Tomorrow (Tuesday March 14th) Hen Mazzig begins his East Coast campus tour with CAMERA. Just before he took off for New York, we sat down with Hen to learn more about him and his passion for Israel education.
Aron: Hi Hen, its great to speak with you!
Aron: Your upcoming tour with CAMERA on Campus will see you heading to sixteen campuses over the next month. What are you most looking forward to about the tour?
Hen: Well, the last tour I did with CAMERA ended in a very hostile way at UCL in London, where the protesters, anti-Israel students, had one goal — to shut down my event and a dialogue about Israel, which is so important. So my goal with this tour is to foster meaningful dialogue, and to bring nuance to difficult issues, which my background allows me to do. I am from an Iraqi and North African family and grew up in Petach Tikvah which was a poor city. I experienced the Second Intifada, then came out while serving as an officer in the IDF, and now deal with the BDS movement on college campuses, so I have a great amount of experience that can really resonate with college students. I hope my story can be used as a launching pad for education and fostering dialogue.
Aron: As you mentioned, recently at UCL you found that students who might describe themselves as “pro-Palestinian” just wanted to shut you down. Do you have any examples of the opposite, where you managed to succeed in creating the dialogue you seek?
Hen: A few years ago, I was invited to speak at Bristol University in the UK, a campus where there had been a lot of emotional anti-Israel activism, with no nuance at all, and a BDS motion had passed at the university. I asked the pro-Israel students to invite the Palestinian Society students to come to my talk so we could engage in dialogue. They came to listen to me, and they also asked challenging questions throughout the two hours. At the end of the event, they came over to me, and said that they had learnt so much, and it had made them rethink their opinions; they now want to build bridges, rather than fight against us. That night, the president of the Palestinian Society tweeted that they will not longer support BDS, and they are one of the few Palestinian Societies today in the UK who do not support BDS. This was an example of people coming to listen to each other, which lead to meaningful dialogue and real, tangible solutions.
Aron: You speak in a lot of different venues; you have appeared on TV, you have spoken to Israeli soldiers, but this tour is specifically for students. What contribution do you think students on campus in North America can make to the State of Israel?
Hen: Students tend to be very socially active, and lead the way on many social and global issues. Students were the ones leading the fight against racism in the US, and leading the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. I hope that students in the US and Canada will hear my story, engage in dialogue with me, and realize that Israel needs their support and needs them to take action against the fanaticism of the BDS movement. They need to fight for the protection of the most prosecuted minority in history, the Jewish people. We need to direct the conversation and give them the tools to fight against the hatred that we see from groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Aron: What role do you think the media has in spreading a narrative that lacks nuance?
Hen: The media plays the most important role in the conversation about Israel. When the media spreads stories that are only critical of Israel, without anything positive about it, it is very hard for me to come to a college campus and bring a different narrative. You can see in the daily research reports on CAMERA’s website that many news outlets demonstrate a clear anti-Israel bias. Students often hear my story, and they say that have never heard the perspective that I am bringing to campus. That is why the work of CAMERA is so important. Applying pressure to journalists and editors of major news outlets to be more balanced in its coverage is critical for improving students’ understanding of Israel.
Aron: Who is your Israeli role model?
Hen: Let me think… I would say my grandmother!
Aron: Good answer! Wasn’t expecting that.
Hen: Yes, well I can tell you about lots of politicians who I look up to, like Shimon Peres, but personally, my grandmother is my greatest role model. She came to Israel with her husband, at 19 with a young baby. Two weeks before, she had watched her father’s murder in Iraq for being Jewish. She came to Israel with the determination to grow her family. She raised 12 children who lived in just two bedrooms. Today, she is in her late eighties, and has around 80 grandchildren! So whenever I find things tough, I think about her story, and her commitment to her people and to Israel, and it gives me strength. She never gives up hope, and that is something that really inspires me.
Hen with his grandmother in 2014.
Aron: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Hen: (Laughing) That’s the hardest question you have asked! I guess I would say hopeful, loving and ambitious.
Aron: You are now going to North America to speak, but when you work with groups in Israel, where is your favorite place in the country to take them?
Hen: My favorite place is Akko (Acre) – the sea there is beautiful, and I also love the history and all the different cultures that are represented there.
Aron: What is the single most important message you want students to take away from your tour?
Hen: That Israel has a unique story that can resonate personally with students. Israel faces challenges and is not perfect. It is a work in progress – just like all of us. My own story, the story of my family and the story of Israel are all about hope, never giving up, and growing and developing every day. I hope that students come out my talk wanting to support Israel in the challenges it faces, as well as being inspired to apply these messages of hope and growth in their own lives.
Aron: Thank you Hen for taking the time to sit down with us before you begin your tour. If someone is interested in learning more about your tour with CAMERA, where should they go?
Hen: That was your best question yet! Visit the CAMERA on Campus Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on my tour. You can also take a look at my Facebook page and Twitter, which I will be updating throughout my tour. I look forward to seeing you at one of my events!
This interview was contributed by CAMERA intern Aron White.