Programs Prepare Jewish Students for Hostile Campus Environment
This past academic year was perhaps the most intense in terms of anti-Israel hostility in recent memory. Divestment resolutions have polarized campuses across the country while increasingly brash efforts to ostracize the pro-Israel community have been rolled out at campuses like UCLA where students were brought before the ethics committee for visiting Israel and at Vassar where Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) published a nazi era anti-Semitic cartoon. Students at the The University of Washington this past year defeated a divestment resolution after a bitter, divisive fight.
Many observers of the Jewish college scene predict that this coming academic year will make last year look like a stroll in the park. As colleges prepare to begin fall classes, the atmosphere has been supercharged by the still raging rockets war by Hamas against Israel. Possibly the first round was already fired this week when a Jewish student at Temple University was assaulted and allegedly called a “kike” by an undergraduate associated with SJP.
For some the hostility against Israel is experienced well before the college years. Nurit Asnash, a native Israeli, Seattle area resident and mother of an eleven year old son told The Mike Report that Israeli parents here in Seattle have shared with one another shocking instances of hatred directed at their middle school aged children. One eastside school showed the one sided pro-Palestinian film “Promises” to their MIddle School students. After the screening a student screamed at an Israeli classmate “How could you do that to the Palestinians after what the Nazis did to you!”. At Highland Middle School in Bellevue a student proclaimed “I’m going to kill all the Jews!”, one child responded “I’m Jewish are you going to kill me?” to which the hostile student replied “yes”.
Since nobody was doing anything I decided to do something.
I knew something had to be done” said Asnash, “and since nobody was doing anything I decided to do something”. At around the same time Einat Barenboim, a native of Haifa now living in Redmond was troubled by some of the same concerns. She had come across publicity for a Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Israel advocacy program being conducted in the Bay area. She posted the information to a Facebook page for Israelis in Seattle and asked if something like that could be done here. Rob Jacobs of Israel education group StandWithUS responded almost immediately and agreed to help.
Together with Jacobs; Asnash and Barenboim collaborated with the Los Angeles StandWithUS office to develop a two-day event for students titled “Student Israel Education and Advocacy Training”. Each of the two-hour sessions will be held at Eastside Chabad. This Monday, August 25th they are presenting to college-age students and on Tuesday the 26th to both high school and middle school students. Each program has been carefully tailored to the respective age groups. There is no charge for the program.
Barenboim told us that “as an Israeli, it is hard to simply accept the uneven media coverage and the flow of blunt lies about what is really happening there. This will undoubtedly impact the Israeli and jewish students going back to school or college. Once school is in session students will be facing tough questions regarding the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.”
With this in mind all students in the StandWithUs (SWU) Israel advocacy program will be given a comprehensive history and timeline of Israel’s complicated relationship with Gaza and Hamas leading up to the current operation. In addition, the college students will discuss the Israel climate on their respective campuses, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, and successful techniques to combat anti-Israel actions.
The high school students will learn how to speak effectively about Israel and how to articulately answer “the tough questions”. The middle-school students will learn about Israeli innovations and will write letters to Israeli soldiers that will be delivered by the SWU Israel office.
Unique to programs of this type will be the depth of the material provided by StandWithUS. Miri Kornfeld of the SWU office in Los Angeles who helped prepare the Seattle area curriculum noted that “In every presentation we provide Jewish biblical, archaeological and historical links to the state of Israel. We establish the 3,000 year-old indigenous Jewish presence in the land up to and including the present. Without this context” explained Kornfeld “it is difficult for students to grasp the entire picture and to understand why Jews have a claim to the land and why they have held so tightly to the dream of Eretz Israel for millennia upon millennia while in exile.” Says Kornfeld “In every session, we hope to instill a life-long love for Israel.”
When asked how SWU will be addressing the “Palestinian narrative” with their students, Asnash explained; It’s important to learn the Palestinian narrative, but since in the Seattle area they have many programs where they can do that like synagogues, churches, schools, universities, the media, we will focus more on the Israeli perspective which not many institutions here teach.”
One program that will present the Palestinian as well as the Israeli narrative is “Livnot Chai” in a course aptly titled “Packing for college: The Israeli and Palestinian Narrative“. Livnot Chai is an after school High school supplementary program sponsored by Herzl-Ner Tamid, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Temple B’nai Torah, and Congregation Beth Shalom; Jewish Family Service and The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and other non-profits.
Livnot Chai provides “the Palestinian narrative or perspective”
While the StandWithUs program focuses on preparing students to defend Israel on campus, the Livnot Chai program according to their promotional materials is designed “to respond to the growing feelings of disenchantment and disinterest toward Israel”. Their online syllabus explains that “most American Jews have never met a Palestinian, nor seriously encountered Palestinian narratives or perspectives. We approach the conflict from our place in the Jewish world and a sense of commitment to Israel. However, in order to make progress toward a more peaceful future, it is crucial that we understand and engage with a breadth of perspectives on this dynamic topic.”
It is crucial that we understand and engage with a breadth of perspectives.
The Livnot Chai program “will explore the vast differences between the Israeli and Palestinian narratives and discover the barriers that prevent productive conversations that could lead to long-term peace in the region. Students will attempt to build bridges between the two narratives and draft an agreement about how Palestinians and Israelis might find common ground in the next generation.”
Approaching Israel education in a more holistic fashion is Ari Hoffman, city director for NCSY, Jewish Student Union (JSU) and Hebrew High. “Israel is an integral aspect of Judaism” says Hoffman “You can’t sell it if you don’t believe it”. As opposed to a single class or seminar “Israel education is integrated into every program we do”. The JSU program focuses a great deal on Israel advocacy. Through guest speakers, robust discussions and multimedia,”by the end of the school year our kids can defend Israel proudly and effectively”.
“Our primary goal” says Hoffman is to get the kids to Israel” and this Hoffman does, sending more High School students to Israel on Summer and gap year programs than all of the other local teen youth groups combined. “To defend Israel you have to know Israel, the best way to know Israel is to see Israel”.
Many of Hoffman’s graduates have taken leadership roles in the pro-Israel campus community, one such student is Robby Ellenhorn, a JSU graduate who participated in NCSY’s TJJ Ambassadors program in Israel. Ellenhorn helped lead the successful fight against BDS at the University of Washington this past year.
“I think our program meshes real well with the StandWithUs advocacy program, we admire their work and I encourage our students to get involved with organizations like StandWithUs.” Hoffman said he did not know enough about the Livnot Chai program to comment.
We live in a new reality, Jewish students face burdens not faced by their parent’s generation. “I asked my son what he would do if confronted at school for being Jewish or Israeli” recalled Asnash “he said he would try to ignore them or walk away. After attending our StandWithUs advocacy program I hope he will have the tools to stay put and engage”.
- For more information and to Register for the StandWIthUs Israel Advocacy Training (College students: August 25th, Middle and High School students: August 26th). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
- For more information on Livnot Chai go to http://www.livnotchai.org .
- For more information on NCSY/JSU or Jewish High programs contact Ari Hoffman at email@example.com
*We reached out to a Livnot Chai representative to be interviewed for this story but we have not as of yet heard back.