Alarmed by recent anti-Israel activities on American campuses, leaders of the MetroWest Jewish community are preparing to arm high school students with coping skills for defending Israel when they reach college.
The program launches on Thursday, May 6, at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange with a workshop, Will You Know How to Stand Up for Israel on Your College Campus?
Its sponsors are the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, the Anti-Defamation League, the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the Israel Program Center of MetroWest, and JCC MetroWest.
“Right now the effort for delegitimization of Israel is taking place on some college campuses,” said CRC associate Melanie Gorelick. “The impact that it is having on Jewish kids is of real concern. The kids are not prepared to handle anti-Israel sentiment when they get to college. They don’t have the skills to be proactive and go beyond intimidation.”
Joining her as a facilitator of the program will be Etzion Neuer, director of the ADL’s New Jersey region.
“Not every campus is seething with anti-Israel anger, but there have been a number of high-profile instances that have caught our attention,” he said, citing disruptions of Israeli guest speakers at three universities last February. “They have been poster cases for the need to educate our young people.”
The program is the brainchild of Philip Horn of West Orange, chair of the CRC’s Israel and World Affairs Committee.
“On some campuses the attack on Israel has been very great,” he said. “We need people who are going to speak up. We have a latent corps of potential activists in college. We need to train them and give them the confidence to speak up.”
In order “to be interactive” and reach the high school students “where they’re at,” Gorelick said, she plans to use YouTube video clips of on-campus confrontations between pro- and anti-Israel advocates. Among them will be one showing the heckling of Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, during a speech at the University of California at Irvine in February. Eleven students were arrested for interrupting his remarks by shouting anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian comments from the audience.
Students will be shown that video and other clips and asked how they would deal with similar incidents.
Then the group will break up into smaller meetings for discussions facilitated by experts from ADL and other such advocacy groups as Stand with Us, the David Project, and Caravan for Democracy.
The aim, said Gorelick, is not to teach young people how to engage in conflict, but “to provide students who want to defend Israel with the skills they will need to be advocates and respond to difficult situations.”
“To be fair, most campuses are not war zones,” said Neuer. “Most students want to go to college, get a degree, and not get caught up in the mishegas.”
According to Neuer, ADL studies show that on an average campus there are “a small group of students who strongly support Israel and a small group of students who may be opposed to Israel in a pitched battle to win the hearts and minds of everybody — who largely are not interested.
“But we can’t minimize the groups against Israel.”
The scenarios the program will present will include anti-Israel rallies and “Israel Apartheid Week” programs that have been held at some universities. These incidents, he said, “are ripped from the headlines. We want students to think about the cases and how they would respond. We want them to know there are resources available to them on campus and they should never feel lost.”
“If we can somehow mobilize 60 kids and maintain contact with them when they get to college, we’ll have a network,” said Horn. “That’s why we’re doing this.”