned by students at New York University, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Emory University, the University of Texas and UC Berkeley and will be held through Monday, September 24.
The effort comprises three key features: tabling, social media and petitioning. Campus displays include #UNwelcome t-shirts and information about past Iranian actions as well as the current status of the country’s nuclear program. Pro-Israel representatives will be available to answer questions and engage with students. Hasbara Fellowships has provided talking points to student organizers addressing Ahmadinejad as a threat to America, Israel and world peace, and as a detriment to his own people.
According to Daniel Cohen, Midwest regional coordinator for Hasbara Fellowships, the target audience is comprised of “college students who don’t wake up and read the news every day. We want everyone to be informed about the threat that Iran poses to the world, and to care enough to do something about it.”
Caroline Mendelsohn, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, who serves as both a Hasbara Fellow and co-president of Texans for Israel, stressed that opposition to Iran’s policies is not strictly a Jewish issue or Israel issue, and noted that all organizations are invited to support the awareness campaign. “This includes Jewish organizations like Hillel, Chabad, AEPI and AEPhi, but also included many non-Jewish student organizations because, at the end of the day, this is not simply a Jewish issue or Israeli issue; it’s an American issue.
“In an election year, Iran is one bipartisan issue where both sides can come together and agree: A nuclear Iran is simply not an option,” Mendelsohn added.
Using a variety of social media platforms, the campaign expresses disapproval of Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York. Ahmadinejad Memes takes the meme phenomenon to a new level and uses it as an interactive portrayal of the Iranian president. Op-eds are being written for newspapers at more than 10 campuses to educate students about Ahmadinejad’s presence at the United Nations.
“Ahmadinejad is trending on social media right now,” said Hasbara Fellowships managing director Alan Levine. “We’re not trying to shut down his message; we are trying to expose his message.”
A petition launched by Iran 180, with support from Hasbara Fellowships, will circulate online and on campus through Wednesday’s speech.
The organization launched its #UNwelcome initiative to coincide with the Iranian president’s arrival in New York on Monday using blunt messages such as, “New York to Ahmadinejad: You’re UNwelcome.”
Levine stressed the importance of petitions in engaging students and creating a positive dialogue about the issues. “The important thing about the campaign and this petition is that it allows students to engage their peers on campus,” he concluded.