January 19, 2017

Israel has numerous spokespeople for it, but George Deek, an Israeli-Arab Christian who works in the Foreign Office managed to achieve something unique; in 2014, he gave a speech about his story that was considered so good, that it informally became known as “the best speech ever” given by an Israeli diplomat. A few months ago, Emet for Israel, a CAMERA supported group at the University of Miami, hosted Mr. Deek to talk about his story.

George Deek, Israeli Arab Diplomat

George Deek is an Israeli-Arab who currently serves as an Israeli diplomat in Norway. Whilst he is a non Jewish and Arab, he believes that this should not preclude him from identifying as Israeli. He says that rather than seeing themselves as having nothing to do with Israeli, Israeli Arabs should be proud of their own distinctive heritage and culture, whilst also contributing to wider society – in fact, he thinks that the Jews of Europe were a great example of striking this balance. He has numerous funny anecdotes to share, but they often have powerful messages. He often defends the actions of Israel, and then when he is accused of supporting Israel just because he is Jewish, he shocks his interlocutor by informing him that he is a Palestinian-Arab!

The event exposed students to a narrative that demonstrates Israel’s diversity and tolerance. Emet for Israel were very active in promoting the event, tabling for the event twice in advance of the event, helping to spread awareness of Emet among the student population.

George Deek speaking with students at the University of Miami

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

The “Shuk” Factor

January 18, 2017

An essential part of any experience in Israel is to head to the “Shuk”, the vibrant outdoor marketplace typical of the Middle East. But if you can’t go to the Shuk, at last the Shuk can come to you! Friends of Israel, a CAMERA supported organisation at Rockland County College held a Shuk Party at their campus, and it was a great success.

Tasting the Israeli food

The Shuk Party featured Israeli food, such as humus and falafel, along with Israeli music. They also had a Sodastream there, which provided an opportunity to describe how Israelis and Palestinians can and do work together, and how BDS is harmful to both Israelis and Palestinians, rather than help bring peace. The event created a great vibe for the Friends of Israel group, and it was attended by around one hundred students.

The first Friends of Israel event of the year was well attended.

A diverse range of students visited the Shuk

Israeli entrepreneurship at UConn

January 17, 2017

Israel is the Start Up Nation, and it is always exhilarating to hear from one of the many exciting Israeli entrepreneurs who have given it that name. At the University of Connecticut, Huskies for Israel, a CAMERA supported group, hosted an event with Alon Futterman, one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs in Israel.

Alon Futterman being interviewed at the event

Mr Futterman has been involved in many exciting educational projects in Israel. In 2008, the year that marked Israel’s 60th anniversary, he was the director of a national program, in conjunction with the IDF, celebrating 60 years of Israel achievement. In 2014, he became Director of a Government program to provide education programming for Israeli children during their summer recess. He has also been involved in international programs. In 2011, he was asked by El Al to help them set up their “El Al ambassadors” program, which trains El Al staff to be ambassadors for Israel.

Mr Futterman spoke about his experience with these projects, as well as his life advice on what it takes to be a leader. The event took place in interview format, and students also many questions. The event also featured a photo contest, in which students had to take a photo at the University, and explain how it linked to Israeli culture. The winning photo, taken by Joni Weintraub, was called “Drews of UConn”, and focused on the diversity of people called Andrew at the University, and linked it to the diversity expressed by the Israeli Druze.

Students examining the photos at the competition

Mr Futterman and a student at the photo contest

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

Modern Languages Association Votes Down BDS Resolution

January 16, 2017

On January 5, 2017, The Modern Languages Association (MLA) has voted down a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The vote was 113 against the resolution and 79 in favor (59-41 percent margin). Moreover an anti-boycott resolution passed, with 101 voting in favor to 93 opposed. This is the second defeat of pro-boycott resolutions by academic associations notable for their leftward political orientation. Last spring the American Anthropological Association also voted down a boycott resolution.

The MLA was founded in 1883. It claims 25,000 members in over 100 countries. It “promotes the study and teaching of languages and literatures through its programs, publications, annual convention, and advocacy work.”
An anonymous delegate at the MLA convention described the scene of the vote,

For the other 99% of conference attendees, on the other hand, the MLA was business as usual. The bar in the lobby of the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott was constantly packed, the atmosphere was social, festive, and gregarious. In the corridors just outside the rooms where the BDS focused sessions were taking place, you’d be hard pressed to detect that anything other than great fun. It’s not clear how many of the estimated 8,000 or so conference attendees even knew, much less cared, about the drama at the Delegate Assembly this weekend.

Inside Grand Ballroom GH, where the Delegate Assembly meeting was held, you could feel the tension, but you also couldn’t help but notice how empty the room was. The front half of the room, reserved for the actual delegates, was relatively full (although, given vote tallies, approximately two thirds were in attendance). The back half of the ballroom, reserved for the non-delegate audience, was strikingly vacant. A handful of activists and members of the press crowded the front two or three rows, followed by seven or eight rows of mostly empty seats.

This is the state of play at many of the BDS debates at student governments, faculty senates, and academic associations across the country.

Despite the press, the pomp, the social media storms, etc., the number of those invested is strikingly small. Yet the activist fringes constantly attempt to seize upon this apathy to hijack these associations with agendas of their own.

The defeat of the boycott resolution by an association that is situated within a political milieu in which anti-Israel activism is commonplace represents a significant setback for the BDS movement. Many MLA members commenting upon the vote indicated that they are tired of political grandstanding and want to see the association focus on issues directly relevant to their academic discipline.

The vote also reflects the hard work of academics opposed to anti-Israel resolutions. “Our work is not over with,” said Cary Nelson, the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the co-editor of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel. Nelson said that “it will be a challenge” to garner enough votes in support of the anti-boycott resolution to meet that 10 percent threshold.

This article was originally published on CAMERA.org

CAMERA Fellows in Focus: Shlomo Roiter

January 13, 2017

Shlomo Roiter, CAMERA Fellow

The CAMERA Fellowship program supports student leaders in developing and strengthening their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year underway, InFocus is giving you an inside look into the lives of the 2016-17 CAMERA Fellows who are working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus.

Meet Shlomo Roiter.

Shlomo Roiter is a second year undergraduate student at Hughes Hall college studying Human Social and Political Sciences, with a focus in Politics and International Relations. Originally from New York, Shlomo and his family now live in Jerusalem. Shlomo served as an officer in the IDF after high school and spent a gap year learning in Yeshiva and working on a Kibbutz in Israel.

Shlomo has been active in bringing attention to campus anti-Semitism, pushing Cambridge University to properly investigate anti-Semitic incidents on campus. Shlomo is one the of the co-founders of the Cambridge Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENAF), a CAMERA-supported group on Cambridge University campus focusing on educating students on political issues related to the greater Middle East as well as providing a platform for the expression of a wide range of opinions on relevant political issues.

Shlomo has written numerous articles, and in fact has won awards for his writing! Shlomo won First place in a writing competition for the Jewish Star newspaper in New York, and also won first place in a writing competition run by the US embassy in Tel Aviv. Here are some recent articles written by Shlomo:

Why Baroness Deech was right about anti-Semitism (Jewish Chronicle, 01/08/2017)

Where cultures meet – Christmas in Jerusalem (Varsity, 12/31/2016)

Atmosphere on campus influenced our attackers (Jewish Chronicle, 12/01/2016)

The Boundless Anti-Israel Hatred of AJ+

January 12, 2017

Aron White, CAMERA intern

The fact that AJ+, the social media wing of Al Jazeera, is vehemently anti-Israel, is not really surprising. But even by their standards, AJ+ managed to stoop to a new low this week, by using the murders of four Israelis in a terrorist attack, to demonize the Jewish state even further.

On Sunday, a Palestinian man killed four soldiers and injured seventeen more, in a truck ramming attack reminiscent of those that have taken place in Nice and Berlin. The soldiers, all in their twenties, all leave behind mourning families, grappling with the loss of their children in the prime of their lives. Illustrating the volume of Israeli lives lost to terror, Shira, one of the soldiers killed, was the three-hundredth graduate of her school to have been killed in the conflict.

Yael Yekutiel, Shira Tzur, Shir Hajaj and Erez Orbach – the four Israelis killed in Sunday’s attack.

But when cities around Europe joined in marking Israel’s suffering, AJ+ responded in anger, upset at the fact that Israel was being shown sympathy. Paris, Berlin and Rotterdam all flew the Israeli flag on public buildings, to show unity with the people of Israel, in a moral gesture of sympathy, but AJ+ described it as a “controversial tribute to Israel.” This is the title of a video that they produced, which turned Israeli suffering into an opportunity to blacken Israel’s image, through a series of lies and distortions.

The Israeli flag illuminated on Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

AJ+ ask in their post, “Where was the Palestinian flag when Israel attacked the West Bank and Gaza?” This is a total distortion – Israel has gone to war three times in Gaza in the past few years, every time acting in self defense, to stop the rockets fired by the Hamas terrorist group at Israeli civilians.

But for Israel’s haters, every act of Israeli defense is one of aggression, and defending the country from thousands of rockets is an attack on Gaza. This theme is also true about a tweet shown in the video, which says that if the Brandenburg Gate lit up every time Israel killed a Palestinian, it would be permanent. This is deceiving – Israel does not indiscriminately kill Palestinians. Rather, the IDF acts in self defense, and indeed has killed many Palestinians who were in the midst of engaging in terrorist attacks. And to say that Israel is “permanently” killing Palestinians is totally unfounded – one that no serious media agency should be repeating.

There is no other country in the world about whom such ridiculous exaggerations are tolerated – no one would ever say that the Americans, the British or the French are constantly killing people in the wars they fight, but somehow Al Jazeera considers such absurd exaggerations legitimate when they are made about Israel.

A screenshot of the video shows distortions, exaggerations and hatred, all in one tweet

There is also reference made to children killed in Gaza in 2014. AJ+ employs the worn out and inaccurate accusation that Israel indiscriminately kills Palestinians, when nothing could be further from the truth. Israel fought a defensive war in 2014 to stop hundreds of Hamas rockets, and took incredible efforts to limit human casualties.

By contrast, Hamas uses its children as human shields, deliberately using civilian areas as the strongholds for its fighters. It is also worth noting that whereas Israel does not want or encourage the death of Palestinian civilians, the Fatah and Hamas leadership does reward and support the killing of Israeli civilians. Hamas praises terrorist attacks, and Fatah gives stipends to people who kill Israeli citizens. Even in the case of this recent terrorist attack, Hamas called a rally to celebrate, and the murderer’s sister praised the attack. But AJ+ is interested in twisting Israel`s self defense to make them look wicked, whilst ignoring the incitement and hatred which underlies Palestinian terrorism.

But beyond being insensitive, malicious and misleading in their video, AJ+ fundamentally harms  prospects for peace by following their narrative. If you tell Israelis that their acts of self defense are murder, you are telling them they have fewer rights than other countries. If you tell the world that Israel doesn’t deserve any sympathy when four of their young adults are mowed down in the street, then you tell the world Israeli lives do not matter. Peace requires an understanding of the genuine concerns and feelings of each side. AJ+ considers Israel to be so low, that it doesn’t even deserve the dignity of sympathy in its time of mourning. Once again, AJ+ continues to churn up hate in the world, rather than pursuing any chance of peace.

Contributed by CAMERA intern Aron White.

Why Baroness Deech is right about antisemitism

January 11, 2017

Last year was full of upheaval of the most unpredictable kind.  For Jewish students in particular, it was enormously unpleasant due to the shocking intensification of visible campus antisemitism. More than any other year in recent memory, 2016 tragically reaffirmed the long-recognised reality that Britain faces a particularly difficult problem with antisemitism at its universities.

Baroness Deech

In January, Jewish students at King’s College London were violently attacked at a pro-Israeli student gathering. In February, the co-chair of Oxford University’s Labour Club exposed the society’s ongoing tolerance for antisemitic behaviour. In April, the National Union of Students elected a president who publicly professes antisemitic tropes of the worst kind. In October, Jewish students at University College London were (again) attacked for hosting a pro-Israeli speaker and in November, three Jewish students were the victims of a racially aggravated assault at the University of Cambridge. In total, 27 instances of antisemitism on campus were recorded by the Community Security Trust in the first half of 2016 alone – compared to 11 in 2015.

In this dire context, many Jewish students across the country were truly thankful to see Baroness Deech addressing this important issue on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. Baroness Deech – herself, a former independent adjudicator for higher education – was particularly concerned about the idea that antisemitism might dissuade young Jewish people from applying to certain universities. To quote her: “amongst Jewish students, there is gradually a feeling that there are certain universities that you should avoid.”

We were therefore surprised and bewildered to see comments made by Josh Nagli, the campaigns director of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), decrying Baroness Deech’s interview as “inflammatory,” a “disservice” and even “frankly wrong.”  While supposedly speaking on behalf of Britain’s entire Jewish student population, Mr Nagli not only misconstrued Baroness Deech’s comments, but went so far as to completely contradict all statistics, painfully arguing that “antisemitism is not rife at universities.”

To bolster his unsubstantiated assertions, Mr Nagli quoted the testimony of a student cited in the 2011 National Jewish Student Survey. Had he read the study in detail, he would have discovered the alarming statistic that 42 per cent of Jewish students were found to have either witnessed or even been subjected to an antisemitic incident. He would have also realised that in the year preceding that study, an NUS survey found that 31 per cent of Jewish students were “victimised in a religious hate incident” – a higher proportion than any other religious or ethnic group on campus.

Since the two surveys were conducted, the problem of campus antisemitism has certainly not improved – if anything, it has only worsened. We need only see Josh Seitler, president of the organisation Mr Nagli represents, writing only two months ago in The Times that “every single day Jewish students are forced to…prioritise defending themselves against antisemitism.” Similarly, in his presidential manifesto, UJS President-elect, Josh Holt, lamented how “antisemitism has become a fact of Jewish life on campus.”

While there may or may not be any “no-go zones” for Jewish students – a term, incidentally, never used by Baroness Deech in her interview – we cannot deny that a significant proportion of Jewish students have at some point in their university careers, been made to feel enormously uncomfortable, simply because of their background.

This disturbing reality is compounded by an inability of universities to properly address this troubling phenomenon – as Sir Eric Pickles has commented, “for some time universities have at best been inactive about antisemitism.” In November alone, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator fined Britain’s fifth-largest university for failing to seriously address claims of “antisemitic harassment” filed by a disabled Jewish student.

While Mr Nagli claims that ‘‘there are no ‘certain universities’ that [Jewish students]…avoid,’’ it is surely questionable that Jewish students will chose to attend a university where visible antisemitism is unchallenged by the relevant authorities.

Regardless, while many Jewish students on campus may feel comfortable with publicly expressing their Judaism, this clearly does not nearly hold true for all Jewish students. Purporting the converse is both false and unrepresentative of the depressingly rife presence of antisemitism on British university campuses.

When we have reached the point where Jewish students have been given monetary compensation for relentless harassment they have faced, we need Jewish leaders to expose the problem we face – doing the opposite is to not empower Jewish students, but to silence them in their time of greatest need.

When we have reached the situation where politicians feel the need to amend existing legislation in order to tackle campus antisemitism, we need to give a voice to marginalised students instead of brazenly ignoring them.

Instead of wrongly dismissing the problem at hand, we call on the UJS and its President-elect to live up to their own commitment to not be “apologetic in the face of abuse”. As proclaimed representatives of Jewish students on campus, our expectation is that they utilise the enormous resources available to them – and properly call out the bigotry we face. They should make it clear that Jewish students will not tolerate antisemitism in any shape or form – nor will they stand for the even more troubling inability of universities to guarantee them a safe learning environment, free from antagonism and hostility.

Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle, the largest and oldest Jewish newspaper in the UK.

Contributed by Jonathan Hunter and Shlomo Roiter. Shlomo is a CAMERA Fellow at Cambridge University, and is a co-founder of the Cambridge Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENAF), a CAMERA supported group. 

Erez’s Story

January 10, 2017

On Sunday, four Israeli soldiers were murdered in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Behind memorial photos of their smiling faces, each one of them had a story, and this is the story of one of the soldiers, Erez.

Erez Orbach, one of the four soldiers killed on Sunday.

Erez Orbach was the son of Uri and Keren, two immigrants to Israel from America, and was the oldest of six children. He actually had a number of health problems, which meant that his medical profile when he enlisted for the army was 21 – the lowest profile one can receive, and one that gives a full exemption from IDF duty. However, Erez requested numerous times to volunteer to serve, despite his medical conditions, and eventually was allowed to join. He rose up in the ranks, and when he was murdered, he was a cadet in officer school. He was only twenty years old.

Erez is not the first member of his family to have been killed in Israel. His uncle and great uncle were killed while serving during Israeli wars. From the perspective of Erez’s great-grandmother, an elderly woman names Chana Beri, this is her third family tragedy. Her son Meir was killed in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War, her grandson Moshe was killed by a bomb in South Lebanon in 1993, and now her great-grandson Erez was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in 2017.

The tragedy is also another loss for Erez`s community of Alon Shvut. Shayna Goldberg, a resident of Alon Shvut, recounted the following. “My husband, an ER doctor, got a call from a local ambulance volunteer, who informed him that one of the murdered soldiers was from Alon Shvut, and they wanted a doctor present as the family members were informed.

I couldn`t breathe. I had not allowed myself to entertain the possibility that we would know one of the soldiers. After all, Alon Shvut is only made up of 800 families and we were already struck with direct tragedies three times in the past year, with the murders of Nechemia Lavi, Yaakov Don and Eliav Gellman. What are the chances?”

Pedaya Mark sharing the message of hope with an IDF soldier, a compatriot of Erez

But as always, in moments of tragedy, Israelis produce moments of human beauty, that shine through to illuminate the darkest moments. After the funeral of Erez, friends of Erez from the local high school, Mekor Chaim, distributed candies and chocolates to the soldiers from Erez’s company, who had come to attend the funeral. Written on the chocolates was their message to the soldiers – “We love you, stand by you, and give you a big hug – on behalf of the Jewish people.” One of the children giving out the candies was Pedaya Mark – whose father Miki was killed in a terrorist attack only six months ago.

Disgustingly, there were the familiar scenes of Palestinians celebrating the murder of Israelis by handing out sweets in the street. But Israel responds as it always does in these situations – by mourning the loss of wonderful children, coming together as a nation, and by praying and hoping that decades of Palestinian terror will finally come to an end.

May the memories of Erez, Shira, Yael and Shir be a blessing.

Yael Yekutiel, Shira Tzur, Shir Hajaj and Erez Orbach

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

Where cultures meet: Christmas in Jerusalem

January 9, 2017

Coming from a traditional Jewish family, I have never celebrated Christmas at home. While I have always had friends who celebrated the holiday, I never had the opportunity to experience it firsthand back in New York. Moving to Jerusalem, a city sacred to three major religions, brought with it the opportunity to further explore the holiday and its traditions. It may sound paradoxical that I would first have these experiences in the Jewish state rather than majority Christian America, but then again, Jerusalem is not what most people expect.

Many peoples’ perception of Jerusalem is that of a war-torn city. In actuality, the converse is true. While the conflict’s negative effects have included terror attacks and tension among the city’s residents, it is at places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – where Jesus is believed to have been crucified – that I found multiculturalism and tolerance at their finest, two traits that I believe are representative of the atmosphere prevalent in Jerusalem.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As a practicing Jew, my decision to attend Christmas mass was not at all religiously motivated; it stemmed from a desire to personally experience the culture and religion of many of my friends and neighbours. I found a slew of like-minded individuals at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, from a myriad of backgrounds, whose only common trait was their desire to understand and experience something that had always been foreign to them. From Ethiopian Jews to Muslim Israeli-Arab youth to the agnostic German tourist who invited me to walk with her to Bethlehem for mass at dawn, what brought us together was an environment of pluralism and religious freedom that is ubiquitous in Jerusalem. While this may seem like a normal occurrence, it is regrettably not the order of the day in the Middle East. Religious minorities are being persecuted around the Middle East, not least in the instability of Syria and Iraq, and even in moderately stable countries such as Egypt and Iran. Surprisingly enough, the only conflict that I encountered on Christmas Eve was an argument between the Egyptian Copt and Greek Orthodox monks over the timing of their services in a church shared by six denominations of Christianity.

The service itself, held in four different languages, reflected a feeling of togetherness, evident throughout the evening. While we are used to thinking of religion as something that divides people, on Christmas Eve it was religion that brought everyone together. I believe that this evening did not take place in a bubble, but was part of an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding present in the city. Ignoring extremists from both sides, one can see evidence of this multiculturalism daily. From buses, to shopping malls and universities, Jews, Muslims, and Christians go about their days in a peaceful coexistence; and from the Parliament to the Supreme Court and even the military, minorities are represented in every part of the national bureaucracy.

In face of this multiculturalism, I cannot help but question why the incessant flow of criticism of Israeli democracy.  In a city where all are free to worship or not worship as they see fit, with no threat of religious persecution or discrimination, I must ask: Why the constant fixation with elaborate plans for externally imposed political solutions? The responsibility for political solutions lies with those living and experiencing the reality on the ground, a reality which today is very sustainable and comfortable for all parties involved, especially members of minority communities.

The way to address these issues is not through people, most of whom have no connection to the land, erecting mock checkpoints or disrupting Israeli speakers. Engaging in dialogue while recognizing the legitimacy of the rights of all relevant parties, should be a starting point for those interested in making progress. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be resolved at Cambridge University. What can be done, by us as students, is to try and build an environment of dialogue and multiculturalism similar to what one can experience during Christmas in Jerusalem. We should instead focus our energy on working together to recreate the unique atmosphere of the city of Jerusalem, one of understanding and dialogue, something which will be significantly more conducive to the dreams and desires of all parties partial to this conflict.

Originally published at The Varsity, Cambridge University`s Campus Newspaper

Contributed by Shlomo Roiter-Jesner, CAMERA Fellow at Cambridge University, and joint founder of the Cambrige Middle East and North Africa Forum, a CAMERA sponsored group.

 

Meeting a Holocaust Survivor for the First Time

January 6, 2017

The Holocaust is one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated in history. Today, 70 years after this terrible atrocity, there are still survivors alive to tell the story. This allows people living generations later, to hear about the Holocaust firsthand. Pirates for Israel, a CAMERA-supported group at East Carolina University, co-hosted a talk by Sami Steigmann, a Holocaust survivor this past November. It was attended by over five hundred people, in an arena full of students, faculty members, and members of the wider community.

Sami Steigman in East Carolina

Sami was born in Romania in 1939, and as a baby was taken to a labour camp in Ukraine. There, he was subjected to brutal medical experiments, and he was left to die. He was saved only by the kindness of a German woman, who smuggled him food at risk of her own life. For decades after the war, Sami never told his story. It was only in 2003, when he met another child who had been experimented on in the same camp as him, that he found he was able to talk about his experiences, and he told his story for the first time in 2008. One girl wrote to him, telling him that she was going to pass on his story to her grandchildren – and from that moment on, he has dedicated his life to telling young people his story.

The talk was entitled “Life, Faith and Hope,” and Sami did not just tell his story, but also shared life lessons with his audience. He encourages people to never be bystanders, but to be part of the solution. Sami says that we should forgive, but not forget. He is also overwhelmingly positive – no matter how bad today was, he says, tomorrow is a new day. For many of the students, it was their first time ever meeting a Holocaust survivor – and it surely will have been an unforgettable experience for them. Through events like these, we honor our commitment to make sure that such terrible crimes never happen again.

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern