Ka'abiya is a StandWithUs Fellow and active in the nonprofit Aharai!.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
By the time Jewish students enter college they have already had 12 years of academic instruction preparing them to take on the challenges of advanced university studies.
Another challenge may be awaiting them on campus for which they are completely unprepared: a wall of anti-Israel hostility coming from fellow students and some faculty. The time to prepare them is not their first year of college, but rather in high school. This is why StandWithUs made high school training a strategic priority five years ago. Today we stand ready to partner with other Jewish community institutions and organizations to prepare greater numbers of high schoolers with rigorous, systematic training to equip them for the moment they face anti-Israel activism on their campuses.
Here’s what college freshmen may encounter: a veritable blizzard of misinformation, half-truths, myths and fallacies about Israel, Zionism and even Judaism.
Their very Jewish identities may be questioned, assaulted and delegitimized.
Some will experience overt “in your face” antisemitism for the first time in their young lives. Others will go into shock or avoidance, taking defensive personal actions such as hiding or removing their Jewish stars.
Tragically, a small number will get caught up in the anti-Israel atmosphere, “converting” to the anti-Israel cause and may even use their Jewishness to attack their fellow Jews.
Many more, however, will want to fight back. But that will require preparation before college. They must possess the organizational skills and knowledge base to allow them to educate their peers and when needed, to mount an effective pro-Israel campaign to confront and defeat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns on their campuses.
This is why we expanded the scope of our activities to train, empower and inspire high school students across North America with dynamic educational workshops, seminars, presentations and resources. We provide these services to Jewish day schools, youth groups, teen organizations, educators and public schools that likely do not have the resources to delve into such a hotly contested topic as the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Our motivation comes from seeing the high numbers of unprepared students entering college who witness anti-Israel campaigns and don’t know how to respond. By the time they navigate the campus, decide if they want to be involved and who with, and research best practices to confront the hostility they are facing, they are in their junior or senior years. That is a lot of lost time.
We are further motivated by knowing that Jewish and public schools are being targeted by pro- BDS activists with anti-Israel curriculums like “Reframing Israel.”
Its main author and the majority of contributors are part of the BDS campaign. Almost half of the curriculum’s advisory committee are members of the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). And circulating in public schools is a Saudi- funded curriculum, the “Arab World Studies Notebook,” which presents demonization of Israel in its “lessons.”
StandWithUs takes a two-pronged approach for high school students. First, we hold an intensive year-long internship for carefully selected high school juniors and seniors who have a demonstrated passion for Israel, as well as leadership skills. The goal: train, educate and inspire them to be more prepared leaders once entering college. Second, as a separate program, our dynamic team of professionals reach out to high school classrooms across North America with engaging presentations about Israel’s history, innovations, Jewish refugees of the Middle East, Israel’s humanitarian aid to countries hit by natural disasters and other relevant topics.
The over 80 StandWithUs high school student interns, from all streams of Judaism and the unaffiliated plus non-Jews of all backgrounds, take their leadership roles seriously. They study Israel’s history, geography, strategic challenges and current events. They learn their legal rights in case they are confronted by anti-Israel bullying. They also learn how to engage and lead their peers, and much more. They open Israel clubs in their high schools or improve existing ones and lead programs in their youth groups and communities. By the end of their internship year they will have organized programs that have collectively touched over 50,000 participants in North American high schools.
In practical terms this means that by the time they enter college the high school interns are equipped with the knowledge and experience to think strategically, seasoned in Israel education, current events, how to promote campaigns, how to build their Israel group and how to run successful events. Critically, they have learned how to discuss difficult and sensitive issues regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At StandWithUs we see the urgent need for making the high school a priority while emphasizing “unity” in “community.” We stand ready to partner with other organizations and institutions to begin working – as rapidly as possible – to prepare high school students with the rigorous, systematic training they need to equip them for when they meet forceful anti-Israel activism at college.
To succeed, they must be prepared to confidently confront aggressive misinformation and to know their legal rights if bullied.
Not only will this benefit them by giving them critical life-long leadership skills, but it will also significantly help Israel and the Jewish people as a whole.Roz Rothstein is CEO and Yitz Santis is senior writer and analyst at StandWithUs, a 15-year-old international Israel education organization.