They came from all over the US and Canada: Jews and non-Jews, those who had just
been to Israel for the first time on Birthright trips, Israelis and those who
have yet to make it to Israel. In a few weeks their school year will begin and
these “defenders of Israel” will face hostility and formidable challenges as
they attempt to uphold what is moral. They will work tirelessly to persuade
others to acknowledge the good in a nation that has been unfairly vilified and
ostracized by so many.
Almost 40 students from dozens of schools convened
in Boston for CAMERA’s Student Leadership and Advocacy Training
Conference. The conference took place August 19 to August 21 at the
Boston University Hillel. It focused on combating anti-Israel campaigns
and promoting accurate news coverage and commentary about Israel and the Middle
East on campus.
From a student in Texas who was fired from her position
as a news reporter for the school paper because of her support for Israel, to
students in California who endured professors spewing steady doses of
anti-Israel rhetoric, just about everyone had a moving story that highlighted
the importance of the conference. But now students were acquiring the tools to
counter this and gaining a supportive community to give them the fortitude to do
it. As participant Yoni Kaplan said, “no longer do any of us feel alone in the
The strength of these conferences is that “it brings together the
most passionate, most talented, and most dedicated proponents from around the
continent and forges them into a network,” as Mr. Kaplan, president of a CAMERA
Campus Activist Project (CCAP)-supported pro-Israel organization at Tulane
University put it.
Rita Usher, who attends a historically black college
in Alabama, explained, “I knew that Israel was important to me... I was told
that this wasn’t my fight, that the importance of Israel and its well-being
should be irrelevant to me, all because of the color of my skin. After
the conference I realized that the color of my skin did not matter. I felt more
empowered to do what is right, and that is to support a nation in its quest to
safety and truth.”
It was striking to hear from students about how alone
they felt on campus in a sea of anti-Israel sentiment. Indeed it brought
back my own memories of starting college during the height of the second
intifada, overwhelmed by an anti-Israel newspaper, anti- Israel professors and
anti- Israel student groups. This was years before CAMERA had established its
Campus Fellows and CCAP programs – providing constant support, education,
funding and resources for these Israel groups.
Unfortunately, what I
faced on campus now appears tame relative to the actions of anti-Israel groups
that have evolved to become far more organized, and far more
extreme. Thankfully, now there are resources to help the next generation
of pro-Israel activists.
On the first day of the conference, Navid Elie,
a student from California, expressed shock, telling the room that he had no idea
that he had signed up for something that intense. By the end of the conference,
he approached us with a smile on his face, exuberant about how much he had
learned. He confidently declared, “Now I feel ready.”
Christian Media Analyst Dexter Van Zile we heard an especially stirring story
about how he came to defend Israel, and left his congregation after it became a
beacon for anti- Israelism. Simmons College professor Dr. Richard Cravatts gave
a powerful lecture regarding the challenges of Israel activism on
campus. Sharon Singer, the director of public affairs and social media at
the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, spoke about how to restore
factual portrayals of Israel in university settings.
the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel, took part
in writing and role-playing workshops, and covered event-planning
strategies. After learning about anti- Israel arguments, in a rapidfire
session, students were given 30 seconds to respond to common slurs such as that
Israel is an apartheid state.
The goal was relevancy. Rena Nasar
of Baruch College, describing the conference, said, “I felt that this conference
really got down to the core issues pro-Israel students face every
It is on the campus front that some of the most important work is
being done to defend Israel against falsehoods and challenges to its
legitimacy. These students feel besieged at their universities. This
fall, hundreds of thousands of students will be exposed to the conflict for the
very first time, tens of thousands will contemplate going to Birthright or have
just gone on their first trip to Israel.
Other experienced pro-Israel
activists will be returning to campus. Learning in depth about the conflict in
such conferences can be an invaluable experience for students, some of which had
never spoken up or defended Israel before. Now they can help restore balance to
their school papers, lecture halls and conversations among their
peers.The writer is the Campus Coordinator at the Committee for Accuracy
in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). CAMERA, now in its 30th
anniversary year, is the premier Israel and Middle East news media monitor. The
nonpartisan organization has 65,000 members in more than 12 countries, with
websites in English, Hebrew and Spanish.
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