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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘on campus’

The BDS State of Mind

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

Pronouncements attempting to appeal to the conscience of academics supportive of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement often depict Israel as a Nazi-like state. These views — once labeled extreme — have become increasingly mainstream as academics call for Israel’s destruction, not by might or power but by bad analogies and misguided ideas.

A careful look at the BDS movement and its methodology shows not legitimate criticism but a movement that is racist and anti-Semitic. Why? BDS clearly targets Israel. Its stated goals vary but all include the “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees.” The effort is cloaked to give the impression that ending specific Israeli policies, such as the “occupation” or “apartheid,” would also end efforts to ostracize Israel. Yet their maximalist demand — the flood of Palestinian refugees, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state — is carefully hidden.

In February 2012, the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) student government defeated, for the third year running, a resolution calling on the University system to divest from US companies that supply Israel’s defense forces. The Associated Students of UCSD heard public debate on a resolution brought forth by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) calling for the school to divest from General Electric and Northrop Grumman because they supply components of Apache helicopters sold to Israel, which then uses them to “violate” Palestinian human rights and expand the “occupation.”

UCSD Professor Shlomo Dubnov, who heads the campus chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, spoke out against the divestment. Consequently, on March 2, SJP leaders sent a letter of complaint to faculty, administration and members of the UCSD Campus Climate Council “to address the hostile campus climate being created for students of color and students from underserved and underrepresented communities.” Five student organizations also made claims against UCSD professors and staff who spoke against the resolution, stating that “while we understand that it is a public meeting, for them to refer to themselves in their position as ‘UCSD staff’ or ‘UCSD professor’ is uncalled for. They used their positions as University employees to verbally attack students and to even erase the existence of many individuals in the room.”

This tactic to silence pro-Israel professors through claims of intimidation and legal threats is of great concern, not only to the individuals who might be forced to think twice before speaking out but to the universities themselves.

All of this makes combating BDS complicated and confusing, especially for those who want to believe that there is room for debating the “facts” presented by BDS supporters. What makes this battle so arduous for the pro-Israel community — and so attractive for Israel detractors — is the umbrella of academic freedom, which makes it “legitimate” to debate all aspects of Israel, from specific policies to its elimination altogether.

Institutions of higher education should be bastions of critical thinking, and academic freedom should not be selectively used as a bludgeon against pro-Israel speech and a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for anti-Israel speech. Academic freedom has already been manipulated to mean that anti-Israel ideologues have nearly complete license to propagandize in the classroom. Now efforts to exercise free speech and push back are being criminalized as “intimidation.”

If there is an upside, it is that the pro-Israel community has redrawn the lines of acceptable discourse. While not everyone agrees with the policies of the Israeli government, a consensus has emerged over the basic belief of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Ultimately, BDS does not employ legitimate criticism but, in essence, questions Israel’s very existence.

The Women of Israel Advocacy: Challenges and Benefits of Female Leadership

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

Less than 10% of the speakers at the Israel Presidential Conference last month were female. At a forum that purported to represent “Tomorrow,” the under-representation of women drew criticism. Today however, this is the reality of female leadership in Jewish organizations.

Women have played important roles throughout Jewish and Israel’s history, but a recent study found that very few women currently lead Jewish and Israel advocacy or education related organizations across North America. On college campuses, there is a greater balance of female and male leadership, leading some observers to believe that this generation of college Israel activists may be a force for change in the broader community.

The Jewish Daily Forward’s recent survey found that only 9 of the country’s top 76 Jewish organizations were led by women in 2011, reflecting on a general national trend. There is also a wage gap in the Jewish world: Female CEOs earn 62.5 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This figure worsened from 2010, when the number was 67 cents.

In the field of Israel advocacy, the heads of the David Project, Hasbara Fellowships, AIPAC, Israel on Campus Coalition and JStreet are all headed by men. The top figures at many of the media outlets, as well as leading commentators followed by Israel activists, also are men.

Women in Pro-Israel Campus Organizations

So where are the prominent women? Jane Eisner, the editor in chief of the Forward, has written that men who occupy the top positions have been there for an extensive period of time, preventing women from having the opportunity even to compete for senior posts. At the same time, she points out, the majority of new organizations are often started and run by males.

Though still a minority, many women are changing the landscape and breaking new ground for future female leaders. Pro-Israel organizations StandWithUs and The Israel Project both were established by females.

Many females have taken top leadership roles in pro-Israel groups on campus; Hasbara Fellowships, StandWithUs and Israel on Campus Coalition all report having balanced numbers of female and male fellows/interns. Yet many note that there still is work to be done. At this year’s AIPAC Campus Awards dinner, the three “advocates of the year” and three “ally of the year” awards went to males. The event’s top honor, the Duke Rudman Leadership Award, went to the students at Brigham Young University (BYU) whose cadre comprised five males and one female.

The Impact of Female Students

Junior Aliza Ben-Arie is the president of New York University’s pro-Israel group, Gesher, and has found that, contrary to national trends, leadership in campus Israel advocacy groups has a greater balance. Junior Beth Drucker, the president of Harvard University’s, Harvard Students for Israel, echoes this assessment. Drucker said that rising to the presidency was a natural process based on her passion and active role in the group. She believes that, regardless of gender, the key to success is “seeing what people are doing right and then copying their technique,” perfecting past strategies.

Senior Avital Chizhik is the outgoing president of Yeshiva University’s Israel Club. YU has separate male and female pro-Israel groups that sometimes coordinate events together. This ensures continuous female leadership and allows for an interesting comparison of leadership style.

Chizhik is not just a leader at Stern College, YU’s campus for women; she takes a front seat role at Yeshiva University in general.

“In the beginning,” she said, “I had to establish myself and secure the respect of others. I believe in being open, approachable. Everyone thinks they’re the next Bibi Netanyahu but it is important to show humility while still taking yourself seriously.”

Disturbed by the inequality that exists both within the United States and in Israel, Chizhik said that women ought to be more confident and pro-active in getting to the top positions.

“Women have exactly what men have to offer. Women are just as charged with the Zionist cause. There are so many role models who have cleared the path for the next generation of female leaders. For the sake of the future of Israel advocacy, I hope the numbers will change.”

Natalie Menaged, the director of education for Hasbara Fellowships, has also found a balance between female and male leadership on college campuses. While noting that making a true assessment of leadership would require a more careful study she said, “In my experience, there are many young women seriously involved in Israel advocacy. Probably at least 60% of Hasbara Fellows, participants on our elite training program, are female. I see a lot of serious and talented young women taking campus leadership roles.”

On the West Coast, Coping with Israel Detractors

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

As they look back at the recently completed academic year, many campus Israel activists can point to examples of apartheid walls and walkouts, but these instances do little to ruffle their optimism. As they look ahead to the upcoming academic year, they focus on improving the campus Israel environment and building a stronger community commitment to peace and coexistence.

While most pro-Israel students have encountered some degree of tense or uncomfortable opposition on their campuses, they do not let these obstacles deter them from their goal of improving the campus Israel environment.

Portland State University student Josh Aherns and others affiliated with Christians United for Israel (CUFI) waged an uphill battle in response to an anti-Israel message advanced by rap group DAM at a local Portland public high school early in the school year. DAM’s performance at the school was promoted by an Arabic studies professor and the school principal. In May, CUFI hosted an event that drew more protesters than people who actually were interested in the program.

“A good portion of our audience was people who did not agree with our message and showed up to demonstrate against us,” Aherns acknowledged.

The message they were protesting was hardly radical: The organizers sought to encourage open dialogue.

“While they didn’t stay for the whole lecture, we were able to explain to them that we weren’t what DAM was saying about us,” Aherns said, adding that the walkout did not signify a total failure “While the group walked out, some individuals stayed for the entire event and accepted our invitation to dialogue.”

The experience in Oregon is replicated elsewhere around the country on a regular basis. Faced with walkouts, protests at events and blatant anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric, campus Israel leaders work towards a more peaceful, brighter future as they plan for the next academic year.

UCLA sophomore Avinoam Baral envisions an exciting future for Bruins for Israel (BFI), which he said hopes to enhance its campus presence next year.

The group hopes to facilitate more positive and reciprocal conversation between pro-Israel students and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members. With little cooperation from UCLA’s SJP chapter, BFI members anticipate that they will enjoy success by maintaining the relationships that were built throughout the last academic year and cultivating new ones.

Focusing on the positive isn’t always easy, especially in light of some major tensions that BFI encountered on campus during the spring quarter. Baral pointed to one example, in which SJP members led a walkout that disrupted a BFI event.

“The walkout was a very unfortunate move, ” he said.” It could have been managed better [by both sides].”

Like many other Israel activists on campuses across the country who face similar challenges, Baral and Ahrens were not deterred by the obstacles they encountered last year. Rather, these occurrences inspired them to redouble their efforts in the year ahead. Baral said that BFI hopes to capitalize on the students they already have interested or seeking more information on pro-Israel activism by keeping up enthusiasm and education “to build a pro-Israel community that is not only a large community with a lot of members but is educated, well informed and can effectively advocate and support Israel.”

Aherns and other CUFI on Campus members at Portland State hope to build a more open and respectful environment in spite of the hostility they have encountered on campus.

“It was stressful, but very encouraging to students who had felt too intimidated to speak up for Israel on campus,” Aherns said in reference to last year’s events. “We strengthened our relationships and resolve, and were able to demonstrate to the community and students who weren’t sure what to think about Israel and CUFI that our group was able to be respectful and positive, even in a hostile environment.”

Seismic Zionism at Summer Camp

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

For many pro-Israel campus activists, summer camps are places of inspiration, inculcation and leadership development.

During their summer breaks away from lecture halls and libraries, many undergraduate students assume leadership roles as counselors and mentors to a younger generation in camps across the country. Camps across the Jewish spectrum feature programming, discussions and classes aimed at developing staff members into pro-Israel campus activists.

Camp Ramah in Nyack, a day camp within the Conservative movement, is known for its array of developmental programming for staff members who reside in camp after campers have gone home. Staff programming “allows us to develop a currency and competency to articulate our passions for Israel,” said Josh Cooper, a division head for campers going into kindergarten this summer.

Cooper is highly involved in the Penn Israel Sector at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is majoring in mathematics. He attributes his Israel activity on campus to his 16 summers at Ramah camps.

Rabbi Ami Hersh, the assistant director of Camp Ramah in Nyack since 2006, explained that one of Ramah’s central goals is to teach Ahavat Yisrael, a true love of Israel. “Ramah has a dual mission,” he explained, “of serving campers by day, while educating and empowering its staff at night.” The counselors are immersed in an educational experience over the summer of personal growth and leadership development.

Maya Yair is another campus leader who credits her Israel activism to her many pivotal years at Camp Tel Yehudah, within the Young Judaea movement. Yair is president of Bearcats for Israel at Binghamton University, where she is majoring in political science.

Reflecting on her years as a staff member at Camp Tel Yehudah, Yair shared, “Teaching my campers about Herzl and a variety of Zionist thinkers was practice for my explaining Israel’s origins to peers on campus.”

The attention given to Israel in many camps is unparalleled. According to Hersh, Ramah camp sessions, courses and activities construct an Israel that “isn’t just a foreign place, thousands of miles away – but a real place, close to the heart and close to home.” Ninety percent of Nyack staff members have visited Israel.

“Working as a counselor,” Cooper remarked, “means representing Israel. It’s no different on campus.” Ramah staff members are taught this responsibility.

The overnight camp environment is in some ways similar to the university setting. Both are worlds onto themselves, guided by ethos and detached from the “real world.” In dormitories and camp bunks, during library study sessions and lakeside conversations, time seems to linger, friendships develop, and the semester or summer ends before you know it.

In both arenas, student leaders foster a collective sentiment of love and support for Israel through activities and programming.

Student-counselors consistently point to strong relationships with Israeli staff members as highly influential. “Through bonding with the Mishlachat [a group of Israeli counselors found at many camps], I developed personal friendships with real Israelis,” Yair said.

According to Cooper, having a Mishlachat is valuable because it allows campers and staff members to meet and befriend their Israeli counterparts. “When I advocate for Israel on campus,” he affirmed, “or think about my homeland, my relationships with the Mishlachat staff members are part of what comes to mind.”

Summer camps are strong inculcators of Jewish identity, their impact reaching far beyond eight weeks. The student leaders are primarily responsible for the strong records of success in promoting Jewish identity and the love of Israel among campers.

The links between attending camp and Jewish engagement are well documented in the recently published Jewish Community Study of New York. The study, organized by the UJA-Federation of New York, indicates that children who attend an overnight camp with Jewish content are likely to score much higher on the Index of Jewish Engagement as adults.

“The Jewish family and the various instruments of Jewish education “both formal, as in school, and informal, such as Jewish summer camp — are central to the mission of transmitting Jewish commitment and engagement,” the study reports.

It’s not only movement camps that are part of this effort. The Foundation for Jewish Camp and the i-Center, organizations both focused on shaping the identity and direction of young North American Jews, are piloting an initiative in 12 non-movement camps this summer.

Campus Activists to Army – Lone Soldiers Speak

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

The lone soldier.

Hundreds of pro-Israel campus activists graduated this year, and dozens of them plan to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Serving in the Israeli military before, during, or after college can be a logical extension of a student’s commitment to campus Israel efforts. They serve in various forums, including hesder, Garin Tzabar or directly enlisting independent of any organization.

The IDF defines a soldier whose immediate family does not reside in Israel as a lone soldier. Various benefits such as an increased salary, a choice of an adopted family or kibbutz, an allotment of cell phone minutes that can be used to call abroad, a free plane ticket to visit family outside Israel and an extra piece of luggage when making aliyah all are part of the lone soldier experience.

Today, 5,600 “lone soldiers” are enlisted in the IDF, and some of them worked tirelessly on behalf of Israel on U.S. campuses prior to donning IDF uniforms.

Brian Maissy is a past co-president of UC Berkeley’s Tikvah: Students for Israel, and soon he will become a lone soldier through the Garin Tzabar program. He noted a direct correlation between the challenges he faced as a campus Israel advocate and his decision to move to Israel and join the army.

“I saw injustice on campus,” he told ICB. “Students [were] spreading lies about Israel. I took it upon myself to counter the falsehoods and teach the truth about Israel and Zionism.

“I look at my army service the same way,” Maissy continued. “As a member of the Jewish people I have an obligation to help defend the Jewish state. My decision to enlist is an acceptance of that responsibility.”

Dov Lerner, 24 and former ZOA president at the University of Maryland, just signed on for two more years of service in the foreign affairs unit of the IDF. After four years of his active involvement in the Israel campus scene at UMD, including combating the BDS movement on campus, Lerner has a nuanced experience of what it means to be a lone soldier.

Speaking to ICB about the final night of a weeklong field maneuver exercise, Lerner shared a profound experience that he said he wants campus activists to understand.

“That night, we sat around a campfire and received food baskets from generous donors,” he said. “Everyone immediately tore apart the packages and began consuming the large quantities of chocolate, wafers and Bamba. I sat there staring at the package, which read: ‘To the heroes defending the land of Israel, stay safe and have a happy Purim, from the Brooklyn Chapter of the ZOA.”

When Lerner performs seemingly absurd tasks like running and shooting drills, or “washing a battalion’s worth of forks while on kitchen duty, or while mopping the library,” he must constantly remind himself of why he chooses to defend the country.

However, none of those absurd moments matched the feeling he got when he received those gift baskets from the ZOA. Six years earlier, Lerner had been packing those same packages for Israelis and now, in uniform, huddling around the fire to keep warm in the frigid desert night Lerner’s officer turned to him to ask, “How does it feel to be on the other side?”

“It is very different making the case for Israel on campuses than actually sitting on the border with a gun guarding the country,” Lerner said. “Having done both, I know that they are both extremely necessary.”

Another former campus activist who went on to serve as a lone soldier in the IDF’s elite Shaldag commando unit recalled that his attendance at an AIPAC conference 10 years ago, as a high school student, had a pivotal effect on him.

The former activist, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his military duties, recalled that Benjamin Netanyahu had met with a crowd of college student attendees at the conference. The past and future Israeli Prime Minister recounted a scene soon after his arrival at MIT: Fresh out of three years of IDF service, the new freshman found himself handing out leaflets at a pro-Israel rally. At first glance, Netanyahu thought little of its significance, but soon thereafter, he said, he realized that campus activists abroad and IDF soldiers “fighting the same battle.”

Strong Marketing Drives Success at UC Santa Cruz

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

You might not expect it, but the pro-Israel group at the University of California, Santa Cruz — a school with a decidedly liberal reputation — drew impressive numbers of attendees to its events throughout the past academic year. Approximately 150 people attended the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee’s (SCIAC) big fall quarter event, a screening of the documentary film, U.N. Me. and the numbers remained impressive all the way through spring quarter.

SCIAC employed a strategy of publicizing its events widely. One of its final events of the year, a talk by the American-born Israeli entrepreneur Jonathan Medved, who was featured in the 2009 book Start-up Nation, drew 80 people. The event was cosponsored by the engineering department.

These numbers are impressive on their own, but SCIAC’s history casts them in a different light. The group’s events have not always been so popular.

“When I first joined, no one came to events,” said Lauren Kasner, a senior at UCSC and SCIAC vice president of programming who also serves as a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.

During the summer of 2011, SCIAC members formed their first independent and fully functional student board, empowered by a unifying democratized decision-making process. Fortunately, this new SCIAC leadership realized the importance of good marketing, and the group focused on recruitment and event promotion, carefully strategizing to spread the word in ways that garner campus-wide attention.

“We realized that our outreach wasn’t very strong,” said senior Guy Herschmann, who is the StandWithUs Northern California campus coordinator. “So we decided to take a more proactive, visible approach.”

The shift in marketing has been no easy feat.

“We’ve had a lot of trouble publicizing SCIAC,” UCSC junior and SCIAC board chair Prescott Watson said. “We’re not a big group; our board is seven people, and we don’t have that many invested people coming to our general meetings. We’re dealing with a small group of people who are dedicated, and the rest of the campus is pretty apathetic.”

But this small group has poured tremendous thought and energy into tailoring their marketing tactics to the UCSC community.

“Our campus is really decentralized, so we have a hard time flyering,” Watson said.

To SCIAC members, this apparent roadblock is merely a logistical barrier that can be bypassed with thoughtful and innovative advertising tactics.

“We put a lot of effort into regular flyers and any means of advertising we can think of,” Kasner said. “We print big posters. We’re adamant about flyering bus stops multiple times a week. We put flyers all over libraries and classrooms and we make classroom announcements. We take a very ‘in-your-face,’ approach; you can’t really miss us.”

Herschmann also finds it helpful to take interest in individual underclassmen with high potential for interest and involvement in campus pro-Israel activities.

“I take them to coffee or lunch,” Herschmann said. “I don’t hesitate to call or text them. I don’t ask ‘if’,’ I ask ‘when.’”

To bolster attendance and support for the Medved lecture, SCIAC leaders turned to academic departments on their campus. After contacting various economics professors, the economics department, computer science professors and heads of development, SCIAC enlisted the Department of Engineering as event cosponsor.

“Cosponsoring the event with campus departments allowed us to draw out audiences that we never had before,” Herschmann said, “making the event all the more successful.”

Professors encouraged their students to attend the event, and some economics professors even offered extra credit, according to Herschmann.

“They want their students to learn from experts around the world—including Israel,” Herschmann said. “When you look at a country and how it’s transformed the world—you look at Israel, Israel is as good as it gets.”

In addition to aggressive marketing and cosponsorships, the SCIAC board members tap into a marketing aspect that no college student can resist: free food.

“We’ve been really lucky this year,” Kasner said. “We’ve been able to cater a lot of our events.”

SCIAC’s food-marketing strategy was especially effective in drawing attention to and bolstering attendance at the U.N. Me screening during fall quarter.

“I made sure that no one got falafel unless we got their name and email address and educated them about Israel, which we did with Israel pocket facts and StandWithUs brochures about Israel and the U.N.,” Herschmann said.

Students See Support at Israel Parade

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

Multiple student delegations joined tens of thousands of New Yorkers on Sunday as they marched down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for the Celebrate Israel Parade, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY).

About a dozen college campuses, including Brown University, Queens College, New York University, Columbia University, Yeshiva University and Cornell University, were represented by student delegations in the parade, which has been an annual fixture for the past 48 years.

“It’s really inspiring to see such a huge amount of people come out, despite long waits and a bit of rain, to show their support of Israel,” said Aliza Ben-Arie, who is president of New York University’s Israel club. “It’s a side of the Jewish world I don’t see as often as I’d like to, and it’s empowering to see it happen.

Eli Shaubi, the incoming co-president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, remarked, “It is really meaningful for me to be able to come out here and enjoy a fun afternoon with such a large variety of people. It’s important to remember that there is a wider pro-Israel community out there supporting you, and that we are one cog in the wheel, doing our part in advocating for Israel.”

The spokesman of the Israeli Consulate in New York, Shahar Azani, said after the parade, “Israel welcomes the participation of all community members in the Celebrate Israel Parade, and especially campus activists for Israel, as they witness the level of support Israel enjoys in the general public and are able to engage and network with other supporters of Israel. We hope to see many more every year.”


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/on-campus/students-see-support-at-israel-parade/2012/06/06/

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