Hundreds attend seminar on campus Israel advocacy
Advocates for Israel issued warnings and offered ways to combat anti-Semitism at institutions of higher learning throughout North America.
The March 8 program, which drew more than 400 to Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, was cosponsored by CAMERA, the Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
The speakers largely represented groups espousing right-leaning positions on Israel, although the program included more than 20 other program cosponsors, including Rutgers Hillel and the Jewish federations of Greater MetroWest and Heart of New Jersey.
Speeches by students and Jewish leaders and videos painted a grim picture of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on campuses, including examples of student governments that have approved resolutions urging their universities to boycott or divest from Israel.
“Political warfare is being waged on us, which is just as dangerous as conventional warfare,” warned former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon.
In workshops conducted by Jasmine Patihi — New York region high school coordinator for the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs — high school and college students discussed various scenarios they may confront in college.
“Times have changed and we have missed it,” said Charles Jacobs, a founder of Americans for Peace and Tolerance and the pro-Israel David Project. “We have new enemies. It used to be we killed baby Jesus. Then we were racial vermin, according to the Nazis. Now we have the apartheid State of Israel. It is the new anti-Semitism.”
Jacobs cautioned that anti-Israel bias has crept into academia, the media, and even high school curriculums. “The biggest threat to American-Jewish life happens in grades K-12,” said Jacobs. “The positions we hear on college campuses are now happening in high schools in courses usually called something like ‘global understanding.’ It is even more dangerous and yet not one Jewish organization is doing something about what is happening in our high schools.”
(Local ADL officials in Boston have disagreed with Jacobs’s group about the degree of anti-Israel education in the schools he has singled out.)
Samantha Mandeles, CAMERA senior campus coordinator, said that much of the anti-Israel sentiment on campus is fueled by chapters of Students for Justice Palestine.
“On many occasions Students for Justice Palestine has used slander and even violence against students who are proactively standing up as Zionists,” said Mandeles. She characterized many of their actions as “hostile street theater” that often link Israeli actions with Nazism.
She herself became a target for her pro-Israel activism while a student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, she said.
Members of Students for Justice Palestine “broke into my apartment and even told me as a Jew I was responsible for the murder of Jesus,” said Mandeles. “My reaction was not to hide or be intimidated.”
Instead, she planned rallies and brought in speakers, including members of the Israel Defense Forces.
“We know standing up and standing up tall is the right way to handle anti-Israel bias,” she said.
Lack of knowledge
IDF reserve Sgt. Benjamin Anthony described his efforts, as founder of Our Soldiers Speak, to counter negative images of Israel’s military.
Anthony said the memories that “haunt me even more than my memories of war” was seeing Jewish-American college students active in the anti-Israel movement. He blamed it on a lack of knowledge of Israeli history, and said his organization launched a high school education initiative in 2012 to prepare students to weather an anti-Israel college campaign. Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston is so far the only New Jersey school to implement the program.
Anthony warned that growing anti-Israel sentiment needs to be stopped or the historical American alliance with Israel could be threatened when those students become future political leaders.
Rutgers sophomore Evan Gottesman of East Brunswick said that earlier this month, Hillel chose to largely ignore the activities connected with the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” series of events run by pro-Palestinian groups.
“If you sink to their level it often becomes confrontational,” he said.
Ron and Sharon Rockman of Scotch Plains said they came to the event because their son, now a senior at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, will soon head off to college.
“This program was extremely strong and delivered even more than we expected,” said Ron. “I only wish even more people were here to see and hear this.”