University campuses worldwide are in the midst of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) 2021, initiated in 2005 by students at the University of Toronto. The aim: “To educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.” Today IAW operates in at least 55 cities in more than 30 countries.
At a time when the vast majority of Jewish students entering university are ill-equipped to counteract the vile distortions of the IAW movement, it should be a major concern for Israel and Jewish communities worldwide to address the turning away from Israel that specifically affects the younger generation of Jews.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many Jewish students – ignorant of Israel’s history and reality – are susceptible to the well-oiled and well-financed anti-Israel propaganda machine. Credence is added by those Israeli academics, such as Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim, who are regular lecturers at IAW events.
In the UK, Prof. David Miller, lecturing at the prestigious Bristol University, speaks about an infinite megalomaniac Zionism seeking to impose its will on the world. His Jewish students are inhibited from complaining for fear they will receive low grades. The university body refuses to address the complaints, citing “Freedom of speech” – this in spite of protests from the Community Security Trust (CST), responsible for protecting the UK’s Jewish community against antisemitism, plus a petition signed by thousands.
While Jewish student groups on campuses endeavor to involve Jewish students in their activities, the reality of the challenge is enormous. It is fair to say that most Jewish students prefer to avoid conflict situations (which is how they view the Israel - Palestinian dispute), seeing their university years as a time to obtain a degree and enjoy the opportunities of campus life.
It is against this background that StandWithUs (SWU) was co-founded in 2001 - in Los Angeles – by Roz Rothstein, currently its CEO, to educate students toward leadership on campus and beyond. Today this registered charity operates in 18 US cities as well as having branches in Israel, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
THE MAGAZINE was in contact with Jennifer Kutner, who has served as director of media relations in the US since SWU’s inception. Kutner highlights SWU’s Emerson Fellowship program, inaugurated in 2007, which has resulted in the selection and training of more than 100 student leaders on some 100 campuses throughout North America. The course teaches them how to run successful Israel educational programs and respond to anti-Israel rhetoric, including IAW’s BDS campaigns. The concept includes high school pupils, with training taking place during the summer vacation.
The Emerson Fellowship framework has expanded to the UK, where its graduates operate on 20 campuses. Raffy Lachter, campus coordinator for the UK’s SWU, strongly believes that education is the key to equipping Jewish students with facts relating to Israel while stressing the importance of preparing 6th formers (final school-year pupils) by offering crash courses in preparation for campus life.
University candidates applying to participate in the Emerson Fellowship are from different ends of the spectrum.
At one end is Yuval Ben-Arzi, who while born in Britain where she has continually lived, is the daughter of Israeli parents. Currently a second-year student at Warwick University studying psychology, she was shocked to encounter such hatred and hostility toward Israel. Although brought up with a love of Israel, when it came to combating the anti-Israel rhetoric she was at a complete loss. Her training as an Emerson Fellow ultimately enabled her to put forth Israel’s case in a most effective manner. Proof of this was when Yuval and an Emerson colleague opposed a virulent motion accusing Israel of being an apartheid state – comparing it to the former apartheid South Africa – and proposing BDS against Israel – and won the debate. Of the 4,413 who voted, 1,665 were in favor of the motion and 1,917 opposed it, with 831 abstentions. The SWU training and education paid off.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tom, who is not Jewish, but witnessed antisemitism at school and was shocked to witness the anti-Zionism campaign at his university. He too became an Emerson Fellow, playing a dynamic role in this year’s SWU Peace Week.
SWU BELIEVES that the most effective way to combat Israel Apartheid Week is to show Israel’s desire for peace. With this in mind SWU UK initiated Peace Week in 2017, this year held from March 8 to March 12, concluding three days prior to IAW.
UK SWU executive director Sara Sherrard said that 25 Emerson Fellowship graduates were in charge of organizing and preparing this event, involving student participants throughout campuses in the United Kingdom. Its aim was to combat anti-Israel misinformation and promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors. Due to COVID-19 the program was conducted via webinar. Events included “The Abraham Accords,” where representatives from Israel, UAE and Bahrain discussed these accords and the peace this brings to Israel, its friends and the region.
Among the speakers were the Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who is co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council; Thani Al-Shirawi, vice-chair of the Al Shirawi Group – Oasis Investment Company; and Ahdeya Al Sayed, president of the Bahrain Journalists Association. Tuning in to this session, it was heartwarming to witness the warmth expressed as to what this normalization has already achieved and the optimism for the future.
At a second Peace Week event, the speaker was Yoseph Haddad, CEO of Together – Vouch for Each Other, an NGO aiming to build bridges between Israel’s Arab sectors and Israeli society as a whole. Haddad, 35, an Israeli Christian Arab, spoke about his childhood growing up in Haifa. His friends, Jews, Muslims and Christians, played football together. At the age of 18 his Jewish friends joined the IDF. While he, as an Arab, was not obligated to serve in the IDF he decided to enlist. He was accepted into the prestigious Golani brigade, completing a commander’s course and receiving an award for excellence. In 2006, toward the end of his service in the IDF, the Second Lebanon War broke out. He witnessed the loss of three commanders, seven friends and a soldier under his command. Four days before the ceasefire, he was severely injured; he lost a leg and had multiple wounds over his body and face. Rehabilitation was long, but with determination he overcame his injuries. His leg was re-attached and today he is even able to play soccer.
During Yoseph’s recuperation he decided to dedicate his life to showcasing the beautiful sides of Israel, while simultaneously recognizing that the Arab sector was failing to integrate into mainstream Israel. He established his organization to move forward on this front.
BACK TO the beginning – what are the roots of Israel Apartheid Week? One answer came from Loretta Cash, chair of StandWithUs UK.
“Many years ago I became acutely aware that the Durban 2001 UN Conference against Racism brought together extreme negative misinformation, propaganda and hatred toward Israel and Zionism. It was clear that while many organizations cared for the students’ social and pastoral needs, none supported them with the education to battle against anti-Zionism and antisemitism, leaving them vulnerable to racism and hatred. Later meeting Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs Israel, I realized the urgent need to become involved with SWU UK which I have been proud to chair for a number of years.”
It is not easy to fight against well-funded deep-rooted widespread racist hatred; we praise them for their efforts and wish them resounding success. Hopefully, the truth will prevail.
The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. The views expressed are hers alone.