Rutgers students host critics of Gaza blockade

Rutgers students host critics of Gaza blockade

Organizers must name acceptable beneficiary; ‘matter is unresolved’

Neil Lazarus, a Jerusalem-based teacher, conducted sessions on Israel advocacy at Rutgers University on Nov. 2. Photo courtesy Rutgers Hillel
Neil Lazarus, a Jerusalem-based teacher, conducted sessions on Israel advocacy at Rutgers University on Nov. 2. Photo courtesy Rutgers Hillel

A fund-raiser run by a Rutgers University student organization to support efforts to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza went off as scheduled, although the organizers have yet to name an acceptable beneficiary through which to funnel event proceeds.

University spokesperson Greg Trevor said on Nov. 9 that the “matter remains unresolved.”

There were no incidents or protests during the Nov. 4 event at the Busch Campus Center in Piscataway, said Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer.

Sponsored by BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, the event featured speakers deeply critical of Israel and its role in May’s deadly flotilla incident.

Getraer said Hillel did not mount a protest because “that just brings them more attention and more publicity, and our experience on campus is that it has not been effective. We find the best way to combat anti-Israel activity is with pro-Israel activity, not with protest.”

Both Hillel and the NJ region of the Anti-Defamation League had taken issue with the program’s raising funds for USToGaza, saying the beneficiary did not have 50lc(3) nonprofit status as required by university rules.

Based on information provided by the two Jewish organization, the Rutgers University Student Assembly had told BAKA the original recipient was unacceptable and “conditionally approved” event funding provided a new beneficiary was found.

A spokeswoman for BAKA told The Star-Ledger that her organization was being maligned by groups opposed to the event.

"The way we are collecting the money is entirely legal," Hoda Mitwally, a Rutgers senior, told The Star-Ledger. "Everything we're doing is essentially for a humanitarian mission, yet we're being accused of just the opposite by those who don't want to recognize there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip."

In lieu of protests, Hillel sponsored training sessions by Neil Lazarus, a Jerusalem-based instructor of Israel advocacy. The sessions, held Nov. 2, attracted more than 70 students from Rutgers and other colleges, said Pam Slifer, Hillel’s Israel chair.

Based on those sessions, she said, she met with pro-Israel student representatives the next day, and plans were formulated to launch a pro-Israel initiative next semester.

“We are not going to protest, but we are going to create a great image for Israel on campus,” said Slifer, a junior psychology and education major from Millburn. “We are going to just ignore them for now and concentrate on shedding Israel in a good light.”

Among the activities planned will be a “really big” event surrounding Yom Ha’aztmaut, Israeli Independence Day, with a large visual pro-Israel component. One idea proposed during the meeting that Slifer said she “loved” was creating a “flash mob,” with a large number of people dressed in white and blue dancing in the street.

Hillel also has plans to bring in speakers from the Boston-based David Project-Center for Jewish Leadership to speak about Israel, and might even run its own Gaza fund-raiser.

We want to help,” the people of Gaza, said Slifer. “We just want to make sure we find an organization that is kosher, so to speak, and will really bring in humanitarian aid.”

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