Passing through many North American campuses this month - from New York and Boston to Chicago and Los Angeles - students are likely to draw the conclusion that Israel is a brutally oppressive regime, worthy of global boycotts and sanctions.
This month, dozens of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) demonstrations and events have flooded North American campuses. Just last week, makeshift ‘apartheid walls’ dotted UCLA and Brooklyn College, while at Columbia University students impersonated Israeli soldiers stopping Palestinians at checkpoints.
Elsewhere, an academic panel at Harvard University called for divestment from Israel, and at Florida International University and UC Irvine, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein equated Israelis with Nazis. Protestors nearly rioted against the student government at Carleton University in Ottawa after they denied a motion recommending divestment from Israel.
Polls show that the substantial majority of Americans support Israel, but the intensity and pervasiveness of anti-Israel propaganda on campus does not bode well for the perception of Israel among America’s future leaders.
Most IAW events are being organized by chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a misnomer since the group rarely actually focuses on life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. In fact, these groups focus on demonizing Israel.
These IAW organizers prey upon the liberal, progressive sensibilities of many university groups, forming coalitions with antiwar movements and labor unions, and aligning their movement with causes like LGBT rights and gender equality (despite the persecution of homosexuals and mistreatment of women in most of Israel’s neighboring Arab states.)
Jewish students misguided enough to join the Israel detractors are quickly elevated to high-profile positions. Sadly, many Jewish students with little connection to or knowledge about Israel wind up feeling antipathy towards their historic homeland.
Ironically, the solutions these critics of Israel suggest are distinctly out of step with the actual population of the Palestinian territories, who by and large accept the two-state solution and seek prosperous relations with Israel. All of these factors combine for a dangerous trend against Israel among the next generation of Americans - unless we do something about it.
No partner for peace
It is tempting to get bogged down in reactive conversations about the true definition of apartheid, yet this can often impede the bigger goal of positively impacting people’s perception of Israel. Pro-Israel students must be educated and confident enough to respond to criticisms of Israel, but the focus should be on messages that dictate the narrative, rather than respond to accusations.
Here are a few simple, yet powerful messages that will resonate on campus.
1. Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace.
Most students are simply not aware of the efforts Israel has made for peace. Israel supporters often assume that the average university student knows more about the history of the conflict than actually do, while IAW organizers exploit the lack of knowledge.
It is crucial to convey the simple message that Israel wants peace, and to support this point with examples of Israel’s historic efforts. While being fully cognizant of its ancient and permanent connection to the land of Israel, the Jewish people have and are still willing to compromise to achieve peace.
2. Israel does not currently have a partner for peace in the Palestinian and Arab leadership, which generally oppress their citizens and inhibit democratic progress.
Once someone is educated about Israel’s efforts for peace, an obvious questions arises – so why isn’t there peace in the Middle East today?
As revolutions against oppression and corruption engulf states across the Middle East, it should not be difficult to explain that the Palestinian leadership, like its regional counterparts, has not served its people well. Despite the PA’s theoretical acceptance of the two-state solution, PA leadership reiterates that it will not recognize Israel as a Jewish State.
Even more problematic, Hamas came to power in a violent coup, and rules the Gaza Strip by force. Hamas has refused to recognize Israel, renounce the use of terror against Israeli civilians, or abide by past Israeli-Palestinian peace treaties. Under both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, violence against Israel continues to be glorified in textbooks and on television.
Furthermore, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon are funded by Iran, whose quest for nuclear capability threatens to undermine regional stability, not to mention global security. Factor in the other Middle East countries that do not recognize Israel’s existence, and it’s clear that Israel lacks legitimate peace partners.
3. Israel is a model of democracy, human rights, and innovation, despite its neighborhood.
Unlike apartheid South Africa, where blacks were segregated and deprived of legal rights, Israel’s Arab minority enjoy full voting rights and civil freedoms. While inequalities exist, as they unfortunately do in every democracy in the world, Israel is dedicated to providing equal opportunities to all its citizens.
Also, in the West Bank, where Israel has had a presence since 1967, but does not control civilian affairs, the standard of living, life expectancy and economy have improved dramatically in recent decades. The situation in Gaza is different unfortunately, as Hamas executes political opponents and is aggressively imposing Sharia law on its citizens. Yet despite thousands of rockets launched from Gaza, Israel facilitates the transportation of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to Gazans on a daily basis.
When Israel’s supporters focus on responding to the outrageous accusations of IAW, we miss an opportunity to present a positive narrative of Israel that is resonant on campus. As this battle grows in scope and difficulty each year, we must do everything possible to educate our students, and ensure that tomorrow’s decision makers know the truth about Israel on America’s college campuses.
Natalie Menaged is the National Director of the Hasbara Fellowships, an organization dedicated to educating, training and inspiring students to stand up for Israel on campus
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