Israel Advocacy News April 20, 2012: Zionist Organization of America urges Rutgers University president to combat campus anti-Semitism



ZOA urges Rutgers president to combat campus anti-Semitism

Source: JTA, 4-20-12

The Zionist Organization of America sent a letter to the president of Rutgers University urging him to do more to combat anti-Semitism on the campus.

The ZOA was responding to an incident in which a Jewish student was skewered by a university-funded, student-run satirical newspaper.

The ZOA leadership in an April 17 letter praised Rutgers President Richard McCormick for his actions to condemn the attacks on Jewish student, Aaron Marcus, but told McCormick that “additional steps are necessary.”

“As we wrote to you on April 4th, we believe that Rutgers must take responsibility for having allowed an environment to take seed and grow at Rutgers, where Jewish students — particularly when they speak up against anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing — are perceived as permissible targets, because the university will not take the necessary steps to protect them,” the ZOA wrote.

The ZOA began its correspondence with McCormick after The Daily Medium released a parody column “What About the Good Things Hitler Did?” in its April 4 edition and attributed it to Marcus, a Jewish student who writes a regular column for the mainstream student publication, The Daily Targum.

ZOA originally criticized Rutgers University for the attack on Marcus, who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.

“We hold Rutgers responsible for what Mr. Marcus suffered today and demand that you finally take action. It is your moral duty as the leader of the university to stand up for the safety and well-being of Mr. Marcus and other Jewish students who have been unacceptably victimized on the campus,” the ZOA April 4 letter said.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez spoke out about the dangers of anti-Semitism in a speech before the Hillel Student Leadership Gala 2012 at Rutgers University on April 15.

“The fact is that history teaches us that words matter. Words matter. They can be hurtful, thoughtless, but even beyond that, even when intended satirically, they can step over the line to anti-Semitism. When taken too far or too seriously, they can be dangerous and lead to anti-Semitic hate crimes and real violence,” Menendez said in his speech.

Menendez also called on the Rutgers campus to avoid its “demonization” of Israel and the Jewish people.

Israel Advocacy News February 22, 2012: The David Project: Anti-Israel attitudes spreading at U.S. universities, report says



Anti-Israel attitudes spreading at U.S. universities, report says

The David Report says that while anti-Semitism is less of an issue for U.S. Jewish college students, negativity about Israel threatens to erode bipartisan support.

Source: Haaretz, Forward, 2-22-12

A report released February 8 by The David Project, one of a handful of Jewish groups devoted to campus activism on Israel, paints a nuanced picture of the challenges Israel faces on U.S. university campuses. Called “A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges,” the paper claims that universities are host to the worst anti-Israel behavior in America, even as the American public, more broadly, is supportive of the Jewish state.

But veering from the Israel advocacy world’s frequent position, the report makes a strong distinction between “anti-Israelism” and anti-Semitism on campus. Conflating the two does not “jive” with the experience of Jewish students who feel largely comfortable in American universities, the report warns. The problem, it stresses, is not anti-Semitism; it’s a “drip-drip negativity” about Israel that, according to the David Project’s Executive Director David Bernstein, threatens to erode support over the long term.

U.S. university students. University students in the U.S.
Photo by: Courtesy of the David Project / Forward

“The chief concern, therefore, is not the welfare of Jewish students,” the report states, “but that a pervasively negative atmosphere will affect the long-term thinking of current college students, negatively affecting strong bipartisan support for Israel.”

The way the new David Project sees it, a subtle problem deserves a subtle response. Its new agenda focuses on selling Israel rather than on reaming out its critics. Rather than counter anti-Israel speech on campus with flashy events featuring big-name speakers, the group proposes a kind of pro-Israel diplomacy in which students “map” their campuses to find and influence thought leaders — namely, other students and faculty members….Read more at the Forward.

Israel Advocacy News February 15, 2012: David Bernstein’s The David Project a new strategy for Israel advocacy on campus



A new strategy for Israel advocacy on campus

Source: Washington Jewish Week, 2-15-12

David Bernstein’s The David Project has created a new strategy for Israel advocacy on campuses.
David Bernstein’s The David Project has created a new strategy for Israel advocacy on campuses.

David Bernstein has seen the same old story so many times on college campuses. Anti-Israel sentiment seems to be met with confrontation instead of discourse and relationship building.

That, he felt, had to change for attitudes towards the Jewish state to even stand a chance of changing.

Combatting growing attacks on Israel’s legitimacy on college campuses requires breaking the cycle of rallies and protests in favor of targeting outreach to campus influentials, according to a new white paper released last week by The David Project, a leading pro-Israel campus organization.

“A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges” lays out a new strategy for Israel advocacy rooted in relationships with key campus stakeholders and organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The white paper finds that “campus activism by Israel supporters is generally not strategic,” and that campuses are predisposed toward “radical political views.” This allows “anti-Israelists,” those who believe Israel is an illegitimate state, to be increasingly successful in their efforts both in influencing the thinking of future generations of Americans and in using the campus as a venue to disseminate “anti-Israelism” into the wider culture.

The David Project’s new approach to campus advocacy focuses on breaking the cycle of rallies and protests that engages only extreme viewpoints. Hosting intimate discussions, dinners for campus leaders and one-on-one outreach efforts will attract students who are not yet politically involved and help them develop informed opinions about Israel that are free of misinformation and bias….READ MORE

Israel Advocacy 101: The David Project — White Paper: A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges



The David Project — White Paper: A Burning Campus?
Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges

Click here to download the white paper in .PDF format

Executive Summary and Background

1. The worst years of recent Palestinian violence against Israel (2000-2004) saw a dramatic increase in negativity toward Israel on American college campuses. It became clear to many that the anti-Israel campaign had more influence and impact and was better organized than most observers had perhaps previously thought, and that in some ways pro-Israel advocates were largely unprepared to respond to the stepped-up activism.

2. This was coupled with a realization that the parameters of opinion on Israel on many key campuses may have shifted over the past generation in concert with a growing hostility toward the Jewish state in Europe and the most influential institutions of the global left.

3. A range of organizations focused solely or in part on dealing with the problem of anti-Israelism on the campus were founded in response. These included faculty-focused organizations, like Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and student-focused organizations, like The David Project, both founded in 2002.[1]

4. A network was thus created of pro-Israel, campus-focused organizations, with a mix of strengths and capabilities and supported to at least some extent by established Jewish organizations. Up until recently, however, there has been little agreement about what the exact situation is for Israel on campus or how best to improve it.

5. Additionally, there has not to date been an attempt to conceptualize the campus specific situation for Israel in the United States or craft an overarching strategy for how to deal with it.

6. A conceptual framework for understanding the situation for Israel on American campuses and a strategy for improving it is thus necessary. The goal of this document is to fill this gap in order to assist the leadership and staff of the pro-Israel campus network and the wider Jewish community in developing a set of generally agreed upon principles.

7. The strength of this network is to at least some extent based on the practical independence of the individual organizations that comprise it. Tactical disagreements will no doubt persist. To maximize our impact, however, the network should strive to come to a shared understanding of the lay of the land.READ MORE

Israel Advocacy News November 24, 2011: York University ‘may tie with Hebrew University’



York ‘may tie with Hebrew University’

Source: The Jewish Chronicle, 11-24-11

Students at York University will vote next week on whether to link up with Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

A referendum was initiated by politics student Jacob Campbell, who said he wanted to stand up for Israel and curb anti-Israel and antisemitic activity on British campuses.

If students vote in favour, York University Students’ Union (YUSU) will “work to build links with students at the Hebrew University” and will encourage York University itself to twin with the Israeli institution.

Mr Campbell said he decided to launch the twinning initiative earlier this year when the National Union of Students adopted a number of anti-Israel policies, since dropped. Last year a window in his student house was smashed after he displayed an Israeli flag.

Mr Campbell, who is not Jewish, also cited fellow students’ negative responses to the resignation of Lawrence Binitie, YUSU racial equality officer, who quit following an argument with a local councillor.

Mr Binitie was discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Jewish York City Council member David Levene when he told Mr Levene: “I would be ashamed if I were from Israel, or even Jewish”. He later added that he believed Israel’s “atrocities… are as severe as apartheid South Africa”.

The possible twinning will be debated at YUSU on Tuesday, with voting running from the following day until December 5.

Israel Advocacy News November 23, 2011: Cal State University’s Israel program under attack — again



Cal State University’s Israel program under attack — again

Source: JWeekly, 11-23-11

Jewish groups are weighing their response to a recent attack on Cal State University’s decision to reinstate its study abroad program in Israel — an attack some Jewish leaders consider “outrageous” and politically motivated.

CSU cancelled its Israel study option in 2002, mainly due to security concerns and a State Department warning on travel to Israel. This past May, after a year of concerted effort by the Jewish Community Relations Council and other Jewish groups, CSU decided to reinstate the program beginning with the 2012-13 academic year.

Two weeks ago, an open letter was sent to CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed asking him to reverse the decision. The letter, signed by 70 CSU faculty members and many current and former students, states that American students face grave bodily harm in Israel, including the possibility that they will be shot and killed by Israeli military forces.

The letter calls Israel an “apartheid” regime, and says Palestinian students from CSU wishing to take part in the program would face discrimination or worse.

Finally, the letter suggests that CSU’s Israel study program, run in cooperation with universities in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, is “one-sided” unless similar programs are created with Palestinian universities.

“The letter made outrageous charges that could not go unaddressed,” said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based JCRC, which is coming up with a response strategy together with the Anti-Defamation League, the Israel on Campus Coalition, the S.F.-based Israeli consulate, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California and the state’s Hillel chapters….READ MORE

Israel Advocacy News November 21, 2011: University of Toronto Student group celebrates first Israel Week



University of Toronto Student group celebrates first Israel Week

Chief organizer criticizes Israeli Apartheid Week

Source: The Varsity, 11-21-11

This article was published on Nov 21, 2011 in the News section

November 14–18 marked the first annual Israel Week at the University of Toronto.

Israel On Campus, a ULife-recognized student club, hosted a variety of events designed to “offer a different way to look at Israel,” according to organizer and fourth-year history student Esther Mendelsohn.

The week was meant to offer a broad, academically-oriented perspective on Israel because, according to Mendelsohn, “It’s easy to get caught up and only see [Israel] through the very narrow lens of politics.”

“Politics is relevant and important… No one’s shying away from politics, but there’s so much more, and we’d be remiss not to talk about it,” she said.

Humanitarianism was the focus of the group’s first Israel Week, and guests discussed a variety of the humanitarian causes that the country supports. Some of the guests included Dr. Gil Gross, a participant in the Save A Child’s Heart mission to Tanzania, and Zaki Djemal, the North American Representative for IsraAID.

Mendelsohn sat down with The Varsity to discuss the group’s goals and motivations for the week.

Mendelsohn repeatedly emphasized the need for “open, honest, and nuanced discourse, as long as it’s respectful.” She dismissed the notion that the week was merely “Zionist propaganda” or pro-Israel PR; rather, she said it was about getting the facts and engaging others in discussion.

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), whose organizers were unavailable for comment, remains a contentious issue for Israel On Campus.

While stressing that she doesn’t see Israel Week as IAW’s polar opposite, Mendelsohn did criticize the group for being, “not pro-Palestinian [but] just anti-Israel.”

“I criticize Israel and I don’t consider myself anti-Semitic, but there is a line. And when you use certain words, certain rhetoric, and especially images that are in no way based in fact then, yes, it crosses a certain line and becomes anti-Semitic,” she argued.

Mendelsohn dismissed IAW and organizations like the “socialist newspaper at Sid Smith,” saying they’re “fringe” and “radical” groups that aren’t reflective of the majority of her peers. She also had harsh words for UTSU, which has reportedly supported IAW in the past, either directly or through its OPRIG affiliate.

“My issue is that my student fees pay for this, and [it’s] a body that purports to represent all students picking a side on such a divisive issue,” she said.“The UTSU has said this year that what’s happened in the past doesn’t necessarily need to happen again, so I’d call on them to reconsider their funding and their support [to IAW].

“I think the solution is not to lend their name or support, financial or otherwise, and to just say ‘You can have your week, and you can have your week’ … but not to make certain students feel like they don’t belong, because that’s exactly what it feels like.”

Israel on Campus plans for next year’s events to be better publicized through displays around the university, but they hope to continue the discussion in a “more moderate place.”

“When you have a lot of rhetoric, emotional grabs using certain words, it can polarize the discourse, and we don’t want that,” Mendelsohn said. “We want to bring it back to a place where we can disagree with each other but also find points where we agree, and that’s the only way to move forward on campus and in the Middle East as well.”

Student members currently fund Israel on Campus, though it will be looking for other funding sources in the future. It is independent of other Jewish or Israeli campus groups.

Israel Advocacy News: Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Hebrew Language Instructor Waving the Zionist flag at Santa Cruz



Waving the Zionist flag at Santa Cruz

Source: Jewish Journal, 11-16-11

Tammi Rossman-BenjaminTammi Rossman-Benjamin

On the third floor of the Baskin Engineering building at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is going over points of Hebrew grammar.

Her 25 students in first-level Hebrew — a panoply of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and whites — call out the gender associations of Hebrew words as Rossman-Benjamin reads aloud. Some words, like “father” and “brother,” are easier to remember; they are grammatically masculine. Others, like “door” and “window,” just have to be memorized.

“It’s pretty random,” Rossman-Benjamin told her charges. “The way to know is its form, how it looks.”

For the past 10 years, Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew-language lecturer at the school, has been following that same directive with single-minded determination, spending much of her time outside the classroom on a very different task: tracking incidents of anti-Israel activity at this coastal campus.

Perhaps, seen in isolation, the incidents she has tracked might be considered legitimate, albeit harsh, criticisms of the Jewish state. But Rossman-Benjamin says that when looked at together, statements by faculty and others in an array of campus events often display anti-Zionism, demonization of Israel and Israeli leaders, comparisons to Nazi Germany and questioning of the Jewish state’s very legitimacy. Rossman-Benjamin says they take the form of something more insidious: a sustained, inaccurate and hateful assault on a core aspect of Jewish identity.

Such rhetoric has been prevalent on California campuses for years, raising concerns from Irvine to Berkeley, ranging from the well-being of Jewish students to the integrity of academic discourse on the Middle East. At Santa Cruz, as on these other campuses, a combination of activist student groups and left-leaning academic departments has subjected Israel to withering censure — harsher treatment, critics say, than is meted out to any other nation.

While so far no claims of anti-Jewish violence or harassment have arisen at Santa Cruz, as have been alleged at other schools, Rossman-Benjamin contends that the consequence of this rhetoric has seeped beyond the confines of debate, submerging Jewish students in an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation no other campus group is forced to endure.

“Here, the problem has to do with faculty and administration who misuse their classrooms and university-sponsored events in order to promote their personal political agendas,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “My complaint isn’t about anti-Semitism. My complaint is about a hostile environment for Jewish students.”

Since 2001, Rossman-Benjamin’s repeated appeals to the university have been met with silence or dismissal. So in 2009, she lodged a landmark complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the atmosphere on campus is so hostile that Jewish students suffer discrimination as a result.

In 2010, the San Francisco office of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informed her that it had opened an investigation of UC Santa Cruz.

And the result of all this is that Rossman-Benjamin, 55, has become a pariah on campus.

Not a single member of the UC Santa Cruz faculty has endorsed her read on the situation — save for her husband, Ilan Benjamin, who chairs the chemistry department. Several have accused her of intimidation and of infringing on their academic freedom.

Even in the Jewish world, she has proven divisive. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national organization, is expected to vote at its upcoming meeting on a draft resolution that cautions against using legal means to censor anti-Israel events under the guise of protecting Jewish students. But Rossman-Benjamin is not only unbowed, she is as committed as ever….READ MORE