As Israelis, we take our reality for granted. It is full of paradoxes; an unattended bag can stop traffic, yet we are more preoccupied with the thought of being stuck in traffic than the fact that there might be a bomb in their vicinity. Getting a beer with friends among the ancient stones of Jerusalem could be interrupted by a rock throwing incident on the way home; relaxing at the beach in Ashkelon under the hot Mediterranean sun is accompanied by knowing that at any given time, rocket sirens may sound, signalling us to run for shelter.
At times, the Israeli reality is so consuming, that the world’s perception of Israel seems unimportant. This becomes evident when one takes a look at the word for “abroad” in Hebrew, which literally translates to “outside of Israel,” as if the whole world revolves around us. As if we weren’t barely the size of New Jersey; but we are. The way that Israel is constantly slandered in the media, by word of mouth, by leaders worldwide, and by students on campus who don’t bother checking the facts, is an issue that must be addressed. The global Jewish community has answered this call to action within their neighborhoods, on their campuses, and in their states.
All the while only a very few Israelis themselves have woken up to this reality, largely ignoring this international trend. While our everyday realities might be consuming, it is not an excuse to remain dormant in the face of campaigns to delegitimize our home.
This is why we, the students of CAMERA at Hebrew University, feel that as Israelis on our East Jerusalem campus, we must help tackle the problem, by facing the facts and in turn, ensure action on behalf of tomorrow’s leaders.
Our understanding of anti-Israel activity on campuses “outside of Israel” is limited. Israeli college students are usually a number of years older than American students, having started freshman year after our army service of two plus years. The American college scene feels like a completely different world from ours, and it can be difficult for Israeli students to relate to.
From so far away, it is difficult to take seriously a number of students “dying in” or raising an apartheid wall. Additionally, it’s hard to understand the impact these students have on the Jewish minorities attending these schools. The very existence of Israel means that often, we do not know what it feels like to be a minority on campus.
Making the situation even more complicated, here in Israel, the widespread feeling on the street is that anti-Israel activity abroad is something the Israeli government should be dealing with. Among Israelis, the topic is rarely discussed. This is something that is slowly but surely changing – not acting is no longer an option. We at CAMERA at Hebrew University felt compelled to bring students together on this issue.
We began with a vision to act on two fronts. First to educate ourselves, by bringing Israelis to an understanding of the way the world views Israel. Second, we are bridging the gap between Israelis and students worldwide. The great thing about being on an Israeli campus is that we manage to reach all audiences, and students from all areas of the political spectrum. This includes a few Israeli Arabs who attend our events. After a full semester of educational events and evenings out sharing our experiences with students from all around the world, the board of our team attended CAMERA’s sixth annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference in Boston.
CAMERA’s conference was not only educational and eye-opening, it exposed us to the amazing level of commitment the eighty-five students in attendance have to Israel. We met students who have knowledge of Israel rivaling our own, whose dealings with anti-Israel activists left us in shock. We understood quickly that these students are fighting for us abroad, and that we are their boots on the ground.
Over the four-day conference, we gained a real grasp of the reality on North American and UK campuses. We had an inside look into the difficulties our new friends face on campus on a daily basis, be it apathy or true hatred toward Israel. This understanding, along with the ties and relationships we built with the students, inspired unlimited ideas in us.
We were truly shocked to learn of the rallying around the BDS movement and Students for Justice in Palestine by Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ groups, and other humanitarian “liberal” groups. Coming from the most liberal, diverse and political campus in Israel, it seemed to us that the natural allies of these groups would be the pro-Israel community.
Armed with this knowledge, we can adequately assist the students we’ve met as they combat anti-Israel activity on campus head on. Ethiopian Jews, Druze Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Christians are friends of ours who go to the very same university as we do, and their voices need to be amplified, especially when the accusation hurled at Pro-Israel students is that Israel is a “white European colonial entity.”
We took away practical tools from CAMERA’s conference for better event planning, recruitment, op-ed writing and social media that will allow us to reach a new level of professionalism in our activities with students on campus.
Going forward, CAMERA at Hebrew University will keep in touch with students abroad, exchanging ideas and experiences. Israel does not stand alone. Undoubtedly, this year on campus will be our best yet!