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Empowering students in defense of Israel
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Empowering students in defense of Israel

This Thursday night in the Campus Center: ‘Combating the Myths of Zionism.’ Come hear a noted public speaker, writer, activist, and associate editor of the International Socialist Review discuss and rebut the myths used to defend the State of Israel’s criminal policies. Bring your questions to this workshop and come away with greater clarity. Refreshments will be served!”

This is a typical Facebook ad or flyer for the kind of event you can find on any major university campus. As I write, this event is planned for Rutgers University just a few days from now. For readers of this paper, it should come as no surprise. Within the past year, a concerted, well-organized, anti-Israel campaign has been a staple feature of life at Rutgers-New Brunswick. The global campaign to delegitimize Israel has found a home at our state university.

Most people interested in Israel issues are aware that the campus is the focal point of these efforts, with national and international anti-Israel organizations working with faculty and student groups across the country. The campus is the target because that is where the open hearts and curious minds of the next generation are concentrated, where they can be most easily influenced, and where future leaders are being developed.

Sadly, most Jewish students lack the basic facts about the Middle East and the history of Israel. The majority, in my experience at Rutgers Hillel, are proud of Israel but ill-equipped to defend attacks on it, even as many feel their very Jewish identity is being challenged. They graduated from high school completely unaware of such issues and arrive on campus unprepared, often feeling a sense of impotence, outrage, and embarrassment at their own ignorance.

Our students are curious and are searching for the truth and will get their information from whoever is providing it. If Israel’s friends and supporters do not provide them with a full, truthful picture of the Jewish state, they will get their information elsewhere. For this reason, the Jewish community of New Jersey is responding, both at Rutgers, and throughout our state.

But it is not enough to simply respond to attacks on Israel. We have a responsibility to educate our students and our community by providing pro-Israel education and advocacy independent of any specific anti-Israel activity. Rutgers has an estimated 6,400 Jewish undergraduates, the second largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country. To reach a population of this size requires a permanent pro-Israel infrastructure, one that can engage students about issues beyond the conflict, so that they can learn who Israelis really are, experience Israel for themselves, and explore all aspects of Israeli society and culture, including a broad spectrum of political ideas.

To accomplish this goal, Rutgers Hillel has partnered with our entire Jewish federation system, through the State Association of Jewish Federations, to create the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement. It is a landmark, cutting-edge approach to Israel on campus. With a core belief that a positive connection to Israel is essential for a strong, healthy Jewish identity, RHCIE strives to be a model for excellence in Israel engagement, education, and advocacy on campus.

Our approach is based on the latest national research, adapted to our campus in conjunction with student leaders. We will promote the spirit of Israelis: a people that despite difficult circumstances have managed to go above and beyond in their contributions to humankind. On campus and beyond, RHCIE will provide the Jewish community with capable, passionate, and motivated agents of change. We believe that the Rutgers approach will prove successful, and can serve as a national model for all campuses.

Beyond the campus, our state community is focusing on Israel education as never before. Federation committees, often working with their Community Relations Councils, synagogues, JCCs, high schools, and national organizations, are organizing educational events throughout the community, to educate both the general community and to prepare our high school students so they will not be intimidated or persuaded by the misinformation they may encounter on campus.

One of the most important community events in this regard will be the presentation in West Orange of Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus (see sidebar). Crossing the Line is a powerful short film exposing the anti-Israel propaganda and intimidation becoming increasingly common on college campuses. The movie is part of Step Up For Israel, a grassroots education and advocacy initiative to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy.

Step Up For Israel is chaired nationally by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and former Israeli ambassador Dore Gold. The campaign is designed to create broad awareness of the growing anti-Israel movement taking root on college campuses, and to educate people of all ages with the facts about Israel. Locally it is being implemented by the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of  MetroWest and Central NJ in partnership with more than 32 synagogues and community organizations.

Following the film I will be privileged to present a briefing regarding Israel at Rutgers, followed by questions and discussion. I urge everyone who cares about Israel and its relationship to the next generation to attend. The time to teach our children, to stand up for Israel on campus, is now. I’ll see you there.

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