Monthly Archives: August 2016

CAMERA Fellows in Focus: Ross Beroff

August 31, 2016

The CAMERA Fellowship supports student leaders as they develop and strengthen their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year about the begin, InFocus is giving you an inside look into who the 2016-17 CAMERA Fellows are that will be working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus this year.

Meet Ross Beroff.

Beroff Ross fellowA rising senior at Northeastern University, Ross is studying Finance and Political Science. Ross served as an editorial columnist for Northeastern student newspaper The Huntington News, and currently serves as a Senator in the Student Government Association.

Combining his interests in politics and writing to promote Israel on campus, Ross is the Political Chair for Northeastern’s pro-Israel group Huskies for Israel. He also serves as the Operations Coordinator for Northeastern Hillel and serves as part of the Hillel International’s inaugural Student Cabinet. Ross’s interests do not end there–he recently completed a six month co-op with a leading retail and technology focused think tank.

With such dynamic academic pursuits, CAMERA on Campus is pleased to support Ross as a CAMERA Fellow during his senior year. Ross is excited to develop his advocacy skills and further promote Israel through his involvement in various student groups on his campus.

Guardian again whitewashes the extremism of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)

August 30, 2016

This post was written by Managing Editor of UK Media Watch, Adam Levick and was originally posted here.

For the second time in little over a year, the Guardian has managed to portray the radical, regressive anti-Zionist group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in a sympathetic light.  The latest article, which appeared in the Guardian on Aug. 24th and is titled ‘GOP mega-donor funds group calling pro-Palestine US students ‘Jew haters‘, reports on a Sheldon Adelson funded group which targets BDS and accuses some individual pro-Palestinian students of supporting terrorism and promoting antisemitism.

Whilst the article correctly suggests that the group, Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus (SJHC), is quite extreme in some of its rhetoric, the Guardian journalist, Sam Levin, grossly misleads readers by suggesting that SJP in particular is being smeared with the ‘false’ charges of being pro-terror and engaging in Jew hatred.

Here are the relevant passages.

“They [SJHC] are trying to cast us as antisemitic, that we are somehow a discriminatory group,” said the political science student, who is a member of the college’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization. “That is a completely spurious accusation. One of our core principles is anti-oppression and anti-racism.”

Tensions surrounding Israel-Palestine campus activism have escalated in recent years, but SJP leaders said the posters identifying specific students were particularly aggressive and had led some of them to face online harassment and death threats.

“This definitely felt like a more direct escalation,” said Omar Zahzah, a 28-year-old graduate student at UCLA who was also named in the recent posters. “It wasn’t just slandering SJP anymore. It was attacking specific individuals.”

Zahzah, a comparative literature student, who is Palestinian, added: “It’s easy to joke about and dismiss. But at the end of the day, it’s still pretty intimidating, which is the point.”

The inversion of reality by Levin is extraordinary – suggesting that SJP members are the ones being targeted, intimidated and harassed by aggressive and threatening tactics.

Here are some facts:

  • SJP was founded in 2001 by Hatem Bazian, an extremist who’s engaged in antisemitic rhetoric, has endorsed an intifada in Palestine and in the US, and expressed support for jihadist attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.
  • SJP chapters hosted antisemitic speakers.
  • An internal SJP document revealed that disrupting Israel-related events was part of their broader strategy of countering “Zionist normalization efforts”.
  • A (failed) SJP initiative at the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council demanded that “candidates for student government positions sign a statement pledging that they would not go on any trip to Israel sponsored by three Jewish organizations”.
  • SJP tactics include “the mock eviction notices against Jewish students on dormitory doors”.
  • SJP members have been condemned for using social media site to post antisemitic graphics, including a Nazi propaganda poster, captioned “Liberators”, seen here:

vassar-sjp-twitter-nazi-poster-screen-shot-2014-05-12-at-12-03-51-am

If the Guardian journalist engaged in even a minimal amount of research, he would have easily established that SJP not only is guilty of the very intimidation it’s accusing others of engaging in, but is in fact an extremist group which endorses violence, promotes antisemitism and harasses Jews on college campuses.

SJP Glorifies Terrorist Leila Khaled

August 29, 2016

The word resistance is defined as the ‘refusal to accept or comply with something.’

legal definition of the word is “the opposition of force to force,” which can either be “lawful or unlawful.” Resistance can be associated with defiance, independence, and strength in times of struggle. However, resistance also indicates rebellion, and is frequently used by those who sympathize with Palestinian terrorists to sugarcoat attacks against innocent civilians.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s hashtag #ExistenceisResistance could be a fine concept. Through solidarity with Palestinians, through protests, through dialogue and advocacy—through the mere existence and reassurance provided by a pro-Palestinian group—pro-Palestinian activists could strengthen the Palestinian resistance to any sense of being downtrodden and could reinforce Palestinian defiance to hardships.

With SJP, any sentiment of non-violence with the use of their hashtag “#ExistenceisResistance” is hard to come by.

Image captured from Facebook by Legal Insurrection.

Image captured from Facebook page of Students for Justice in Palestine at Vassar College.

SJP’s decision to write “#ExistenceisRestistance” in a post alongside a t-shirt with an image of Leila Khaled suggests they are defining resistance for themselves in a very unlawful sense of the word, despite the t-shirt’s wording that “resistance is not terrorism.”

In order to fully understand SJP’s horrific act of printing Leila Khaled’s face on their t-shirts and glorifying her, you must know who she is:

Leila Khaled was born in Haifa, Israel to Palestinian parents in 1944. At the age of 15, she became part of the Arab Nationalist Movement, which would later develop into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP).

With time, Leila Khaled grew more dedicated to her people and more passionate about implementing terrorism as a means of Palestinian ‘resistance.’

On this very day in 1969, on August 29th, Khaled took part in the plane hijacking of TWA Flight 840. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, known for his arduous efforts to make peace with the Arabs, was said to be on this particular flight. Khaled and a few other terrorists took over the plane and to their dismay, Rabin never showed up. This PLFP hijacking mission to attack Rabin failed, but they still did damage, blowing up a section of the plane.

TWA Flight 840 being partially blown up as part of the hijacking. Source: adst.org

TWA Flight 840 being partially blown up as part of the hijacking. Source: adst.org

A picture of terrorist Leila Khaled wearing a kaffiyeh and holding a gun, was publicized following the hijacking.

Leila Khaled after the airplane hijacking. Source: alchetron.com

Leila Khaled after the airplane hijacking. Source: alchetron.com

Following this failed attack, Khaled went through many plastic surgeries so that she would not be identified in the future as the TWA Flight 840 hijacker and could continue her terrorism work, in peace. With an unidentifiable face, Khaled went on to participate in other hijackings.

While Khaled tried to strategically distance herself from this photo, SJP decided to print this photo on their own t-shirts, juxtaposing this photo of the kaffiyeh-adorned hijacker with their disturbing hashtag, “#ExistenceisResistance.”

With the definition of resistance in mind, it is clear that Leila Khaled does not represent “the refusal to accept or comply with something” in any lawful sense of the word. The resistance represented by Leila Khaled is only a refusal to partake in dialogue, to pursue justice, to follow laws, or to strive for peace. Her resistance is not an indication of strength or defiance but rather, radicalism and violence in the form of terror.

What exact message is SJP trying to convey with this t-shirt? That unlawful “resistance” and terrorism are key to Palestinian existence?

The t-shirt shows us that the kind of “justice in Palestine” that Students for Justice in Palestine aspires to is indeed violence.

Justice, as a legal term, is not said to have any association with terrorism. Justice is “the proper administration of the law; the fair and equitable treatment of all individuals under the law.”

Terrorism, on the other hand, is defined as “the unlawful use or force of violence against persons or property in order to coerce or intimidate.”

By definition terrorism and justice do not go hand in hand and are quite the opposite of one another. That said, it seems that SJP needs to either remove “justice” from their name, or they ought to discontinue their associations with terrorists such as Leila Khaled.

Regarding their concept of “resistance,” Students for Justice in Palestine needs to fully acknowledge the events of this day in history. The TWA Flight 840 hijacking is an example of “resistance” fighters taking “justice” into her own hands by terrorizing innocent people.

SJP's T-shirt print. Source: legalinsurrection.com

SJP’s T-shirt print. Source: legalinsurrection.com

Any claim that “resistance is not terrorism” with relation to Leila Khaled or the August 29th hijacking is factually incorrect. While SJP can be a “resistance” group if they like, Leila Khaled is not an example of non-violent resistance.

SJP needs to reconsider how figures like Leila Khaled represent their values. While SJP is not recognized as a terrorist group, it is already a “resistance” group in the negative sense. Rather than partaking in dialogue, they focus on demonizing Israel, and their interactions with Zionist students are very antagonistic and unproductive.

While ceasing to glorify terrorist Leila Khaled is a great start, perhaps SJP should also reconsider how to be a more actively positive “resistance” group in the future. For example, SJP can stop  “resistance” work against Israel, a place where Palestinians who chose to have Israeli citizenship are employed, live freely, and vote.

In short, SJP should take note of the fact that many Palestinians prefer to live in an Israeli country rather than a Palestinian-run country. The BDS movement against Israel, for example, only serves to hurt the Palestinian standard of living.

Instead of focusing on resistance to Israel, SJP could focus on critical issues, such as terrorist groups which steal aid funds from Gazans or the ongoing crisis in Syria. If sticking to the idea that “resistance is not terrorism,” Students for Justice in Palestine must refocus its efforts to truly implement the concept. In turn, Palestinians might actually be helped by this fiery student movement.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

CAMERA Fellows in Focus: Dalya Panbehchi

August 26, 2016

The CAMERA Fellowship supports student leaders in developing and strengthening their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year about the begin, we are introducing our 2016-17 Fellows, who will be working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus.

Meet Dalya Panbehchi.

Panbehchi Dalya fellowA freshman at Binghamton University, Dalya Panbechi is a first generation Iranian-American from Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up in a Zionist community and surrounded by Middle Eastern culture in her household, Dalya learnt about Israel and its importance from a young age. However, Israel remained a distant concept for her until this past year when she went to Israel for the first time to study and travel through a gap year program, Midreshet Moriah. Living in Israel for a year allowed Dalya to fully appreciate and truly connect with the land of the Jewish people.

Dalya is fluent in Farsi and remains very connected with her Iranian roots as well as her American identity. With such a rich heritage, Dalya has the unique opportunity to represent Middle Eastern Jewry as she promotes Israel on her campus. Privileged to be a CAMERA Fellow at Binghamton, Dalya feels ready to take on the challenge of defending and promoting Israel to the best of her ability this coming year. CAMERA on Campus is delighted for Dalya to be a CAMERA Fellow and is excited to see her Israel activism develop!

CAMERA Fellows in Focus: Ben Shachar

August 25, 2016

The CAMERA Fellowship supports student leaders in developing and strengthening their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year about the begin, we are giving introducing the students who will be working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus.

Meet Ben Shachar.

Shachar Ben fellowA senior at York University, Ben Shachar is studying biology. He is a recipient of the 2013 Schulich Leader Scholarship, an undergraduate award for Canadian and Israeli undergraduates studying STEM. Ben is dedicated to many causes which promote inclusive and meaningful dialogues among students on his campus as well as on other campuses. As the co-founder of the Random Acts of Kindness Project, he helped to develop a movement that inspires and connects students on over ten campuses to do acts of kindness for one another.  In addition, Ben is also a disability advocate, a long-time peer tutor, and a programming enthusiast.

On a campus where a student can be labeled a ”pro-Israel racist,” by merely being involved with the York Hillel, Ben has a strong Jewish identity and is a passionate supporter of Israel. As Ben expresses in one of his Times of Israel blogs, he has no interest in making trouble on campus. “In my three years at York University I have made a conscious effort to avoid any participation in campus politics.” Strictly apolitical but not hesitant when promoting Israel, Ben realized he has a moral obligation to speak out against a concerted campaign to vilify and intimidate Jewish students and institutions on campus.  As Ben explains, “Jewish students feel unsafe and marginalized,” but for precisely that reason, he also says that “Jewish students can no longer afford to be as passive as I have been for the past three years.”

A well-spoken individual with a variety of interests, Ben has great potential as an Israel advocate, especially at a Canadian university, where anti-Semitism is prevalent.

Ben is proud to represent Israel on his campus and knows that he can successfully promote Israel with the academic, strategical and even emotional support of the greater CAMERA network. CAMERA on Campus is excited to support Ben through the CAMERA Fellowship and help him as much as possible in his endeavors to promote Israel at York University.

CAMERA Fellows in Focus: Jody Miller

August 24, 2016

Every year, a number of Israel activists with exemplary writing skills and leadership capabilities are selected for the CAMERA Fellowship.

Throughout the school year, CAMERA Fellows are provided with a strong support system, including expert guidance, high-level instruction on Middle East issues, and event planning assistance from CAMERA staff, and international networking opportunities with published writers and activists.

In the coming days, you will have the opportunity to get to know our 2016-2017 CAMERA Fellows.

Jody Miller, 2016-17 CAMERA Fellow

Jody Miller, 2016-17 CAMERA Fellow

Jody Miller is a third-year journalism student concentrating in public relations at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. Jody is a very active member of her CAMERA-supported group, Mustangs United For Israel (MUFI). In addition to her involvement with CAMERA on Campus, Jody will serve as the communications coordinator for the AIPAC cadre at her university.

“As a journalism student, I breathe in the news everyday and constantly see the extensive anti-Israel bias that pervades in the media,” Jody says. She understands the need to promote a positive perspective of Israel not only on campus, but on social media as well. Jody is grateful for the opportunity to be a CAMERA Fellow and the support it provides her. “CAMERA allows me to make the tangible change I have longed for when it comes to anti-Israel sentiment and the opportunity to write                                                                articles about dishonest reporting,” she says.

“CAMERA is not only an incredible organization, but a platform for Israel advocacy and I am so excited to be a part of it,” Jody says excitedly.  As a Fellow this coming year, Jody hopes to provide her student body with a better understanding of Israel and wants to encourage interested students to learn more about all the amazing things Israel has to offer that international media overlooks. 

 

With the help and support of CAMERA, Jody feels fully prepared to advocate for Israel on campus and hopes to develop her skills in order to eventually have a career in pro-Israel advocacy. Welcome to the CAMERA family, Jody!

Alleged “humanitarian” workers in Gaza support Hamas terror

August 23, 2016

This month, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security and intelligence agency, busted an alleged humanitarian aid UN employee, Wahid Abdullah Burash, for his support of terrorism. As an engineer of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Burash used UNDP funding which was designated for developing Gaza infrastructure, his knowledge from this project, and his access as an UN employee in order to assist Hamas in terrorism.

United Nations aid worker Wahid Abdullah Burash was arrested by the Shin Bet. Photo: Shin Bet security force, via the Algemeiner

United Nations aid worker Wahid Abdullah Burash was arrested by the Shin Bet. Photo: Shin Bet security force, via the Algemeiner

In another recent scandal discovered this August, the Shin Bet arrested Mohammed El Halabi, the chief executive of Christian aid group World Vision, for assisting Hamas with millions of dollars worth of “aid” money designated for Gazans. El Halabi has reportedly confessed that World Vision has been funding Hamas terror tunnels and Islamist militants. This supposed “aid” worker has now been exposed as a life-long member of Hamas. Sadly, El Halabi is only one example of Hamas’s tactics to exploit well-meaning NGO aid efforts in order to advance their terrorist work in Gaza.

Supposed aid workers who in reality support terrorism prevent much-needed development in Gaza and discourage future aid work in Gaza–how can anyone support a “humanitarian” program that may be directly supporting terrorism? As human rights activist Bassem Eid sadly acknowledges, this scandal “will prevent other [NGOs] from working in the West Bank as well as in Gaza.”

As Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the head of the Israeli Law Center, explains, the arrest of El Halibi is “a turning point in the struggle to deprive terrorists from the oxygen they receive in the form of aid.”

The graph depicts the number of truckloads that entered Gaza via all Israeli-controlled crossings from October 2009 onwards. Source: PalTrade, OCHA-OPT and UNSCO. These figures include truckloads of goods entering the Gaza Strip other than fuel and gas. Source: Gisha, Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

The graph depicts the number of truckloads that entered Gaza via all Israeli-controlled crossings from October 2009 onwards. Source: PalTrade, OCHA-OPT and UNSCO. These figures include truckloads of goods entering the Gaza Strip other than fuel and gas. Source: Gisha, Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

Despite Hamas’ terror tunnels infiltrating into Israel, rockets launched into Israel, and abuse of aid work, Israel constantly assists the inhabitants of Gaza. Even during times of war, Israeli soldiers risk their lives in order to deliver goods and supplies to Gazans.

Sadly, as journalist Ariel Bolstein explains, many organizations including the UN, World Vision, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, have been tricked into funding terrorism or have been betrayed by employees who use their positions to support terror activities. We can only hope that the Shin Bet’s recent discoveries will prompt justice to be served, resulting in the restoration of proper aid to Gaza.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz

Celebrating bipartisanship in a partisan time

August 22, 2016

CAMERA Fellow Hayley Nagelberg.

CAMERA Fellow Hayley Nagelberg.

Last week, as I have so often, I got into a political conversation with some friends.  The topic at hand was if, judging by what we can see today, there will be a physical split down the road between the main political parties we know, or if they will remain unified for generations to come.

Not everyone agreed, as is the case in most discussions of the sort, but the conversation boiled down to one question: are people capable of being unified around specific topics? In other words, does bipartisanship exist at all?

The answer is without a doubt yes.  While there are extremists, it is pretty safe to say we can all agree on big ideas like freedom of speech and support of medical research. The path that leads to implementing these truths may not be clear, but we can all agree those should be givens.

Despite what many might think, the United States’ relationship with Israel is one of those issues that garners support from both sides of the aisle.

Source: www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org

Source: www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org

America sends billions of dollars every year to Israel in military aid, yet Israel is required to spend roughly three-fourths of that money on goods produced in America.  This money aids in strengthening tens of thousands of Americans’ jobs.

Through the United States’ Aid to Israel program, over one thousand American companies have signed contracts.  There are also joint research products between the United States and Israel including binational science, industry and agriculture foundations.

The bipartisan support for this alliance was overwhelmingly evident Monday, May 2, when student leaders gathered at the Illini Union to look back on a year of bipartisan cooperation on campus and beyond.  Students of all faiths and political positions were united in attendance.

The students watched as Illinois congressmen and senators — from both the Democratic and Republican parties — congratulated them on their cooperation and sincere bipartisan efforts. Mark Kirk, Randy Hultgren, Daniel Lapinski, Bob Dold, Peter Roskam, Tammy Duckworth and Rodney Davis all shared messages reiterating this point.

Congressman Randy Hultgren stands up for Israel in a speech on the House floor back in 2011 as well. Source: RepHultgren's video of the speech.

Congressman Randy Hultgren stands up for Israel in a speech on the House floor back in 2011 as well. Source: RepHultgren’s video of the speech.

“Within every generation there are individuals who stand up for what they believe in and become champions of causes that promote peace and solidarity and respect,” said Randy Hultgren, the Republican Congressman from the 14th district. “I’m glad many of you understand the importance of promoting and strengthening the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East and shares our democratic institutions and values.”

It is remarkable and inspiring that what unites our two nations is our shared democratic values.  In a region like the Middle East, where instability is found around every corner, having a stable ally that shares our values is so necessary.  This is an important alliance, and it is not only important to learn what unites our two countries, but to understand what our role is in promoting the relationship, no matter your political leaning.

They discussed understanding the mutually beneficial relationship in terms of ethics, security and economics.  And they reinforced the notion of America being a mediator in negotiations of the conflict, but not actually solving the conflict ourselves.

Daniel Lapinski, the Democratic Congressman from the 3rd district, recognized the value in universities being a place to debate national and international topics.  Furthermore, he reiterated the important notion that no nation is perfect, but what is notable in Israel, and makes it such a strong ally of America, is that people there, of all faiths, can express their disagreements with their governments in the press and the courts.

Everything they said was true, but the bipartisan relationship goes so far beyond that. It goes, as one student speaker put it, to a nonpartisan relationship.  Facts, statistics and talking points aside, there is something remarkable about this conflict — the conversation is not about parties, it is about people.

University campuses today seem to constantly be accused of being home to apathetic and lethargic millennials.  Maybe it’s the presidential race, but I see no apathy on this campus.  Instead, I see zealous debate doing exactly what Lapinski described, expressing disagreement through any means available.

In no way am I suggesting the conflict itself is beneficial, but the debate that stems from it is exactly what is needed as we look at the arguably growing political divide in this country.  We argue over statistics without taking the time to recognize the real life applications.  We, as students, are constantly told we are the leaders of tomorrow, but we don’t need to wait until tomorrow to express how the decisions being made today will affect us.

It may be hard to believe given everything that appears in the mainstream media, and even everything that you have witnessed around campus this year, but the U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the ties that truly binds our country, and one that benefits us all in more ways than we can count.

And it is a tie that no matter where we lie politically, has, can, should and will unite us.

This article was originally published in The Daily Illini.

Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at the University of Illinois, Hayley Nagelberg.

For Israel, every day is World Humanitarian Day

August 19, 2016

Today is World Humanitarian Day. On a day like today, Israel can be extra proud of its impressive contributions to populations around the world.

In 1958, only ten years after the State of Israel was established and was struggling to build itself up, the state created an official humanitarian aid agenda. Since then, through various organizations, Israel has been dedicated to serving international humanitarian needs.

As the #IDFWithoutBorders map shows, the Israel Defense Forces have sent countless aid missions across the globe. Sent by the IDF to help the Philippines recover from a typhoon, one doctor explains that “This sort of mission allows you to be a real doctor, this is what medicine is all about.” Medical resources should be used for good, for treating people and saving lives and that is exactly what the IDF strives to do by bringing top medical care and support resources to places in need. With the IDF’s C4I BranchIsrael’s advanced military technology even allows doctors and nurses to create an internal digital medical file for every patient while abroad.

Hundreds of casualties were tended at the IDF field hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the earthquake earlier this year. Photo by IDF Spokesperson via FLASH90 and Israel21c

Hundreds of casualties were tended at the IDF field hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the earthquake earlier this year. Photo by IDF Spokesperson via FLASH90 and Israel21c

IDF delegations are often the first to set up field hospitals and provide help at post-disaster scenes. The IDF will carefully help in areas that could potentially put Israel in danger as well. The IDF recently began helping Syrians by allowing for the delivery of medical, educational, and food supplies into Syria.

Non-profit humanitarian aid organization, IsraAID's chief operating officer Navonel Glick. Source: CIJA

Non-profit humanitarian aid organization, IsraAID’s chief operating officer Navonel Glick. Source: CIJA

Aside from the IDF’s incredible aid work, IsraAID, a non-profit, apolitical organization, has provided aid relief to 37 countries and and reached over one million people in need. The organization works tirelessly to help reconstruct and rehabilitate populations recovering from crises, providing rapid response humanitarian aid as well as long term support programs.

Source: www.bicom.org.uk

Source: www.bicom.org.uk

Just days ago, IsraAID’s chief operating officer Navonel Glick was awarded with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for his dedication and leadership. Based out of the Tel Aviv headquarters, Glick manages this incredible organization. Glick feels very honored by this award and is pleased that it is bringing attention to the need to further expand international humanitarian aid.

Israel continues to develop internally, and with all its advancements, becomes even more dedicated to helping populations in need abroad.

Happy World Humanitarian Day from Israel!

To learn more about IsraAID, visit their website and check out their accomplishments from 2015:

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

Amid rise in campus anti-Semitism, pro-Israel students prepare for challenging year ahead

August 18, 2016

For most students, the dog days of August are one final chance for summer traditions such as hitting the beach or visiting national parks with their family before heading back to campus.

For dozens of pro-Israel college students, however, learning about ways combat increasing campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism was their focus during summer’s final weeks.

Over 80 college students from nearly 70 campuses around the world attended the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) student conference in Boston, Massachusetts Aug. 7-10.

“Reports of intimidation on campus are becoming all too common across the globe,” said Aviva Slomich, CAMERA’s international campus director. “Unfortunately campus anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise, which explains why so many students are eager to learn the skills that are offered at CAMERA’s conference.”

The program comes at a critical time for Jewish and pro-Israel students. A recent report by the AMCHA Initiative found an alarming spike in campus anti-Semitism during the first half of 2016.

“Nearly 100 more incidents of antisemitism occurred on campus during the first six months of 2016 compared with the first six months of 2015,” according to the AMCHA Initiative’s mid-year study.

Rezwan Haq, a student at the University of Central Florida, addressing the 2016 CAMERA student conference. Credit: CAMERA.

Rezwan Haq, a student at the University of Central Florida, addressing the 2016 CAMERA student conference. Credit: CAMERA.

Anti-Semitic activity was twice as likely to occur on campuses where BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign) was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotter, the report noted.

Now in its sixth year, the CAMERA conference seeks to help students learn necessary skills for dealing with anti-Israel activists on campus. The three-day event tackles a number of important issues for students, ranging from educational seminars on the BDS movement to learning about bias in the media. Additionally, the conference allows students to put the knowledge they gain from the seminars to practical use, such as learning about techniques on how to talk with extreme anti-Israel activists on campus and how to work within student government to fight BDS resolutions. These all culminate in an impassioned mock BDS hearing on the last day, where students experience first-hand the challenges they may face during the school year.

“What we offer students is high-level intellectual training and emotional support to meet the challenges of the modern college campus,” said Gilad Skolnick, CAMERA’s campus program director. “Throughout the year we give students the resources to counter anti-Israel activity on campus, such as providing films, speakers, teach-ins, rallies all funded by CAMERA.”

Rezwan Haq, a University of Central Florida economics and political science student, told JNS.org that the CAMERA conference helped him set the foundation to combat anti-Israel activity on campus.

Rezwan Haq, a student at the University of Central Florida, addressing the 2016 CAMERA student conference. Credit: CAMERA.

Rezwan Haq, a student at the University of Central Florida, addressing the 2016 CAMERA student conference. Credit: CAMERA.

“I thought that the CAMERA conference was phenomenal and it truly arms [us] with knowledge and information to combat anti-Israeli rhetoric and BDS on college campuses. I look forward to working with CAMERA during the upcoming school year,” he said.

Haq, however, is not your normal pro-Israel student. He shared his unique experience at the conference in session called “Why I left SJP and joined a CAMERA supported group.”

Raised Muslim, Haq is a first generation immigrant who moved to the United States from Bangladesh at 13. His default inclination was to support the Palestinians because they were also Muslim.

“As I child, I knew I supported Palestine, I just didn’t know why,” he said.

Upon entering school, Haq reached out to his local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian activist group that champions the BDS movement on campuses and is often in direct conflict with pro-Israel student groups. Haq said he was outraged at images of Palestinians suffering from the 2014 summer war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. He later helped his SJP group bring to campus the “Israeli Apartheid Wall,” which seek to highlight Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by mimicking the security barrier between Israel and the West.

Yet it was that very same wall, meant to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, which led him to become an advocate for Israel and attend the CAMERA conference.

“Ironically, it was at the Israeli Apartheid Wall was when I spoke to a former IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldier for the first time in my life. Before then, I used to believe that IDF soldiers were terrorists yet [we] had a genuine conversation when he shared the story of his best friend being killed during ‘Operation Protective Edge,’” Haq said.

“It was at that moment when the image I held of IDF soldiers were humanized,” he added. “I realized that [I] and this former IDF soldier both wanted peace, we just had a different way of going about it.”

Calling it a moment of clarity, Haq’s interaction with the former IDF soldier set off a frenzy of learning for him. He realized that many pro-Palestinian organizations never hold Palestinian leadership accountable for their actions and that they solely exist to slander Israel,” he said.

Also at the conference, students heard first-hand from others who experienced high levels of anti-Israel activism on campus and fought against BDS resolutions.

Jason Storch, a senior pre-med student from Long Island, NY at Vassar College, got involved in pro-Israel advocacy after witnessing the “increasing level of tolerance towards open hostility at anyone so much as on-the-fence about BDS or Israel as a whole,” he toldJNS.org.

“I felt it necessary to at least lend an alternative viewpoint I knew was being withheld from the discussion,” Storch said. “I plan to continue evaluating the situation in the Middle East and coming to various conclusions based on the events, but I cannot see myself not advocating for Israel. So long as there is one liberal democracy amid a sea of tyranny, the decision seems less than challenging.”

Vassar College, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, has been known as a hotbed of ant-Israel activism for years. Recently it was at the forefront of the debate over whether or not to support the BDS movement.  In March, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) voted to endorse the BDS movement. However, after an outcry from pro-Israel groups, alumni and school’s administration, a second vote was held, and the resolution was defeated.

“Vassar as a campus is of course highly anti-Israel, however it is important to remember this manifests itself through an only decent-sized minority asserting themselves the loudest,” Storch said. The whole brand of ‘take no prisoners’ SJP-style of pro-Palestinian activism isn’t resonating with the majority of students, he added.

While he’s encouraged by the defeat of the BDS resolution, as well as the students and faculty who finally spoke out against it, Storch remains concerned of the overall situation on campus.

“While I’m glad anti-BDS faculty have emerged, there’s still a vast discrepancy that often makes students, myself included, worry that they’ll be token Israel student in a class, which can be very intimidating,” Storch said.

With summer ending soon, efforts among pro-Palestinian groups targeting Israel and pro-Israel students on campus will no doubt continue in the upcoming school year. As someone who has been on both sides of the conflict, Haq believes it’s important for students to truly listen to each other in hopes of forging peace, not only on campus but for the conflict overall.

“We should put down our talking points and truly listen to what the other side has to say,” Haq said. “So if you’re an Israeli or an advocate of Israel, take the time to listen to a Palestinian and vice-versa. When I heard that IDF soldier speak to me years ago, it was the first time I ever took time to listen to the other side of the story rather than be defensive. We have to understand that the only way to seek peace is for both sides to come to the table.”

This article was written by Sean Savage and was originally published on JNS.org.