A delegation of university students, comprised of members of the Jewish, Arab
and Druse communities, has just returned to Israel after a week-long outreach
tour of Canadian universities, timed to conclude just before the start of Israel
Apartheid Week on North American campuses.
The trip, organized by
WordSwap, a nonpartisan public diplomacy project run by Orit Tepper and former
Jerusalem Post staffer Talia Dekel, brought the students specifically to Canada
because, Dekel noted, it is a “country [that] although known on a political
level for its unabashed support of Israel, is home to a network of BDS (boycott,
divestment, and sanctions) activists and is the birthplace of so-called ‘Israel
Apartheid Week.’” “Orit and I both experienced vicious anti-Israel activity on
campuses and other areas abroad. We were involved in a similar project to
universities elsewhere, and decided it was time to take action,” Dekel told the
Post on Wednesday. “As a result, we founded WordSwap, in the hopes of promoting
an accurate image of Israel and to serve as first-hand sources for others by way
of engaging in student-to student dialogue on campus.”
The 10-day trip
was sponsored in part by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
only did we speak in front of and converse with hundreds of future leaders
across Canadian campuses, we created what we believe will be lasting
relationships with them through continued contact,” she said. “They were
especially intrigued (and shocked) by the Druse and Muslim students
participating in our delegation to represent Israel.”
Ruthie Berber, 21, was one of the
participants. Born in New York to Israeli parents, she made aliya from London in
2006 and joined the IDF. An important part of the trip, she said, was setting up
tables on campuses and correcting what participants in the program believe to be
misconceptions about Israel.
Another one of the participants in the trip
was Muhammad Heeb, 26, who is studying political science at the University of
Haifa. A former armored vehicle driver in the Israeli army, Muhammad is
originally from the Beduin village of Tuba-Zanghariya in the Upper
Heeb told the Post
that people were shocked to see him, as an
Israeli-Arab, stand up for the Jewish state. He said that as a member of Israeli
society, he felt obligated to go and give college students a different take on
While manning a table on one campus, he noted, a Palestinian
student set up an information booth behind him to disseminate information about
He said that when he told her that he was an
Israeli-Arab and that he did not believe Israel to be an apartheid state, she
replied that she had nothing to say to him.
However, he said, many
students were very happy to discuss Israel with him.
dialogue with people who are usually offered a very narrow perception of events
is challenging,” Dekel noted. “While success is something that can (and should)
only be measured after some time has passed, I believe our group was able to
spark an interest in acquiring balanced information about Israel for those less
familiar with current events, and even raised doubts in the minds of many of
those who had been closed to misconceptions. Not only did we speak in front of
and converse with hundreds of future leaders across Canadian campuses, we
created what we believe will be lasting relationships with them through
“I think our biggest delight was being able to hold
constructive dialogue with dozens of students from Arab and Muslim countries who
had come to study in Canada.
Many of them were intrigued by the fact that
people who shared their mother-tongue, from Druse and Beduin areas in Israel,
were willing to speak on behalf of the Jewish state with pride. It was great to
see,” Dekel said.