When teens arrive on college campuses they are often confronted with anti-Israel sentiment — which frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism — and many are baffled at how to respond. Even though they would like to stand up to the untruths, too often they don’t have the confidence or the knowledge to do so, according to organizers of StandWithUs, a non-profit pro-Israel education organization designed to give Jewish students the tools to deflect detractors and advocate for Israel.
“We expose teens to what they may encounter at college so they’re not blown away, and then give them techniques to respond to what many Jewish students are hearing,” said Paul Friedman, the tri-state area high school coordinator for StandWithUs.
Friedman will conduct an interactive program Jan. 15 focusing on the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel sponsored by StandWithUs, Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, and Marlboro Jewish Center, to teach teens how to have “constructive and non-confrontational dialog” with those who have different views on Israel. Although it is aimed at those in grades eight through 12, adults are welcome.
“Israel is often held to a different standard,” said Friedman in a phone interview with NJJN. This can veer into outright anti-Semitism, he said, with Jews compared to Nazis and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians likened to the treatment of blacks under South African apartheid.
The free program is open to the entire community and will feature small breakout groups led by teens from United Synagogue Youth chapters in Monmouth and Middlesex counties in “role-playing” exercises in which they will be presented with scenarios students may encounter and provided with “tools” to counter them.
Clips from the documentary, Crossing the Line II, will show an on-campus demonstration.
The program is a follow-up to a successful three-part program on Israel conducted last year by the synagogues and StandWithUs, which drew more than 100 people to each program, said Beth Ahm’s Israel affairs committee chair Barbara Safer. This year they felt they needed to address BDS specifically.
“It’s a very important topic right now because anti-Semitism and anti-Israel demonstrations are just rampant and kids nowadays don’t know how to differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments and don’t know how to stand up for themselves,” said Safer, a resident of Old Bridge.
She also noted that in many ways teens in New York and New Jersey are “sheltered” because of the large Jewish communities, as well as the non-Jewish familiarity with Jews.
“If they go to school in the Midwest things may be different than in the Northeast,” she said. “But even at places like Columbia [University] and Hunter [College] they’re having Israel apartheid week and die-ins. Kids see this and they don’t have the facts to stand up for themselves.”
MJC Israel affairs committee chair Jules Cohn said in an e-mail from Jerusalem, where the Manalapan resident is vacationing, that at last year’s program attendees learned about Israel’s history and geography and why there should be a Jewish State. In the last session, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who had made aliya explained his decision to move to Israel.
“Having had the basic training last year, it is time to learn the proper way to respond in an informed and knowledgeable manner,” said Cohn. “It is a starting point for the participants to gain confidence and begin to speak up for Israel and being a Jew when situations arise.”
Cohn said attendees will learn the concept behind the BDS movement, which is to single out and delegitimize Israel by focusing on so-called “human rights” abuses. “The anti-Israel movement is often guided by Students for Justice in Palestine, which has chapters on 120 campuses — 100 in the United States — which StandWithUs describes as the most prominent group on campus promoting BDS. Its chapters work together to demonize Israel, sponsor “Israel Apartheid Weeks,” and promote a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” to replace Israel.”
Cohn said one of the key points that will be emphasized is the importance of building relationships with campus groups representing Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, and LGBTQ students, and others to educate them about Israel’s strong human rights record.
Friedman, who graduated from Old Bridge High School, said during his “homecoming” that he will highlight the double standard of anti-Israel groups as evidenced by Israel alone being targeted for criticism.
“Israel is singled out by them as having no right to have a security border with the West Bank when in fact there are many security borders around the world and they don’t have a problem with any of them except in Israel,” he said.
Friedman said students will leave the program feeling “confident they have the right tools and resources to react. They will feel empowered.”
Sarah Safer, a 17-year- old senior at Old Bridge High, said she gained so much from last year’s program that she will serve as a teen facilitator this time, saying she felt it was important for teens to attend programs like these “whether they are students or not, so they can learn the truth and how to defend Israel.”
Next year Sarah, who is Barbara’s daughter, plans to spend more than four months at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and then at an agricultural program in the north, a decision she came to after attending the local program and AIPAC’s Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit.
“It really inspired me to learn so much more about Israel and BDS,” she said. “I felt so empowered after attending [the Monmouth program]. I learned so much about Israel’s history and accomplishments rather than about all the warfare and negative things. This really showed us the other side and how to defend Israel.”