IDF veterans battle anti-Israel bias on US campuses

A joint initiative by Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad brings former IDF soldiers to US campuses to talk about Israel and the IDF.

A joint initiative by Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad brings IDF veterans to US college campuses. (photo credit: BELEV ECHAD)
A joint initiative by Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad brings IDF veterans to US college campuses.
(photo credit: BELEV ECHAD)

Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad have launched a joint program that brings IDF veterans to college campuses in the United States to discuss their experiences and dispel misconceptions about Israel.

Amit Zohar, an IDF soldier who was injured by an explosion during the 2014 Gaza war, did not know if he would ever recover from his wounds. After months in rehabilitation, he learned about Belev Echad, which was leading a tour of New York City. On the tour, Zohar met American Jews who expressed support for him but he also realized that American college campuses are rife with anti-Israel bias and antisemitism. After joining the joint initiative, Zohar went on a tour of the US East Coast, visiting Brooklyn College, Union College, Vanderbilt University, the University of Berkeley, the University of Georgia, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Miami.

After sharing his experiences with American college students, Zohar was surprised that so many did not understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

"I met students who are so far from the battlefield that they don't have a clue about [sic] we’re fighting 6,000 miles away in Israel," he said. "The battle I fought in Gaza was against the weapons of Hamas, against grenades and missiles, but now I’m fighting for my country in a whole different type of way—spreading the warmth, light and truth about Israel and the IDF."

Dana Ophir is another veteran who went on the tour. She was severely injured in a car-ramming attack, which shattered her pelvis and left her in a wheelchair. After much uncertainty about whether she would ever regain full mobility, she taught herself to walk again.

A joint initiative by Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad brings IDF veterans to US college campuses. (credit: BELEV ECHAD)A joint initiative by Chabad on Campus and Belev Echad brings IDF veterans to US college campuses. (credit: BELEV ECHAD)

"It was a long, arduous process, but today, I’m relearning how to be a trainer and am advancing at an amazing pace," Ophir said. "I’ve also joined Belev Echad’s initiative to engage, connect and educate contemporary college youth about the reality and truth about Israel and the IDF, and this is very meaningful for me."

Ryan Bauman, who attends Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, was enthusiastic about the program. "This was one of the most influential experiences I’ve had here so far—talking to two IDF soldiers, hearing how they were injured, how they went from laying in a hospital bed and not knowing what the future would be. From giving their lives, their injuries and service to the State of Israel to what they are today—fluent in English, interacting with us as students, sharing their stories, and trying to present Israel from a different perspective. So often, we get the political view, we get the business view, but this is a more human perspective."