Israelis tour Canada ahead of 'Apartheid Week'

Jewish, Arab and Druse student delegation visits Canadian universities as part of public diplomacy project organized by WordSwap.

March 7, 2013 03:33
3 minute read.
A GROUP of Israeli students pose for a photo at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada

WordSwap delegation to Canada 370. (photo credit: Scott Goldstein)

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.

“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 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 Galilee.

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 the country.

While manning a table on one campus, he noted, a Palestinian student set up an information booth behind him to disseminate information about Israeli “apartheid.”

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.

“Engaging in 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 continued contact.

“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.

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