Activists bring blue-and-white vote to US campuses

I Vote Israel campaign will end with a mock election for American students.

March 11, 2015 03:36
3 minute read.
Elections in Israel

Elections in Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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“Socialism is essentially democracy applied to the economic system, not just the political system,” said Adam, a philosophy major at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a supporter of the Hadash party. “What attracted me most... is the Jewish-Arab partnership.”

Interjecting, fellow student and party activist Eliana, an international relations major from Umm el-Fahm, added that such cooperation is “not just the best alternative, it’s the only alternative.”

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Hadash is running for Knesset as part of the Joint List.

According Dani, a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and an oleh from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who served in the IDF as a sniper, however, it is imperative to support the Center-Right.

“All peace efforts have pretty much failed. The Palestinians have broken every single promise that they have made in terms of cease-fire. When it comes to defense and security, I actually have very first-hand knowledge, because I was actually in Gaza and I was actually in the territories,” he said in explanation of why he will vote Likud on Tuesday.

Adam, Eliana and Dani were featured in short videos produced for the Hasbara Fellowships campus organization’s I Vote Israel campaign, which aims to provide American college students with information on Israel’s fractured political landscape ahead of next week’s Knesset vote.

The campaign, which began on 50 campuses on Tuesday, will culminate with a mock election in which students can pick their party of choice, Hasbara Fellowships executive director Elliot Mathias told The Jerusalem Post.

“We expect thousands of students to come to [our Facebook] page and vote,” he said, calling it “an opportunity to educate college students about Israeli democracy.”

“College campuses have become a real hotbed of Apartheid Week and the BDS movement, and we felt the Israel elections are a perfect example of how to educate students” and to counter the “misinformation and lies on campus and show how diverse and democratic Israel is,” he explained.

The campaign is being run in cooperation with Hillel and the Jewish Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, Mathias added.

Some campuses, such as Rutgers University in New Jersey, will hold mock debates and efforts will be made to highlight the role of Arabs and other minorities in Israel’s political sphere, he said.

This is the third time that Hasbara Fellowships has run such a campaign, and while during the last election only some 2,000 students ended up casting ballots, this time Mathias expects that “thousands of students across the country will participate.”

Asked about pushback, he said that there has not been significant opposition to the campaign but that during the last election members of an anti-Israel group at Boston University decided to “flood the vote” with ballots in favor of Arab parties.

Contacted by campus activists seeking direction, he replied that this was precisely the result he was hoping for, as it showed that “everyone has a voice” and that “you don’t have to have to be Jewish to vote.”

“Are we expecting more attacks?” Mathias mused. “I don’t know. It’s hard to argue with diversity and democracy. [Opponents] usually don’t argue with it and they avoid it and try to discuss their narratives. We hope they try and come and discuss Israeli democracy.”

“I thought it would be a really good way to get people on campus involved,” said Becky Sebo, who runs Ohio University’s Bobcats for Israel student group.

“I think that this program can definitely help on campuses where Israel is questioned or talked about negatively, because a lot of these people only hear about human rights violations and don’t do their research. When they hear it’s a democracy and there are Arab-Israelis in government who can run and vote, it changes their perspective and it opens up the perspective in a positive light,” she said.

There is a perception among US Jewish activists that it is becoming harder to be pro-Israel on campus. A member of UCLA’s student government was recently asked in a hearing whether her Jewish identity presents a conflict of interest.

During a February 10 hearing, four student government members at the University of California, Los Angeles, questioned Rachel Beyda’s ability to make unbiased decisions on cases in which the Jewish community had a vested interest while being active in Jewish organizations on campus.

Meanwhile, last month the Stanford University student senate passed an Israel divestment resolution.

I Vote Israel comes weeks before Israel Apartheid Week on American campuses.

JTA contributed to this report.

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