The state’s Jewish federations have pledged $10,000 to Rutgers Hillel for a series of pro-Israel events.
Aimed as a response in part to recent pro-Palestinian activities on campus, the events will include a Jan. 31 forum on United States-Israel relations featuring Reps. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6) and Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) and Israeli deputy consul general Shlomi Kofman.
The events are intended to highlight Israel’s democratic values and the country’s importance to the United States and New Jersey as a trading partner and ally.
“We have pledged to help them, and our immediate concern is providing support for its Israel advocacy program,” said Jacob Toporek, the executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. “We’ve had conversations with someone from the governor’s office about what’s happening. We are involved and we are engaged.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County is commiting $2,000 towards the Israel advocacy program for the spring semester. “We feel strongly that we need to provide the resources for our students to respond effectively and immediately,” said Gerrie Bamira, the Middlesex federation’s executive director.
The partnership announced on Jan. 25 is one component of a campaign to counter a series of events organized by BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, a Rutgers University student organization. BAKA has supported efforts to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, holding events that have featured nationally prominent speakers deeply critical of Israel and its role in May’s deadly flotilla incident.
The latest event — cosponsored by BAKA, Journalists for Human Rights, and Psi Sigma Phi men’s multi-cultural fraternity — was held Jan. 20 on the College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick to commemorate the second anniversary of the “Gaza massacres” during Operation Cast Lead. It drew 54 people, according to the campus newspaper, The Daily Targum.
In December, a “Palestine Culture Festival” was held on the university’s Douglass campus to raise money for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund of Rutgers University. It featured a panel discussion on the Gaza conflict and was cosponsored by the Arab Cultural Club, BAKA, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
“We need to combat this extremism and delegitimization of Israel,” Hillel’s executive director, Andrew Getraer, told NJJN. “We are once again being targeted as we were last semester where it seemed as if there was an anti-Israel event every week or at least every other week.”
Toporek said the association asked Getraer to speak to a meeting of federation executives in December about the Mideast debate on campus, after which they voted unanimously that advocacy “should take a higher priority.” Hillel was also asked to submit a three-year plan and budget for its pro-Israel campaign, which is being reviewed.
The first counter event, featuring Lance and Pallone, is billed as a Rutgers University student leadership dinner. Scarlet Blue and White, a student organization launched last semester as a multi-ethnic and religious pro-Israel student coalition, is sponsoring the event along with Rutgers Hillel, the State Association, the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
“Hillel is a great organization, but obviously we’re all Jews,” Liran Kapoano, a senior history and political science major from Somerset and a founder and president of Scarlet Blue and White. “I wanted to do something that was religion neutral.”
Kapoano said the student organization is also planning an event featuring American politicians with expertise in science and technology to speak to students on how Israeli trade and technological advancements benefit the American economy. Kapoano welcomed the assistance of the State Association, which has helped him make connections with political and Jewish community leaders.
Getraer is concerned about another event to be held on Jan. 29 on the Douglass Campus, sponsored by American Muslims for Palestine, the International Anti-Zionist Jewish Network, and the Middle East Children’s Alliance. The program, Never Again for Anyone, is being held in conjunction with the United Nations International Day of Holocaust Remembrance.
“They will have speakers who will equate Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust and genocide, which is morally outrageous,” said Getraer. “It not only trivializes the victims of a true genocide, the Holocaust, but it defames the Jewish State of Israel and the Jewish people.”