It's lonely being pro-Israel on campus

While Jewish organizations such as Hillel stand behind us, we students are fighting from the trenches.

utexas 224 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
utexas 224 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Many people put much faith into average college students, assuming that they are curious enough to explore every facet of information given them. But people who think this of college students are severely misguided. The majority of college students are looking for something to believe in. So when pro-Palestinian on-campus groups wave around posters with pictures of "mutilated" Palestinian children, it's easy for students to fall into the "Israel is the aggressor" trap. This is a widespread problem on numerous college campuses - not only in the United States, but Canada and European countries as well. On the University of Texas at Austin campus, where I am a student, it's a daily problem. There are some five pro-Palestinian student groups currently active on campus. Guess how many pro-Israel student-run groups there are. One. Well, maybe two. There is also the Union of Progressive Zionism, but I am not yet convinced that their main battle won't be fighting the "occupation." Meanwhile, one could say there are about seven institutionalized forces working against Israel on the UT campus. This year alone, these groups have brought in speakers such as John Mearsheimer, author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a book denouncing AIPAC; Alison Weir, journalist and the founder of If Americans Knew, a group that argues the US is sending too much money to Israel and that the Palestinian plight is underrepresented in American media; Neturei Karta Rabbi Dovid Weiss, who attended Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference and is a member of Jews United Against Zionism; and Anna Baltzer, a pro-Palestinian American Jew. Needless to say, the Palestinian sympathizers at UT know how to make their events look credible, and the events are usually well attended. This is the part where putting too much faith in college students starts to go wrong. STUDENTS ATTEND these lectures and hear how AIPAC is supposedly wasting taxpayer's money, how Israel is supposedly brutalizing and killing innocent Palestinian children, and so on. The organizers of these events know these issues are compelling, and that any Joe-shmoe is going to sympathize with their cause. The average college student attending is likely to be hearing about the Arab-Israel conflict for the first time, and can end up believing that what they've just learned is the whole story, thus creating a large problem for pro-Israel activists. It is especially undermining when some of these anti-Israel speakers are of Jewish heritage. Students interpret that to mean that if a Jew doesn't like Israel, then Israel must be really bad - so it's ok if I don't like Israel either. In fact it is not uncommon to see scattered clueless middle-class kids schlepping to class with a keffiyeh around their neck because they sympathize with Palestine and believe they are wearing a "freedom scarf," as is called by the clothing store Urban Outfitters. To combat anti-Zionism on campus, TFI (Texans for Israel) has brought in speakers such as Middle East expert and former Jerusalem Post editor David Makovsky, Nonie Darwish, the Muslim-born Christian who founded Arabs for Israel, and David Brog, the founder of Christians United for Israel. However when speakers like these appear, Palestinian sympathizers come and make accusations against them. A member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee got up to ask Nonie Darwish a "question" which began: "You can't be serious. You are not a serious speaker. What are you trying to accomplish by speaking to a bunch of white American Jews?" Nor can these relatively few speakers compete with the onslaught of weekly posters put up around campus with pictures of bloodied Palestinian children, body bags, and misquoted statements from Israeli officials seeming to suggest that Palestinians are asking for it. For some reason - perhaps the way the media covers the conflict - many college students seem to be more skeptical of pro-Israel speakers than anti-Israel ones. SO FAR TFI has taken a non-confrontational stance when addressing the gory posters and signs claiming "Zionism equals racism." The Palestine Solidarity Committee even protested at an Israeli cultural event that had nothing to do with politics - proving that it is not aiming for peace or even dialogue. However in response to the recent "Apartheid Week" (that actually went on for two weeks) and the Campus Anti-War Movement to End the Occupation which displays posters with cartoons comparing Gaza to Auschwitz, TFI is stepping up our game, and preparing exhibits on the current situation in Sderot, minus the overwhelming gore. It is extremely hard to fight fire with fire and remain respectable. The images the pro-Palestinian groups put onto posters are deplorable. Texans for Israel will try to avoid the pity ploy, but on today's college campuses it seems that that's what it takes to gain support for a cause. A group has to be loud, crude, over the top, and gut wrenching for their message to be heard. Simply showing the positive side to a cause no longer captures attention. Pro-Israel activists can talk up the positives of Israel until we are blue in the face, but until someone sees Israelis as victims, they will just ignore our message. But is it right for pro-Israel groups to capture attention by exhibiting photos of suicide bombing victims? Or life under continuous rocket attack? Israel prides itself on being able to quickly pick up the pieces and move on. By stooping to the level of showing bombed-out homes, are pro-Israel groups helping or hurting the country? I am not sure. Luckily the semester is almost over, and we will have a whole summer to gear up for another 10-month-long war of words and rethink the tactics we are using. The writer is a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies. She was a Jerusalem Post intern last year.