This evening Yom HaZikaron begins, Israel’s national day of remembrance. The country comes to a halt to remember those who have been killed in Israel’s wars, and in terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately over the past year, Israel saw more Israelis killed in terrorist attacks. Last June, Hallel Yaffe Ariel z”l, a thirteen year old girl, was murdered in her sleep by a Palestinian terrorist, killing her in her own bedroom. As soon as her parents had finished the seven day “Shiva” mourning period, they went themselves to visit another group of mourners – ten orphans, whose father Rabbi Miki Mark z”l had been murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, in a drive-by shooting.
Friends of Hallel at her funeral
As well as the victims of terrorist attacks, we remember the soldiers who have died in Israel’s many wars. One of the most famous of Israel’s soldiers is Michael Levin z”l, a lone soldier from Philadelphia, whose story captured the hearts of Jews around the world. He was killed on August 1st 2006. He was 22 when he was killed in combat.
There are a number of ceremonies that take place around the country to mark the day. In the evening, the President and Chief of Staff of the IDF attend a central ceremony at the Western Wall. At 8pm, the siren sounds, and the country pauses for a minute’s silence, and then the ceremony begins. Then, in the day, the siren sounds once again at 11am, and the country once again pauses. There is then a ceremony at Har Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery in Jerusalem, at which the Prime Minister speaks.
Over 23,000 Israelis have been killed in wars and terror attacks. As we pay tribute to them each year, the wish we have is the same, and it is simple – that next year, we should not have to add any names to the list, and that the families of those who have died should find some comfort, as the Jewish people unites to remember their loved ones.
A few weeks ago, an anti-Israel conference took place in the Irish city of Cork. Zionist activist David Collier went along, and wrotethreearticles on his blog, detailing the hideous event. A subsequent event was planned for Trinity College Dublin, which attempted to legitimize an academic boycott, or as CAMERA tipper Robert Harris puts it, “a boycott of those Israeli academics that do not savagely condemn Zionism”.
Based on Collier’s description, here is a beginner’s guide to the world of anti-Israel conferences.
1. Expect to hear more exceptionally ridiculous claims
Over the course of the three days, the following ridiculous claims and suggestions were made at the conference:
The Palestinians are the Jews of the Bible.
Zionists deliberately mistreat their own children, to train them to be cruel to Palestinians.
Five Mossad agents stood across the Hudson River, cheering as the Twin Towers fell on September 11th, before being arrested.
Israel owes the Arabs reparation for removing Jews from Arab lands.
Capitalism is leading the world to environmental disaster, so human existence is dependent on a return to nature, and the front line of this battle is the battle against Israel.
Just a reminder, this is a conference of academics, hosted by a university.
2. There will be no real study of a topic, just Israel-bashing
Generally the goal of an academic conference is to present different points of view, in order to further knowledge about a topic. However, anti-Israel conferences are aimed at pushing one point of view, and one point of view only. Over three days of speeches, there was only one speech by someone who defined himself as a Zionist. The only difference of opinion that can be found at these conferences is in the degree to which they hate Israel – do they think it is merely racist, or are they similar to the Nazis? (This point was discussed at one point in the conference.) One speaker even gave a talk about the pressing question of whether Israel is apartheid or colonialist, demonstrating the wide range of opinions and viewpoints available at the conference.
3. There will be few Palestinians, and a very specific type of Jew
Ironically, the noble struggle to better the lives of Palestinians takes place at conferences with few, if any, Palestinians. On the first day of the Cork conference, there were twelve speakers, of whom one was Palestinian, and even he was a Palestinian who lives in the UK. As David Collier points out, it is very simple for a Western academic, living in the comfort of his own country, to be all ideological, and to tell the Palestinians that they need to keep struggling – he can share his opinions without them having any actual impact on his life. But do Western academics necessarily know what is best for the people on the ground?
Professor James Bowen of Cork University claimed that Hebrew is actually the language of the Palestinians.Ridiculous opinions, stated by non-Palestinian academics, are common at these conferences.
There are also Jews invited to speak at these conferences, but of the most fringe type. An ultra-orthodox Jew who claims to be a “Torah-true” Jew, gave a talk about how Judaism and Zionism have nothing to do with each other. This clearly ridiculous view is that of a group of fringe extremists, but the “academics” are not interested in studying the depth of the connection between the Jewish people and Israel, to be more informed about the Jewish side of the story, but are interested only in confirming their own one-sided view of the conflict.
If this beginner’s guide has made you never want to attend an anti-Israel conference, it has achieved its goal. These conferences are shams, where complex issues are simplified, one side is demonized and where ever more ridiculous theories are concocted and shared. And they only serve to make peace less likely.
We encourage Ms. Martin to take a different approach, and to engage more positively with Jewish students on campus. It is encouraging that she joined the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) on a trip to Poland for Holocaust Memorial Day, and we hope that she continues to take part in supporting Jewish students on campus. Under her leadership, we hope the NUS becomes a place where Jews feel safe, pro-Israel students feel that their voice can be heard without fear, and the NUS can live up to its goal of making universities and colleges a home for all.”
One of the great forgotten stories of the 20th century is that of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Close to a million Jewish residents of Arab countries were forced to leave their homes in the years around the creation of the State of Israel, but their story is rarely told. However, what may be even less well known is that there are still Jewish communities in some of these countries, who are caught up in the wars of today. At Rockland Community College, CAMERA-supported group RCC Friends of Israel wanted to hear the incredible story of Manny Dahari, a modern day, Yemenite Jewish refugee.
Manny was born in Yemen, but his parents sent him to live in America when he was thirteen to get away from the instability in the country. However, the situation in Yemen deteriorated even further, and in recent years his parents and family also wanted to flee. In 2012, Aharon Zindani was killed in an anti-Semitic attack, and a Jewish woman was abducted, and forcibly converted to Islam – the situation had become perilous for the remaining Jews. Manny spent two years working with State Department and Jewish Agency officials to try and get his family out of Yemen and to Israel. They actually tried unsuccessfully three times to get out, but at the fourth try, in March 2016, nineteen Jews made it to Israel. They also managed to bring with them a five hundred year old Torah Scroll, a living piece of the heritage of their community.
Manny’s family meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu
Manny told the incredible story at Rockland to an enthusiastic audience of staff and students. His story attracted a wide audience, and many of the people engaged in the question and answer session at the end. As well as sharing his family’s story, Manny used his talk to share his belief’s about the Middle East. He believes that discrimination and racism must come to an end, and that Israel, as a bastion of tolerance, is leading the way in this field.
Manny speaking at Rockland
It is always inspiring to meet people who have really made a difference, and whose stories show their determination and effort to achieve a goal. Manny Dahari is a modern day Jewish hero, fighting for his family’s rights, to do nothing more than live their lives, as Jews, in safety and freedom.
On Monday, Israel marked Yom HaShoah, national Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a unique event in the national calendar, as the country pauses to remember and mourn for the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
On Sunday evening, shops and restaurants close early, and the streets are empty. A major Spanish league soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid would normally be broadcast on Israeli television, but because it was Yom HaShoah, sports game are not shown. In recent years, a program called Zikaron BeSalon has gained popularity. Started by a few friends in 2010, individuals all over the country open their homes, and in this informal setting, a Holocaust survivor or their descendants share their story with the audience. Each event is different, as the host and speaker can run the event how they want to, so some events include song, music, poetry and discussion as well. This year, half a million people attended events all over the country.
One of the many “Zikaron BeSalon” gatherings. (From the Zikeron BeSalon Facebook page)
At 10AM on Monday morning, a two minute siren sounds across the country, and people stand in silence. Strikingly, even the highways fall silent, as drivers pull up to the side of the road, get out their cars, and stand in respect of the millions who lost their lives.
There are numerous ceremonies in schools, universities and museums all around the country. One of the most moving is the one that takes places in the Knesset, called “Lekol Ish Yesh Shem,” “Every Person Has a Name.” In that ceremony, government ministers, as well as Knesset members from all parties, step up to the stage to read out the list of names, of their family members who were killed in the Holocaust. Party members from all over the political spectrum are united in their memory of their murdered ancestors. And the symbolism is exceptionally powerful – the descendants of those murdered, today sit in Jerusalem, as lawmakers in the parliament of the Jewish State.
Prime Minister Netanyahu lays a wreath at Yad Vashem
Hecht screened his latest documentary titled “My Home”, which explores the views and experiences of Israel’s various minorities groups, which collectively comprise 20% of the population. The film features interviews with a cross-section of Israeli society: Bedouins, Druze, Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and Jews.
“My Home” has received critical acclaim, winning several awards at film festivals in Europe and North America. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Israel’s Channel 1, and BBC Arabic have broadcast the film. In the film, Hecht speaks with some of Israel’s most famous and anti-Zionist Arab politicians – Jamal Zahalka, Ahmad Tibi, Haneen Zoabi, and Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List political party. Zoabi, a member of the Israeli Knesset, infamously attempted to justify the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and routinely calls Israel an apartheid state. These interviews serve to portray Israel as a pluralistic democracy that allows freedom of speech and expression, even when that speech is hateful and dissenting (as in the case of Zoabi).
Contrastingly, Hecht interviews many of Israel’s minorities who strongly identify with and support the state. For instance, he speaks at length with Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest working to bolster the recruitment of Israeli Arab Christians to the Israeli Defense Forces. Naddaf highlights Israel’s democratic character and tolerance of religious minorities as being unique in the Middle East. Hecht also interviews Jonathan Elkhoury, who has toured with CAMERA on Campus multiple times. Elkhoury, a Christian refugee from Lebanon and a member of the LGBT community, also praises Israel as a safe haven for the persecuted.
Igal Hecht believes that voices like that of Jonathan Elkhoury do not receive enough attention
The aggregate of these interviews paints a very compelling picture – of fiercely patriotic minority communities who are being misrepresented by their politicians. The film shows Israeli society as being inclusive and tolerant and offers much hope for the future.
Following the film, Hecht also held an in-depth Q&A session and fielded a variety of questions from students. In this Q&A session, Hecht lambasted the Israeli media as being irresponsible and untruthful, for preferring to cover the hysterical theatrics of anti-Israel politicians such as Zoabi rather than the true views of the “silent majority”. Hecht suggested that the Israeli media should seek out diverse viewpoints from minority communities.
Hecht’s film was highly informative and was well received by the students. “My Home” serves to dispel the common misconception that Israel’s minority communities are opposed to the state’s existence.
Last month, many members of the pro-Israel community celebrated what was perceived as a victory on UK college campuses, due to the cancellation of a number of Israel Apartheid Week events.
While this was indeed a victory, in the sense that the planned events were not held, the message sent to students as a result of the way in which these events were cancelled, broadcasted a completely different message.
Thus, instead of cancelling the events and citing the reasons behind the cancellations as the fact that these events disgrace the real victims of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and promote unfounded lies as well as the hatred of Jewish students, universities chose to instead take a very different approach.
The outcome of the university’s actions, namely the cancellation of the events, is indeed the same regardless of the stated reason.
However, the refusal of the university to publicly entertain the notion that these events might be harmful for some of their students and thus inappropriate for their campuses, while upholding the right to host such events in the future within the guise of freedom of expression, is very troubling.
What kind of message does this send to students on campus?
That it is perfectly acceptable to host events that are libelous in nature and do everything in their capacity to foster hatred among the student body, as long as the event has the proper permits?
If next year during Israel Apartheid Week, students decide to put on a spectacle once again calling all Israelis murderers and justifying the killing of innocent civilians, will that be OK as long as they request permission in advance?
Even more disturbing is a letter signed by 250 academics decrying suppression of freedom of speech because of these cancellations, while they in the same letter tie the recent rise in anti-Semitism to the Brexit vote.
Unfortunately for these enlightened academics, you cannot excuse away your inability or refusal to tackle anti-Semitism on campuses by invoking Brexit.
The rise in anti-Semitism is a direct result of the fact that it has become acceptable and even encouraged to hate Israel on college campuses.
It has become acceptable to vilify Israelis and refuse them their own rights to freedom of speech.
It has become regular practice to also physically assault Israeli speakers even if they come to campus to speak about coexistence, as well as disseminate hatred on campus while calling for the destruction of a UN member state.
The anti-Israel sentiment in the UK can be visceral, and can lead to anti-Semitism.
That state also happens to be the only Jewish one on our planet. If our leading universities and academics cannot or are unwilling to make that connection, then the problem at hand is significantly more troubling.
When a university does not feel comfortable to state that an event was cancelled because of its either anti-Semitic undertones or hostile nature, then we have a severe problem.
Even worse and most hurtful, is when academics use the authority granted to them by such universities to protect, under the guise of freedom of speech, what in any other situation would be criticized as bigotry that has no place in any institution of higher learning in this country.
It was part of Mazzig’s tour of 16 schools, said Eyal Abadi, the treasurer of This Is Israel. Mazzig’s appearance was organized by the committee, he added. They invited Mazzig to discuss Israel’s culture.
“We really want to highlight how the views people have about Israel are sometimes missing facts,” the 18-year-old UF computer science freshman said. “To better understand the facts, you have to understand the people.”
Hen as a soldier, helping an elderly Palestinian woman
Mazzig joined the IDF six years after his near-death experience, in compliance with Israeli law requiring military service of all citizens. He said he served in a division that protected Palestinian citizens. That same year, his best friend, also serving in the IDF, came out as gay to him, Mazzig said.
“I remember telling him it was just a phase and he’d get over it,” he recalled as he hid his identity at the time. The next day, Mazzig said he was talking to his commander who figured it out and forced him to admit it. During the rest of his time in the IDF, Mazzig said his superiors defended him from those who mocked him. “It really means that my commanders support me,” he said.
Originally, Pride Student Union supported Mazzig’s talk but later withdrew its support in a now-deleted Facebook post from April 1. “(PSU) will not be expressing support for the event as an entity out of respect and support for the Palestinian community,” the post read. In a new post the next day, the organization apologized for reactions received after withdrawing their support in the original post. PSU declined to comment for this story. Abadi said he was unfazed by PSU withdrawing support. “It was more of a misunderstanding,” he said. “They have nothing against us, and we have nothing against them.”
Passover has just come to an end, and over the course of the Jewish holiday, a lot happened on campus. Over the past week, you may have missed the good, bad and ugly news.
The Good – Harvard University
At Harvard University, the planned Israel Apartheid Week was a major failure. The CAMERA-supported group HLS Alliance for Israel had been working hard to counter the planned IAW events, and in the end, the organizers of IAW brought themselves down. They undertook a very offensive exercise in which they distributed “eviction notices” to students around campus, telling them that a resident of their dorm has been “indefinitely detained” by the “Harvard Special Investigations Unit.”
Their publicity stunt caused real offense and harm to many students on campus who actually had experienced the deportations of loved ones. The organizers put out an apology to those offended, but almost all of the partner organizations who had initially offered co-sponsorship for Israel Apartheid Week pulled their support, and it was a total failure. (The story was also picked up by national news networks.) The desire of the anti-Israel campaign to demonize Israel backfired on the demonizers. It seems that justice was done as the organizers had planned for the IAW events to take place in the middle of Passover, making them all the more anti-Semitic.
The notices given out to Harvard students
The Bad – UMass Amherst
However, there were other events organized by Israel Apartheid Week. At University of Massachusetts Amherst, an “apartheid wall” was erected by Students for Justice in Palestine, used to draw attention to the security wall Israel built following the terrorist attacks of the Second Intifada. Naturally, the organizers did not educate visitors about the 1,100 Israelis killed in the Intifada, only trying to demonize Israel for taking steps to protect its people, inaccurately labeling it an apartheid wall. Ironically, the wall was set up on the same day that CAMERA-supported group SAFI organized an Israeli Latino Dance Night – because nothing says “Israeli apartheid” more than the pro-Israel group on campus joining together with another minority group. All the SJP has to offer is blind hatred, in the face of displays of unity from the pro-Israel side.
The Ugly – Tufts University and Concordia University
But there were two really horrible steps taken by the anti-Israel groups on campus over Passover, which cut through the narrative of “social justice” and exposed their true face as radicals full of hatred.
A BDS vote was organized at the last minute at Tufts University, and scheduled for the night before Passover, when many of the Jewish students would be away, and thus unable to campaign. In typically underhand fashion, by preventing dialogue and debate, the SJP managed to achieve a pro-BDS vote at Tufts. Absurdly, the resolution called for the university to provide civic engagement – this from the people who had just denied the Jews on campus the ability to speak in a debate.
And at Concordia University, the anti-Israel groups tried to hijack and appropriate the Jewish holiday itself for their own political cause. Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Concordia organized an anti-Israel event during the festival where they ate “Hillel sandwiches,” a traditional Passover food, and discussed potential replacements to the traditional Passover phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This is cultural appropriation and anti-Semitism at its very worst.
How dare a group of activists discuss how to change ancient Jewish liturgy for the sake of their political beliefs? The lack of sensitivity to Jewish tradition, and the callousness of the event, reveals the true hatred that underlies the anti-Israel campaign. When you put a Palestinian flag on a picture of Jewish food, you are saying that your affiliation with the Palestinians means you have no regard whatsoever for the Jewish people or their traditions – they are just playthings for your publicity stunts.
The poster for the “Passover against Apartheid” event. (Credit to Hasbara Fellow Eden Moalem)
However, there was some silver lining to these ugly stories. At Tufts University, elections were held a few days later for next year’s student senate. Ben Shapiro, a student who was helped by CAMERA in trying to stop the BDS vote, contacted all those running for the senate, to get a statement from them about Israel, the peace process, and the BDS vote. Those statements were then emailed to all the pro-Israel students, so they could make an informed decision about who to vote for, and to ensure that the senate candidates who supported the underhanded BDS vote would not get the chance to do it again.
On March 20th, CAMERA-supported group Eagles for Israel, along with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), hosted Hen Mazzig at Boston College. As the CAMERA Fellow at BC, and as Co-President of the university’s only official pro-Israel advocacy group, I was ecstatic about the opportunity to help bring Hen in to tell his story – a narrative that stood out to me as one of the most powerful testaments of Israeli tolerance and democracy that I have ever heard.
Hen’s perspective on Israeli society is unique. The son of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, he is a former IDF Commander in his mid-twenties, who served openly gay. Hen spent most of his time in the army working as a liaison for COGAT in the West Bank, a position that gave him control over how Israel was portrayed to the world media covering the region. When I was approached by CAMERA earlier this year to once more host Hen, I did not hesitate to say yes.
In order to promote the event, I had my club host a table outside of our school’s main library on the morning of the event, and to greet passersby with free Israeli ‘swag’ and Starbucks coffee courtesy of CAMERA. We had close to a hundred students stop by our table over the course of four hours, many of whom showed much interest in the uniqueness of Hen’s story; it also didn’t hurt that we made sure to mention that there would be free catered Israeli food at the event.
As the hour of the event approached, I expected there to be a handsome turnout of people from the Boston College community – in previous events similar in nature, we have usually had upwards of about ten non-club members show. It is always a struggle getting a turnout at a Catholic institution with a tiny Jewish student body, but that is the constraint we work with as we fight the good fight. As my phone’s clock neared 7 P.M. the time advertised as the start of the event, I began seeing entire groups of people flood the classroom. It got to the point where I thought we’d run out of seats! All in all, we had about forty people come, with thirty or so being non-club members. I realize in hindsight that the turnout was a true testament to both Hen’s charm as a speaker and his strength as an advocate for Israel.
Hen with students at Boston College
Hen’s talk began on an emotional note, with him describing his background as a Mizrahi Jew whose parents’ families fled Tunisia and Iraq after being expelled in the oft-forgotten Jewish exodus of the 1950’s. He described how his grandmother witnessed the hanging of her father in Baghdad, and how that propelled her family to realize Jews were no longer welcome in the country. He then went on to discuss his own personal tragedy: He nearly became the victim of a suicide bombing in his native Petah Tikva during the Second Intifada in early 2002, a blast which he avoided by seconds but that took the life of a grandmother and her two-year old baby granddaughter.
“Some people will argue that these men are freedom fighters, but what’s so heroic about killing a grandmother and her baby?” Hen rhetorically asked with emotion creaking through his voice.
It was clear that these experiences formed Hen’s world outlook and his love for his country. His unique story, however, was further enhanced when he began discussing how he opened up about his homosexuality at the behest of his commander in the army, who saw no issue with Hen being gay and who thought he had potential to rise in the ranks of the IDF. Hen made sure to note how, in almost no other Middle Eastern country this would be possible, and how he has found general acceptance for his lifestyle in Israel.
He also shattered myths about the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank); Hen shared an anecdote of saving a child from possible death in Gaza by helping coordinate his transfer to his uncle who lived in the area. Unlike what the media likes to report, I found that Hen’s story was an honest and a more truthful account of IDF behavior.
He discussed how he was labeled as a murderer by the protesting group, which he found ironic given his liberal, peaceful background. He then paused a video of the event, showing just how violent and scary things had gotten. Hen also fielded many questions about LGBTQ rights in Israel, how his family has reacted to his lifestyle, etc. All in all, Hen was asked about thirty minutes worth of questions, and would have continued to have fielded them had it not been for time constraints.
After the event, some students from BC’s LGBTQ community came up to speak with Hen, telling him how much they loved his talk. In my opinion, Hen was the perfect person to come represent Israel on a generally politically apathetic campus. He destroyed myths about Israel being an intolerant, ‘evil’ force, as is often portrayed as in the world media. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, his life is a reflection of the spirit of the Israeli people: Tough through adversity, striving for justice, and welcoming others in need of help.