10 Years Ago, Hamas Kidnapped Gilad Shalit

June 24, 2016

On June 25, 2006, I was enjoying my summer vacation having recently completed my sophomore year at UMass Amherst. That past January, just a few days after my 19th birthday, I traveled to Israel for the first time with Birthright. A place I had dreamed of visiting from a very young age.

On June 25, 2006, IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was taken hostage by the internationally recognized terrorist organization, Hamas, during an unprovoked cross border raid via underground tunnels near the Israel-Gaza border. He was just a few months shy of his 19th birthday.

The news of Gilad’s kidnapping was shocking, but there was hope he would be found quickly and unharmed.

Gilad Shalit during a forced interview. A Hamas terrorist has his hand on Shalit's shoulder.

Gilad Shalit during a forced interview. A Hamas terrorist has his hand on Shalit’s shoulder.

Gilad Shalit was held hostage by Hamas for five years. No one knew where he was kept, and no one knew if he was healthy, as Hamas refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit him.  The only sign of his life was one audiotape and one videotape that Hamas terrorists released in 2007 and 2009 to be used as bargaining chips for negotiations with the Israeli government. For the release of Gilad Shalit, Hamas demanded over a 1000 Palestinian and Israeli-Arabs to be released from Israeli jails, included those with “blood on their hands.”

I prayed for him to be released. How could someone my age be held by terrorists? Terrorists with the same mentality, the same aggression as those who lynched Vadim Nurhitz and Yossi Avrahami in 2000. Why was I at age 19, 20, 21 able to live a carefree life, attending classes, seeing friends and family while someone else across the world, the exact same age as me was alone, hidden away from his friends and family, tortured for defending his country, innocent men, women, and children, from these murderers? Why wasn’t the world condemning Hamas and demanding his release?

Gilad Shalit was on the minds of most Israelis. His family and friends held weekly protests outside the Prime Minister’s house. They weren’t going to let Israel forget about their son. They weren’t going to lose him.

I remember seeing the clock on many Israeli media sites, counting down the days, the hours that Gilad Shalit was still in captivity.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, I traveled to Israel while leading CAMERA’s Annual Leadership and Advocacy Training Mission and saw the many signs and graffiti calling for Gilad to be released. His picture was everywhere.

One of the signs displayed during Shalit's captivity, reading "Gilad is still alive."

One of the signs displayed during Shalit’s captivity, reading “Gilad is still alive.”

It was a strange feeling to be touring around Israel, capturing pictures of Jerusalem’s unique stone walls, while Gilad’s picture peaked out from the corner of your lens.

On October 18, 2011, Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli- Arab prisoners. Gilad’s safe return to home was a heavy price to pay for many Israelis. Some of the prisoners released were expected to serve life sentences for murdering innocent Israelis. This included the infamous Aziz Salha who participated in the lynching of Vadim Nurhitz and Yossi Avrahami, famously pictured waving his bloody hands outside of the window to the cheering crowds gathered on the street in Ramallah.

A Palestinian terrorist raises his bloody hands to show that he just took part in the lynching of two Israeli reservists, who were then dragged through the streets of Ramallah.

A Palestinian terrorist raises his bloody hands to show that he just took part in the lynching of two Israeli reservists, who were then dragged through the streets of Ramallah.

There have been too many young soldiers and Israeli civilians before and since Gilad’s kidnapping and release who weren’t able to make it home.

Israel and her people mourn the death of every life taken before their time and refuses to succumb to the terrorists’ will.

The price that was paid for Gilad Shalit’s release wasn’t easy, but I, among many Israelis, released a sigh of relief to have one more son return home.

Contributed by CAMERA’s International Campus Director, Aviva Slomich.

PTSD in Israel: A Subculture of the Masses

June 23, 2016

Israelis are known for having resilient personalities — for their chutzpah, being outspoken, and, with an obligatory draft at age 18, being tough individuals.

'Karakal' infantry female soldier. Source: slate.com

‘Karakal’ infantry female soldier. Source: slate.com

As a state created by Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Israel was forced to be resilient — this still rings true today. Between rockets shooting down on homes and terrorist attacks across the country, Israelis live under constant fire. At an early age, Israeli children learn that the sound of a siren signals they need to run for cover from a rocket attack. And as they grow up, they come to realize that the siren sounding precisely at 11AM on Yom Hazikaron notes something even more horrifying— remembering the death of loved ones lost to terror.

Israel puts on a tough face, and it is not a mask—the country successfully endures a lot of terror without giving up.

However, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is undeniably an intrinsic part of Israeli culture. That being said, Israel does not remain a passive victim of PTSD, but rather takes action in developing tactics to combat and counteract trauma.

Fighting PTSD

Source: emaze.com

Earlier this year in a CAMERA-supported eventFriends of Israel at MIT hosted Ayal Beer to speak about the issue of PTSD among Israelis. Beer, a social worker, is involved in social-change projects that deal with military trauma. The goal of the MIT event was to raise awareness about trauma and recovery. During his lecture, Beer also spoke more specifically about PTSD in Israeli society and the trauma many IDF soldiers experience.

Beer understands that in order to solve the PTSD problem, it must first be confronted and understood. When he lectures, he uses Israeli film to show how PTSD plays a role in Israeli culture.

In the recent Sderot Film Festival in Israel, the issue of PTSD was brought to the forefront. Yaniv Berman’s film, Land of the Little People, portrays the story of children who build a secret camp in an abandoned army base, revealing how Israeli children grow up in a military culture. More blatantly dealing with PTSD, Erez Mizrahi and Sahar Shavit’s Beneath the Silence tells the story of a father who suffers from PTSD and struggles to keep his family together.

In addition to discussing PTSD throughout film, Israelis like Ayal Beer are innovating ways to help the greater Israeli society, most of which is not officially diagnosed with PTSD — but is indisputably affected.

Ayal Beer is involved in Project Resisim, an organization that helps the general population that suffers from PTSD. Many individuals in Israeli society do not have any medical conditions or physical conditions, but they have lived through wars — and that is enough to scar a person internally. Just as the children in Land of Little People are affected by the dangerous conditions in Israel, so too are many Israelis. Shlomi Askira, CEO of Project Resisim, explains that although he himself is not diagnosed with PTSD, his military experiences indeed have affected him deeply.

By confronting this military trauma issue, Project Resisim is striving to revolutionize Israeli society and challenge the Israeli public to end the silence surrounding PTSD. Through its work with the Israeli public, Resisim can develop a culture of sharing and processing war experiences that global sufferers of PTSD can learn from.

While amazing organizations like Project Resisim are dealing with the aftermath of war trauma, Israeli innovations are helping to mitigate it. By saving lives, the Iron Dome prevents the PTSD that would have come with all the lives that would have been lost. A recent Bar Ilan University study shows that the Iron Dome helped to reduce PTSD symptoms by also enhancing people’s overall sense of safety. The study reveals that belief in the external protection of the Iron Dome strengthens resilience and prevents trauma.

Iron Dome System. Source: rafael.co.il

Iron Dome System. Source: rafael.co.il

Between exposing Israeli trauma in films, discussing the effects through projects like Resisim, and developing protective military innovations, Israel is once again proving its resilience in the face of a deep-rooted PTSD problem. As Israel learns from the effects of this debilitating illness and innovates accordingly, sufferers of PTSD around the world also benefit.

Tips for the Israel Advocate

June 22, 2016

Between anti-Semitism on college campuses and terror attacks, it doesn’t seem that hatred for the Jewish state will end in the near future.

While hate for Israel does not seem be letting up, the approach of Israel advocates can change.

At a recent event hosted by CAMERA at Hebrew University, Assaf Luxembourg, CEO of Crowdmii (Crowd Made in Israel), addressed the best approach for Israel advocacy.

There are two main ways, Luxembourg explained, to advocate for Israel:

1) Through Hasbara, Hebrew for “explaining,” which defends or positively influences people’s views of Israel, her political moves and policies.

2) Or through the “Marketing Approach,” as Luxembourg calls it, which uses personal stories and interests, in order to present Israel not just as that distant place of conflict but as a real and thriving place, a place close to our hearts.

He argues that the second approach is more successful. He sets a great example of how to implement it. As CEO of Crowdmii, a fundraising platform, Luxembourg connects people from around the world with Israeli innovative business ventures.

Luxembourg speaking on I24News about Israel's Public Diplomacy. Source: flickr.com

Luxembourg speaking on I24News about Israel’s Public Diplomacy. Source: flickr.com

Luxembourg talks about Israel as a “start-up nation,” a phrase well-known by Hasbara advocates. But by presenting his personal interest, which for him happens to be start-ups, he successfully implements the “marketing approach,” and connects to people globally through the culturally rich modern Israel that he loves being a part of.

Also bringing a valuable viewpoint to the table is the award-winning Chloe Valdary, a former CAMERA fellow, who now researches and develops successful Israel advocacy tactics as a Tikvah Fellow at the Wall Street Journal. In her recent Times of Israel article, 21st Century Zionism: The Importance of Place & Homeland in Popular Culture, she shared her discoveries.

Israel Advocacy begins with a question: Why advocate for Israel? That is to say, why care about Israel?

Yes, Israel is an innovative, resourceful, pluralistic democracy that has built itself up exponentially since being returned to the Jewish people in 1948. This is nothing short of a miracle and it is something to be amazed by.

However, that is not really why people love Israel, Valdary explains. Any reason to advocate for this crazy little country begins with love—a love deeply rooted in a historic, familial relationship with the land.

Source: Chloe Valdary's Twitter page

Source: Chloe Valdary’s Twitter page

To advocate for Israel is to protect family, to cherish home. Israel is where the story began and where it can only truly continue for the Jewish people.

To not value home is to abandon identity. Without a homeland, there is no safe haven for the Jewish people—but more than that, without Israel, the Jewish people has no real sense of place in the world.

Source: The Israel Network

Source: The Israel Network

According to Luxembourg and Valdary, defending Israel should come from within—from personal stories, from a historical, shared connection to a homeland, from a pure desire to better the country and how it viewed by the world because it is so essential to the existence and identity of the Jewish people.

If an advocate begins with a pure appreciation of Israel in mind and then shares all the great things that flourish from Israel and the Jewish people, there will always be plenty to discuss.

Valdary’s Facebook post following the recent Tel Aviv attack shows just how to relate Israel to anyone who appreciates most anything else in world culture:

“If you are moved by the music of Bob Marley, if your imagination is captured by the works of Michelangelo, if your heart is stirred by the dream of MLK, if you are captivated by Leonard Cohen, if you are inspired by the story of David and Goliath, if you were moved to tears by old Negro spirituals…
Then right now, at this moment you are all Tel Aviv. You are all Israel. And not in the lame social media meme sort of way but quite literally. For the things that move you were rooted in a language and lexicon shaped and crafted by a people. A people currently under attack and to whom you owe a debt. And if you do not defend and fight on behalf of them, all your institutions will come crashing down with sound and fury.”

Revealing the depth of Israel and Jewish culture, Valdary allows people to realize how much it deserves to be appreciated. Luxembourg does this as well as he helps Israeli businesses and global supporters collaborate and thrive in partnership.

An advocate should strive to present Israel in such a beautiful, relatable way.

But if an advocate’s passion for Israeli innovations or multi-faceted Jewish culture does not influence people, those people will hopefully at least begin to respect the Jewish people’s love for Israel because they understand what it means to love a home.

Valdary concludes her recent article by explaining that just as humans love their home and family, the Jewish people’s connection to their homeland “is an instinct every human being can relate to.”

In short, to advocate for Israel is equivalent to expressing one’s love for another person—each person says it or does it in their own way but the key is to be genuine and relatable.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz

SUNY Albany’s “Israel Fest of Love”

June 21, 2016

This past April, The Great Danes for Israel, a CAMERA-supported group, held an Israel Fest along with a number of other pro-Israel groups on the SUNY Albany campus. Hundreds of students participated in the event, including many with no prior knowledge of Israel.

Source: The Great Danes for Israel Facebook page.

Source: The Great Danes for Israel Facebook page.

It was a “huge celebration of love,” according to Aviv Zommer, one of the organizers, who was very happy with the event’s turnout.

Love was indeed in the air at this event, but also in the art. Artists 4 Israel, an organization that educates and provides awareness about Israel through art, set up a spray paint mural project at the Israel Fest. With the help of two artists, students were given the opportunity to express artistically their vision of Israel.

Completed mural now displayed permanently at the Student Association Office.

Completed mural now displayed permanently at the Student Association Office.

The event included other stations as well, revealing the diversity of the people and the land of Israel. The Interfaith Alliance set up a necklace-making station. The UAlbany Pride Alliance set up a Tel Aviv station—a city known for its beach as well as its LGBTQ-friendly reputation. A virtual reality glasses station and a Middle Eastern reptiles station presented other fun aspects of Israel. In addition, an ice cream station and an Israeli marketplace station left the students with a sweet taste of modern and traditional Israeli culture.

UAlbany Israel Fest

The study abroad office set up a station, informing students about opportunities to see the country for themselves. Students learned about semester abroad programs as well as sponsored trips to Israel.

The event was a great success and Great Danes for Israel made a video to remember it.

 

Building Bridges, Not Boycotts

June 20, 2016

The BDS movement is working to break down Israeli society and prevent Israeli individuals from developing the only democracy in the Middle East—a country where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, or any other people for that matter, can practice their religion freely.

CAMERA on Campus was thrilled to sponsor and participate in the Building Bridges, Not Boycotts Anti-BDS Conference held at the United Nations, where Pro-Israel organizations came together to stand strong together against the discriminatory movement.

Gilad Skolnick (left), CAMERA's Director of Campus Programming, with students Lilia and Austin.

Gilad Skolnick (left), CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming, with students Lilia and Austin.

Interviewed by the Associated Press, Gilad Skolnick, director of campus programming for CAMERA, said that of the 26 U.S. college campuses that voted on BDS resolutions last year, 12 were approved and 14 were rejected.

“So while it is a problem, BDS is often times a symptom of hatreds and anti-Semitism that starts on campus so CAMERA’s strategy is to set up before that happens so that it doesn’t become an issue,” Skolnick said.

MC Noa Tishby, Israeli actress and producer, introduced the first ever international anti-BDS movement in the United Nations. Tishby made clear that the Ambassadors against BDS will not accept the BDS movement, which is based on lies. The focus of the summit was to present the truth to the world.

Matisyahu sings at the UN. Source: onlysimchas.com

Matisyahu sings at the UN. Source: onlysimchas.com

Amongst a variety of speakers, Matisyahu brought his pro-Israel voice to the United Nations. In an invigorating moment, Matisyahu sang Jerusalem and could not have been more powerful:

“Jerusalem, if I forget you
Fire not gonna come from me tongue
Jerusalem, if I forget you
Let my right hand forget what its supposed to do”

We will not forget our Jerusalem. The BDS movement will not stop the Jewish people from living in our land of milk and honey after three thousand years with no place to be.

Danny Danon, Israel’s envoy to the UN, spoke as well. “It is up to us to stop this campaign of hate,” Danon explained, this conference serving as a metaphorical “Iron Dome” against the constant attacks from the BDS movement. Addressing the “leaders of BDS which call for the elimination of Israel,” Danon exposed them as the “true face of modern anti-Semitism.” They have no true interest in peace and are only devoted to attacking Israel.

Danny Danon at the United Nations. Source: Facebook Page

Danny Danon at the United Nations. Source: Facebook Page

He also reminded students, when bombarded by the BDS movement and anti-Israel messages on campus, to “remember this picture,” the picture of over 1,500 pro-Israel advocates convening at the United Nations. This summit does not just serve as a statement to the BDS movement that “you will never win,” he said, but as an inspiration for Jews and Zionists as well—stand for truth and know you never stand alone.

“This is not just a one-time conference,” Danon continued, this is only part of our fight to not let “the BDS demonize Israel…this is the time to take action.”

Danny Danon does not just talk the talk. Shortly after this conference, Danon showed us a great example of how to walk the walk.

While the BDS movement is trying to prevent Israeli advancements and stop Israeli individuals from taking part in the international world, Danny Danon made history at the United Nations. He became the first Israeli to head a committee at the United Nations since it was established in 1945.

Palestinians and other nations tried to stop the appointment, but Danon succeeded to fill this position after months of diplomatic wrangling. Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism and Danon says he is “pleased to have the opportunity to share [Israel’s] knowledge with the countries of the world.”

As Israel’s Ambassador, Danon confronts opposition from groups like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the UN, just as students face harassment from the BDS movement on their campuses.

Discussing how he will run the UN committee, Danon makes his intention to not back down absolutely clear and sets a great example for anyone combating anti-Israel obstacles:

“We will not allow dictatorships and anti-Israel countries to harm our standing in the international community. Those who tried to block our appointment would be well advised to take note of the jurisdiction of this committee, as they have much to learn about international law. We are a full member of the UN and any attempt to deny us of our legal rights in this organization will be met with uncompromising rejection.”

As Noa Tishby stated at the beginning of the anti-BDS conference, we stand for a “devotion to Israel, and a commitment to making the world a better place.” Danny Danon is the perfect example of putting these sentiments in motion. May our generation follow his lead.

Outstanding Students Awarded at CAMERA Gala

June 17, 2016

This past April, supporters, advocates, and special guests gathered at the annual Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) awards gala in New York City. Colonel Richard Kemp, a battle-tested veteran of the British Forces and a fearless defender of Israel, was honored at this year’s gala. In addition, two student Israel advocates, Michael (Misha) Vilenchuk and Reut Baer were recognized for their extraordinary efforts on campus with David Bar-Ilan Awards.

Colonel Richard Kemp poses with students for a photo at the 2016 CAMERA Gala

Colonel Richard Kemp, center, with CAMERA students and advocates at the 2016 CAMERA Gala

A long-standing officer in the British forces, Colonel Kemp was presented with the CAMERA Emet Award in recognition of his work to defend Israel and, more specifically, the IDF’s high moral standards which are often criticized. Having planned and led many counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and abroad, Col. Kemp has an exceptional understanding of morality in times of war. He has spoken in the UN numerous times on behalf of Israel regarding such issues. Additionally, he has lectured students at CAMERA events on campuses.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US and formerly the senior adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, attended the gala as a distinguished guest. Later in the evening, Dermer delivered the keynote address.

Following Dermer’s speech, dedicated student activists Michael (Misha) Vilenchuk (on behalf of CAMERA-supported group Judges for Israel) and Reut Baer were presented with this year’s David Bar-Ilan Awards for their outstanding efforts to promote Israel on and off campus.

CAMERA’s Outstanding Campus Activism and Outstanding Student Leadership awards honor the late David Bar-Illan, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post and long-time friend of the organization. CAMERA supports CAMERA Fellows and autonomous pro-Israel groups through the Emet for Israel program on more than 55 college and university campuses.

This year’s Campus Activism Award was awarded to Judges for Israel, for their outstanding Israel advocacy. Vilenchuk, a Brandeis University student, accepted the award on behalf of the group, which CAMERA helped found in 2013. This past October, Judges for Israel co-sponsored an event with the South Asian Student Association, bringing an expert on the Indian community in Israel to campus.  An engaged audience of both Jewish and Indian students learned about this important minority and subculture, furthering Israel’s identity as a diverse and accepting nation.  Through Misha’s initiative, JFI organized with seven other area colleges to march against media bias.  Cheers of “Am Yisrael Chai” and “open your eyes, stop the lies” were heard coming from the one hundred students marching.  The passion of the students was echoed by passing motorists with honks and waves – made more meaningful as this event was held only a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Following Misha’s acceptance of the Outstanding Campus Activism Award on behalf of Judges for Israel, this year’s Outstanding Student Leadership Award was given to Baer, a Cornell student. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Reut has always had strong ties with Israel. Her passion for Israel flourished as she grew up and began college in the US. As an intern for CAMERA, Reut has has organized several educational and advocacy training programs and a variety of speakers on campus. She is the president of CAMERA – supported group Cornellians for Israel, and is the Vice President of Pre-Professional Programming for her pre-law fraternity, KAPi.

Congratulations, Judges for Israel, on the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism, and Reut, on the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Student Leadership!

Below are their beautiful acceptance speeches from this year’s gala.

Misha Vilenchuk is given the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism

Misha Vilenchuk is presented with the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism

Bar-Ilan Acceptance Award Speech

Misha Vilenchuk, Brandeis University Student

It is with great honor that I accept the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism on behalf of Judges for Israel. I cannot express how grateful I am to CAMERA; it has been a genuine pleasure to serve as the EMET for Israel CAMERA Intern and to reinvigorate Brandeis’ call for social justice through a pro-Israel lens.

Though I am the one on stage today, my Israel co-activists deserve a special acknowledgement; I would like to thank three of them, Daniel Shpilsky, Ron Gadot and Andrew Jacobson, who are in the audience today, as well as our personal “Doctor X,” the former president Ari Givner, who brought us all together. While CAMERA provided me the guidance, training, and funding to conduct constructive events, the Judges for Israel team was essential to our success.

Working with CAMERA empowered me to cater to Brandeis’ unique Zionist demographic. Though we face no boycott issue, apathy, ignorance, and organizational incompetence prevented a serious pro-Israel voice at our historically Jewish college. With CAMERA’s support since the fall of 2013, we introduced exclusive speakers such as Dr. Maina Singh, who spoke of the Indian-Israeli minority, raised hundreds of dollars for OneFamilyFund through bake sales, and organized 130 students for a Vigil for Terror Victims in Israel. Disappointed in the global media’s anti-Israel bias, we utilized CAMERA’s student network in Boston and led over one hundred students from eight different universities in the March for Truth from Harvard College to the UK Consulate, highlighting BBC’s slanderous lies.

Though I graduate next month, I know Brandeis is in good hands. Students feel more open about their Zionism. I have had underclassmen approach me and thank Judges for Israel for empowering them to openly criticize their friends, and have seen non-Jewish students take interest in pro-Israeli programs. Zionism is not only alive, but blooms at Brandeis.

CAMERA helped us turn advocacy into activism. And for that, ladies and gentlemen here tonight, I thank you. At a time when Students for Justice in Palestine chapters grow and BDS continues to emerge, your gracious support is needed more than ever.

As my university’s namesake once said, “”Zionism finds in it, for the Jews, a reason to raise their heads, and, taking their stand upon the past, to gaze straightforwardly into the future.” Together, let us turn against apathy in search for truth.

Thank you.

Reut Baer speaks after after accepting her David Bar-Ilan Outstanding Student Leadership Award

Reut Baer speaks after accepting her David Bar-Ilan Outstanding Student Leadership Award

Bar-Ilan Acceptance Award Speech

Reut Baer, Cornell University Student

Thank you so much for this award. I really appreciate it, as well as all of CAMERA’s support that led up to this moment.

When I first started at Cornell University, I didn’t think my Israeli identity would matter. I assumed the school would be a place for exchanging ideas, not judging people on the basis of their national origins. But what I found was that it came into play on a daily basis, even before I got involved with Israel advocacy.

My freshmen year, my professor class decided to use Israel as an example of wrongdoing: she stated that all Israeli doctors forcefully abort Palestinian children and sterilize Palestinians.

Something should have been said. But that time, I was honestly so shocked she would say that, knowing both my parents are Israeli doctors, that I didn’t even say a word.

Soon after, the “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) on campus tried to pass a BDS motion in the student assembly. They were relentless and aggressive in their tactics.

Thankfully, we as a pro Israel campus community acted fast and quickly had the motion tabled indefinitely without being heard even. There simply was no place for that on Cornell’s campus.

Being confronted with BDS and this opposition to my Israeli identity was what got me involved with Israel advocacy.

This is when CAMERA came into my life. I joined the pro Israel group on campus Cornellians for Israel (CFI) and became a CAMERA fellow.

Since the moment I became a CAMERA fellow, I had a support system for whatever came my way and I was encouraged to take action like never before.

I and my board of CFI are focused on bringing a positive spin on Israel within the campus community through bringing speakers and having pro Israel events on campus.

With CAMERA’s help, we got specialized training in Boston and were able to bring a multitude of speakers on campus. People like Bassem Eid, the Palestinian human rights activist who speaks frankly against BDS. People like Kasim Hafeez, the former Islamist extremist who is now pro Israel. People like comedian Benji Lovitt.

We also held pro-Israel events. Published articles in the Cornell Sun. Raised money for Israeli causes like humanitarian aid. Distributed educational material around the campus. In short, we had an impact on the culture of the campus.

As I accept this award, I cannot be more proud of my organization CFI, which has been a CAMERA supported group since 2011.

As an organization, we have become a force to be reckoned with, gaining a presence throughout the campus, whether on the Student Assembly, among Jewish Groups, among Christian groups, and various other minority groups.

This striking difference became even more apparent last year when I experienced SJP members following me and my friend on campus – stalking us actually — hoping to intimidate us, to silence us, to bully us.

My friend had to call the police to report this overt intimidation.

At an anti-Israel protest a month later, SJP students spat at pro-Israel students. Smeared ketchup on us. Ripped signs out of our hands.

Thanks to CAMERA, I knew it was imperative to record their aggressive behavior, so as to monitor and influence the media coverage. This video was then added to the blog Legal Insurrection and garnered a lot of attention.

I want to thank you all for the help and support you have given us. These are a few of our experiences at Cornell as pro-Israel students, and I know that without your backing, those experiences would have been even tougher.

The support you gave us daily helps us face the challenges and helps us be a positive pro Israel influence on our campus.

No matter how tough it gets, we won’t stop advocating for Israel and showcasing the truth.

Thank you CAMERA and thank you all.

Israel Increased Water Supply to West Bank

June 16, 2016

Some kids find rumors fun in grade school. A child makes up something about a schoolmate, tells it to the whole class, and that schoolmate ends up crying from embarrassment. But what is he embarrassed of?

The rumor is simply a lie, a lie that needs to be confronted and replaced with the truth.

So here is the rumor:

Media outlets, NGO’s, and pro-Palestinian propagandists are currently claiming that Israel is “cruelly [using] water as a weapon against innocent Palestinian civilians [and] cruelly denying the population an adequate supply.”

The Independent pushed this rumor even further when it posted this as a headline:

Ramadan Independent pic

Unfortunately for the readers, the article is far from the truth here. After a short investigation, UK Media Watch was able to diffuse this rumor.

Here is the truth:

Israel, as is the Middle East, is incredibly hot in the summer. Needless to say, when it’s hot, people drink more water. Water demand increases which results in shortages.

While Palestinian Authorities have claimed that “Israel has cut off the water supply to large areas of the West Bank,” the truth is that there were simply water shortages in the West Bank, in general —in Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian areas. Muslims and Jews experienced a water shortage.

Israel’s actions have been quite the opposite of what the media is claiming.

In addition to sorting out the water shortages, Israel has increased the water supply in Palestinian areas and is specifically accommodating Muslims during their fasting period of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast in the day, only eating and drinking at night. Therefore, Israel has increased the water supply during night-time in order to meet their needs.

The accusation that Israel would think to decrease water supply to Palestinians is baffling. In fact, just recently, in June, “the water supply to Hebron and Bethlehem [was] expanded [by] 5,000 cubic meters per day in order to meet the needs of the residents,” according to water supplier Mekorot.

Israel has no desire to interfere with Ramadan or to cut off Palestinians’ water supply.

President Reuven Rivlin’s visit to a Ramadan fast-breaking feast a few days ago further demonstrates Israel’s true priorities:

This past April, Pres. Rivlin met with religious leaders of the council of the Faith at the presidential compound in Jerusalem. Leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze communities participated. Source: Getty Images

This past April, Pres. Rivlin met with religious leaders of the council of the Faith at the presidential compound in Jerusalem. Leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze communities participated. Source: Getty Images

Addressing the municipal and faith community leaders from the Muslim and Druze communities, Rivlin spoke about the horrific Sarona Tel Aviv and Orlando terror attacks. “[We] must insist,” Rivlin explained, “that murder and violence are the result of intellectual distortion which has nothing to do with a healthy religion.”

Rivlin concluded beautifully by saying that, “Our lives and your lives here in this country are intertwined. We are here together, and we will remain here together.” Israel strives for, Rivlin summarized, a society of “equality and fairness…that we all deserve together.”

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz

In the end, love will win

June 15, 2016

Israelis are known for not cancelling personal celebrations during times of war and terror.

During Operation Protective Edge, the army managed to pull out two combat soldiers from the war for a few hours to attend their sister’s wedding. More recently this past November, Sarah Litman did not postpone her wedding after losing her father and brother in a terrorist attack. Instead, she not only chose to get married but decided it would be an uplifting occasion, a symbol of courage and love in the face of evil, for the entire Jewish people. Shortly following the funerals, the bride-to-be publicized her wedding and invited the whole country. Thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate this joyous event and helped the bride to not give in to suffering.

Two combat Nahal soldiers released from war for a few hours to attend sister's wedding. Source: idfblog.com

Two combat Nahal soldiers released from war for a few hours to attend their sister’s wedding. Source: idfblog.com

Israelis mourn with Orlando and the LGBTQ community and fully empathize with the horrors of terror attacks, having been the victims themselves far too many times.

Condolence letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the American people following the terror attack. Source: Israel in the USA Facebook page.

Condolence letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the American people following the terror attack. Source: Israel in the USA Facebook page.

Following the horrific attack in Orlando, Israeli actor Assi Azar beautifully reminded us that love survives and conquers in times of strife and struggle.

Just a few hours after the terrorist attack at the LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Israeli actor Assi Azar married his partner. He proclaimed on his facebook page right after he got married that the enemies and the haters are futile—“THE ONLY THING THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY BELIEVES IS LOVE, and LOVE will win [in] the end.”

Radical Islam and homophobia spurn evil individuals to murder innocent people but at the end of the day, the murderers leave no legacy. Along with the rest of the LGBTQ community, Assi Azar continues to live free and proud of who he is.

"Don't kill" sign and candles at Orlando terror attack vigil held in Zion Square, Jerusalem.

“Don’t kill” sign and candles at Orlando terror attack vigil held in Zion Square, Jerusalem.

If there is anything to learn from the aftereffects of this terror attacks, it is that in our families, communities, and personal lives, people care and people are choosing love over evil. Between all the vigils, the growing awareness, and the outpouring of love, the LGBTQ community is being loved and comforted beautifully.

Assi Azar marries his soulmate. Source: Assi Azar's Facebook page.

Assi Azar marries his soulmate. Source: Assi Azar’s Facebook page.

For Assi Azar, the statement he released reflects the newfound freedom he has garnered since coming out.  Before he could ever dream of openly marrying his soulmate, he had to face his parents. Now a publicly gay man, Assi understands the importance of not hiding any part of who he is. In 2010, he produced a documentary, Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You, in order to tell his story and present the challenging journey that got him to where he is today.

This past year, Assi Azar went on a CAMERA-supported college tour to inspire the LGBTQ community and raise awareness among students. He spoke about gay life in Israel, which, while not perfect, Assi Azar claims it is “more progressive than the US in many ways in terms of LGBT rights.” During his obligatory army service, for example, he served openly gay.

Assi Azar spoke at a number of schools with CAMERA-supported campus groups, including Cornell University, Augsburg College, Harvard UniversityClark UniversityUC Santa Barbara, and others.

While there is always more room for improvement, as evidenced by the Orlando attacks and obstacles facing the LGBTQ community today, love is certainly winning. The following quote that Sarah Litman chose to write on her public wedding invitation epitomizes this unconditional love and strength: “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up” (Michah 7:8). In the face of terror, we will rise and continue to love.

Israel Fest at UCONN Sparks Curiosity in Students

June 13, 2016

Before the UCONN student body headed into exam season, they had a chance to experience something different at Israel Fest, a festival celebrating Israel and her culture.

CAMERA – supported group Huskies for Israel geared the event specifically towards students who held no prior knowledge about Israel.

The ‘Huskies for Israel’ at University of Connecticut. Source: Huskies for Israel Facebook page.

The ‘Huskies for Israel’ at University of Connecticut. Source: Huskies for Israel Facebook page.

The group succeeded in their goal. The event had a great turn out and exposed students and professors alike to Israel’s traditional and modern culture. The attendees learned how Israel, a democracy in the Middle East, thrives, lives and contributes to the world.

The festival included a variety of booths about Israeli culture. They ranged from the ‘shuk’ booth, portraying Israel’s exciting, traditional style marketplace, to an Israeli technological innovation booth, presenting some of the many great technological advances Israel has made for its society and the world. Other booths included presentations on the Israel Defense Forces, Tel Aviv, Israeli art, and a fun camel booth.

Camel booth at the Israel Fest. Source: The Daily Campus

Camel booth at the Israel Fest. Source: The Daily Campus

After Israel Fest, some students left surprised, one claiming he “had no idea how many amazing things come out of Israel, and how important Israel is.” They all left with a new perspective on Israel and some even with a newfound curiosity about the tiny, New Jersey-sized Jewish State that students hear so much about on campus.

Coming Together to Re-energize

June 10, 2016

When pro-Israel students are bombarded with criticism, baseless hatred, and negativity, they must respond and defend themselves. But it is also important for these amazing students to keep up a positive attitude and give themselves a pat on the back for fighting for the truth.

And that is exactly what UCL(University College London) Friends of Israel have been doing. Between the BDS movement, anti-Semitic leaders on campus and intolerant protesters, the pro-Israel students were in “constant self-defense mode” during the school year. CAMERA on Campus highly commends and supports the pro-Israel students’ commitment to integrity and the pursuit of honest reporting on their campus.

UCL Friends of Israel held a Mikes’s Place themed night. Source: UCL Friends of Israel Facebook page.

UCL Friends of Israel held a Mikes’s Place themed night. Source: UCL Friends of Israel Facebook page.

These pro-Israel students realized they needed to encourage themselves before the end of this discouraging academic year. They decided to make a Mike’s Place – a popular bar in Israel – themed night—a night which would be a “pure celebration of Israel,” an event that would remind them why they defend Israel in the first place.

As one student recounted, the night was quite a success and an inspiration: “Energetically waving the Israeli flag, with pure joy, we belted out songs—from Eyal Golan to Yaakov Shweky—devoured Israeli style food and drank l’chaims with the wine that the UCL union is trying to boycott!”

A night at the bar can sure be reinvigorating after a hard week. Dubbed by students as the “best party of the year,” this night-out re-energized students after a hard year. Students celebrated their pride for Israel and are taking it with them into the coming academic year. The pro-Israel students of UCL plan to continue to motivate and reach out to those students open to learning the truth about Israel and her people.