At its National Summit,
Teen Zionist movement Club Z on Tuesday called on high schools, universities, and education boards across the United States to adopt a five-point Jewish Students Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee an education free of fear for Jewish students throughout the United States educational system.
The National Summit, held in partnership with the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement, was held online this year and highlighted the importance for Jewish teens to combat anti-Semitism in schools and on social media. While a wide range of Jewish and Zionist organizations address the needs of college students, middle and high school students – a population that is younger and more vulnerable – are too often left unequipped to deal with the constant attacks on their identities as Jews and Zionists.
The event featured a keynote speech from human rights lawyer and founder of the Lawfare Project, Brooke Goldstein, who said, “We have failed to phrase the anti-BDS narrative as a civil rights issue.” Referencing a case in which two Jewish students filed a discrimination lawsuit against San Francisco State University (SFSU), she commented, “SFSU didn’t say they discriminated against Jewish students because they’re Jewish, but because they’re Zionist.”
Goldstein added, “Club Z ensures that not only are Jews connected to their heritage and the Jewish state, but also that Jewish youth are prepared to pick up the mantle and effectively advocate for themselves as a minority community.”
Masha Merkulova, Club Z Founder and Executive Director, outlined how Jewish teens and students too often face a hostile environment and attacks on their identity. Therefore, said Merkulova, a Jewish Students Bill of Rights is required to tackle this worrying phenomenon and called on high schools, universities, and education boards across the country to adopt it.
Merkulova commented, “Giving our students talking points, without them knowing the history and understanding the context, without them seeing themselves that they are part of a proud people with a rich history, we will continue to struggle as a diaspora community and our children will continue to struggle on their campuses.” She added, “The adults need to start having courage. To step out of our comfort zone and hold the teachers and the administrators accountable when Jew-hatred comes to their schools.”
The Jewish Students Bill of Rights, developed by Club Z, outlines five basic rights Jewish students should be entitled to at their schools: (1) Free expression of their Jewish identity, (2) A fair education, (3) A safe learning environment, (4) A comprehensive definition of antisemitism, (5) Fair protections.
The National Summit also included a diverse panel of young Zionist influencers, which discussed how to become a more effective activist within a community. The panel included Adela Cojab (Israel activist, public speaker, and author), Joshua Washington (Executive Director of Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel), and Julia Jassey (Co-CEO of Jewish on Campus).
Adela Cojab said, “My advice for high school students that are soon entering the college campus: 1. Hold your ground from the beginning. 2. Know that your voice is worthy and have the same rights as others. 3. Don’t be afraid to make the headlines.”
Joshua Washington said, “I don’t like seeing my community being lied to, and I don’t like seeing my community being used for Jew-hatred. So we do what we do both because we stand with Israel and the Jewish people, but also because we wanna see our communities thrive.”
Julia Jassey said, “Most posts on our Instagram page about anti-Semitism are anonymous because students are afraid to face backlash. And students do face a tremendous amount of backlash. … Us, sharing their story, inspires others to also share their stories. Because there’s no one face to Zionism or Judaism.”
Also at the event, the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement and Club Z launched the “Emerging Zionist Leadership Award,” a brand new award honoring the activism work of a Jewish teen in advancing Zionism, Israel advocacy, and/or combating anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, a discussion panel with current high-schoolers included four teens who are currently actively working to tackle anti-Semitism or promote Zionism.
One of the panelists Jennifer Karlan, said, “In my eight years of Jewish education, the entire time we learned of Israel in terms of our religious identity. Coming to Club Z really blew my mind to learn that Jews are indigenous and that being Jewish is not just about religion… We’re an ethnic tribe and it runs in our blood. We’re naturally tied to our land.”