Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr
In late May, CAMERA on Campus hosted then-Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev for an online event offered exclusively to students on campuses around the world.
With almost two dozen student groups co-sponsoring from Canada, the US, the UK, and Israel, and students attending all the way from South Africa, India, Poland, Austria, and the Netherlands, the event truly epitomized the idea that antisemitism is an evil that plagues campuses and nations everywhere, and can only be defeated when students stand up and defend the truth together.
Speaking from his office at the Israeli embassy, Ambassador Regev stressed the importance of “believing in the justice of Israel’s cause.” That notion can seem daunting on many campuses, where antisemitism and anti-Zionism can result in exclusion or even violence. Ambassador Regev himself is acutely aware of the troubles facing pro-Israel activists, not only due to his time as a student activist in Melbourne, where he grew up, but also from his slated appearance at City University of London in 2018 that had to be cancelled due to security concerns — not to mention the aggressive protests outside the ambassador’s event at King’s College London that same year.
Addressing the hostile and distorted image of Israel presented in the international media, the ambassador answered that there is indeed an institutional bias against Israel that results in a fundamental imbalance in how Israel is portrayed versus how the Palestinian leadership is portrayed. Of course, this fundamental imbalance and institutional bias can be found on many campuses as well, where professors, syllabi, and anti-Israel student groups routinely demonize, delegitimize, and “double-standardize” Israel.
“…the event truly epitomized the idea that antisemitism is an evil that plagues campuses and nations everywhere, and can only be defeated when students stand up and defend the truth together.”
When asked why he thought that universities and colleges have been such a heavy focus of the anti-Israel movement, Ambassador Regev explained that the true anti-Israel activists who are passionate and active are merely a vocal minority, and give a false impression that an entire university is hostile towards Israel, which is not necessarily true. The most important component in fighting back, according to the ambassador, is to not be apathetic; pro-Israel students must organize themselves, promote the truth about Israel, and not allow anti-Israel actors to monopolize the discourse on campuses.
Ambassador Regev was also asked to impart some advice to students hoping to pursue a career in Israel advocacy, both from inside and outside the government apparatus. The most important thing, he stated, was that Israel activists know their facts — not merely soundbites and talking points. Often the students and activists most critical of Israel are not even aware of the facts, and just engage in sloganeering. To be an effective advocate, activists need to read books, newspapers, and study the issues on a deep level, he said.
Finally, when asked about how activists can continue spreading the truth about Israel against the goliath of anti-Israel campus hostility, Ambassador Regev proclaimed unequivocally that the fight for Israel’s image is not lost. On the contrary, he clarified, there is no reason to be pessimistic, as long as we have young activists willing to stand up for the “justice of Israel’s cause.”
The ambassador reminded the audience that the immense progress Israel has made in the short period of its existence is cause for optimism, not pessimism. Israel is stronger and more prosperous, has improving relations with the Arab world, and has a more vibrant democracy than ever before. However, without pro-Israel voices on campuses, unfamiliar students will never know this, and spend years on campus being exposed to lies, misinformation, and propaganda about Israel.
That is what makes campus activism so important. And that is why Ambassador Regev’s profound advice should be heeded by students for years to come.
Originally published in The Algemeiner.
Contributed by CAMERA’s Israel campus coordinator Eitan Fischberger.