Rutgers students say ‘yes’ to peace, ‘no’ to hate
On select college campuses across North America there is an annual week devoted to spreading hatred toward the Jewish state. It goes by the name “Israel Apartheid Week,” but a more accurate title would be “Hate Week.” This year student leaders and the staff of the newly established Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement, Tzvi Raviv and Lihi Rothshild, developed a plan that we call “Defeat Hate Week.”
Our strategy was threefold: 1) Prepare the community by providing knowledge, 2) craft smart pro-Israel messages based on the latest research, and 3) redirect attention from anti-Israel events. By following through with this plan we successfully defeated messages of hatred and promoted messages of truth and hope for peace.
To prepare our community, we felt it was necessary to expose the Rutgers student body to the hate speech and demonstrations they might face. To do this we screened the film Crossing the Line at Rutgers Hillel in New Brunswick on two separate occasions. This film explores the proliferation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents on North American college campuses. Following the screening, RHCIE staff and leaders in the pro-Israel community presented different ways to advocate for Israel on campus and discussed what to expect at Rutgers specifically.
Holding the event on two occasions allowed for a broader audience of students to learn and discuss the issues in a more personal and in-depth forum. By preparing students to face hate and negativity, we united our community around our own positive messaging.
In addition, on Feb. 17, 15 student leaders from Rutgers attended the Talk Israel Weekend Retreat. At the statewide retreat — organized by a partnership comprising RHCIE, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, and the David Project — students from Rutgers and other New Jersey campuses learned how to better advocate for Israel.
Preparing our students was only the first step. Using the latest research and select resources from other pro-Israel organizations, we crafted messages that present the human face of Israelis and emphasize the similar values of Americans and Israelis. Another aspect of our message was the use of pro-Israel terminology, such as branding the anti-Israel activities as “Hate Week.”
With our student leaders prepared and our smart messages ready, we moved to the next phase of Defeat Hate Week: redirecting attention from anti-Israel events to pro-Israel events. In conjunction with Hasbara Fellowships’ Israel Peace Week, we held a variety of programs to highlight rarely seen positive images of Israel. Attendance at anti-Israel programs this year has been poor, so instead of drawing attention to their events by protesting and arguing, we focused on providing positive messages, so that the Rutgers community could meet real Israelis and through these meetings see the human face of Israel.
We started on Feb. 27 with an event called “Guess Who? Israelis, the Melting Pot of the Middle East” at Rutgers Hillel. A standing-room-only group of 65 students turned out to hear a panel of Israelis of diverse backgrounds talk about their everyday lives. Wednesday night we followed that session with a program titled “Ethiopia to Israel: Operation Moses Firsthand,” featuring Zion Uness, who made aliya from Ethiopia in 1984 (see page 8).
Defeat Hate Week culminated on March 1 as over 700 Rutgers students of different backgrounds signed the Israel on Campus Coalition’s “Real Partners. Real Peace” pledge. This petition calls for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, opposes the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of independence, and calls for the Palestinian Authority to end its association with the terrorist group Hamas. The petition is to be published in our campus newspaper The Daily Targum. During Defeat Hate Week, three pro-Israel op-eds written by students were also published in the Targum.
After a long day manning tables and dispensing information, the pro-Israel community came together in the evening on March 1 for “Israel and America: The Culture of Friendship,” sponsored by Rutgers Israel Public Affairs Committee, in preparation for a delegation of Rutgers students and RHCIE staff attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference March 4-6 in Washington.
Rutgers students banded together to say that there is no room on our campus for baseless hate and unfounded claims. We gave no validity to claims of “apartheid” and extremist arguments. We welcomed dialogue and encouraged students to expand their view of Israel and Israelis. This year at Rutgers University, through students promoting peace, truth, and open conversations, we defeated Hate Week.