Contributed by CAMERA Fellow Emma Colbran
Hasbara, which literally means “explanation,” is the term used for pro-Israel advocacy. Hasbara is used globally to educate people about the policies of the Israeli government and to promote Israel in the face of negative press. Because much of the American media portrays Israel in a biased light, it is hard for people, specifically students, to get a good idea about what Israel truly stands for, how it protects itself, and the just reasons behind the actions of the Israeli government. This media blockage makes it very hard for students to be well-informed, hindering their opinions and ideas about Israel. This is where hasbara comes in. College campus activists work throughout the academic year to make their campuses more educated places regarding Israel.
One goal is to explain why Israel has the legal, historical and moral right to exist and why the Jewish people have a right to the land. Many organizations assist college students by providing them with training on how to communicate with their fellow peers about Israel. Gaging the type of community your school is and presenting information in an engaging way is important to the success of hasbara. CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, is a media watchdog organization that corrects bias and false information found in news sources about Israel. To assist college campus students, they provide resources in the form of speakers for their fellows to host on campus, and funds to host these events. The speakers are always engaging and interesting, capturing their audiences’ attention and explaining Israel’s narrative. CAMERA has a presence and positive impact on Tulane University’s campus and has been helping to host speakers all year.
This is exactly how Tulane University Students Supporting Israel (TUSSI) and University of New Orleans Allies for Israel (AFI) group members are approaching their advocacy work. Chloé Valdary, president of AFI, came up with the creative idea to spread the Zionist movement in a new and impactful way. Zionism is the movement for Jewish self-determination in their historic homeland. Rather than letting the word “Zionism” be hijacked and delegitimized by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic people, she wanted to use the word and its true meaning to explain the Jewish people’s narrative. Chloe, along with Maor Shapira, president of TUSSI, spearheaded this movement by creating a culture, music, and art festival whose central focus is to bring college students and community members together to learn about the true meaning of Zionism. The music festival is called Declare Your Freedom, or DYF, and held its third annual festival this past April. This year was especially unique because it grew to be a much larger festival than when it first started at the University of New Orleans three years ago.
Matisyahu and Rebirth Brass Band headlined DYF, appealing to Tulane students and the greater New Orleans community. Speakers also addressed the crowds for the duration of the festival, each speaking for 10 minutes. They captured the audience’s attention with engaging life stories, relating them to the importance of Israel as the home state for the Jewish people. Specifically, one speaker that enraptured the audiences’ attention immediately was Kasim Hafeez. Kasim was raised completely anti-Israel and came very close to joining a Jihadist training camp. However, after visiting Israel and exploring the teachings he has grown up believing, he found that much of the negativity that he had been taught about Israel was false. It changed his perception of the Israeli people, and he now tours the US telling his story.
In addition, there were interactive tents set up around the quad. These tents each had a theme, which was related to Israel in some way. For example, there was an LGBTQ tent that had information about Israel being the only accepting country in the entire Middle East region of the LGBTQ community. The key here, though, is not to just have the facts and put them out in the tent and hope the festival goers take the information in, but to present them in an engaging and eye-catching way. To do this, the tents were organized mostly by images and short descriptions. In our efforts to appeal to college students we tried to captivate their attention with eye-catching pictures and short informational quotes.
The combination of the music, art, informational tents, and guest speakers provided the audience with a positive way to experience Zionism. Many of the people who came to the event had never heard of Zionism, but left with a better understanding of it. It is our goal to engage students from all branches of the Tulane community in an educational, apolitical music festival. The intent of DYF is to introduce Israel and Zionism to people who may have very little knowledge of it, as well as to empower students to stand up and advocate for Israel and its existence.