“I’ve always been a Zionist, but I was too timid to be an activist,” said Rebecca Fliegelman of Suffern, a 23-year-old senior at Hunter College.
She was one of 80 students from 13 countries who gathered in Boston for six days in August for the seventh annual Student Leadership Training Conference sponsored by the media-monitoring, research, and membership organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America — more easily known as CAMERA.
“The most important skill I gained from the conference is confidence,” said Ms. Fliegelman, a Frisch School graduate who spent a gap year in Israel from 2012 to 2013.
“I’m a very shy girl and the thought of a microphone in my hands and eyes focused in my direction, waiting for me to say something fabulous and impressive, would usually send me into a panic,” she continued. “And though I did not actually speak at this conference, watching my friends get up there, forget about themselves for a moment and stand up for a worthy cause — Israel — has inspired me to take on a leadership role as an advocate for Israel on my campus for the semesters to come.”
The all-expense-paid conference, funded by CAMERA for students selected as one-year fellows in the CAMERA on Campus international program, imparted learning techniques for defending and promoting Israel in the upcoming school year.
In preparation for their Israel advocacy work, the fellows attended lectures and studied academic papers on the Middle East conflict, did role playing, learned debating skills, practiced public speaking, wrote newspaper articles, and even trained in the Israeli martial art Krav Maga.
Ms. Fliegelman learned that she can be an effective Israel advocate without having every fact memorized. “Before CAMERA I thought if I didn’t have all the answers I would not only not be helping my cause, but actually hurting my cause as well,” she said. “CAMERA has reassured me that this is not the case. We don’t lose or let anyone down because we need to look something up.”
She said that she left the conference “with newfound confidence, friends, memories, and motivation to step out from behind my laptop and become a vocal activist for Israel.”
Participants came from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Israel, Hungary, Venezuela, Columbia, Papua New Guinea, France, Ukraine, and Mongolia.
“There’s a global problem on college campuses, which is attested to this year by the many countries the kids are coming from,” Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s president and executive director, said. “But the very good news is the spirit and positive energy of the wonderful students who care about Israel and its cause.”
Robert Miller of Englewood, a 19-year-old graduate of SAR High School in Riverdale, says he “was motivated to attend the CAMERA training conference in Boston and apply for the CAMERA Fellowship because as an incoming freshman at NYU College of Arts and Science, I was acutely aware of the challenges that awaited me as a Jewish pro-Israel student. I’ve always admired the work CAMERA does every day to ensure that anti-Israel slanders are corrected, and I knew they could help me combat anti-Zionism on campus.”
He plans to be a board member of the NYU Realize Israel club and hopes to “fulfill my duties as a CAMERA fellow by writing op-eds in response to Israel’s detractors in my campus newspaper and hosting events about Israel’s geopolitical situation.”
Mr. Miller said the most important skill he gained at the conference was how to properly answer critics who claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” and that Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank is illegal.
“What students get from the conference are practical strategies, lots of resources for handling discrimination, and also a firm understanding of the moral case for Israel,” said Gilad Skolnick, CAMERA’s director of campus programming.
Aviva Slomich, CAMERA’s international campus director, said that the conference “develops the students’ intellectual and leadership skills. It’s an in-depth, detailed program that addresses the major challenges facing pro-Israel students today.”
Other local CAMERA fellows at the conference in Boston were Avraham Novick, a Yeshiva University student from Clifton; Shlomo Hendler, a Rockland Community College student from Suffern; Roni Sokolsky, a Baruch College senior from West Nyack, and Malka Kirsh, a Rockland Community College student from Spring Valley.
The fellows heard from two London students about frightening situations they endured on campus last year.
Khulan Davaajav, a Mongolian student at SOAS University of London, said she was assaulted by a SOAS Palestine Society member, who stole an Israeli flag from Ms. Davaajav’s bag.
“People often don’t realize how violent the BDS activists on campus can get,” Ms. Davaajav said. “When I became vocal on campus about my support for Israel, the BDS activists questioned my right to debate and take part in a discussion on Israel because of my ethnic origin. I was slurred with racist language, in which they cruelly mocked my Asian heritage.”
Tamara Berens, a student at King’s College London, was present at a CAMERA event at University College London where dozens of police officers were called in to protect Jewish students barricaded inside a room against an anti-Israel mob that gathered outside a private event.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “That’s partly why I came all this way to CAMERA’s conference, because I’ve seen firsthand what we’re up against. There’s a concerted effort to shut down our rights to free speech and assembly. We need support and assistance, and that’s what CAMERA provides.”
Ms. Fliegelman said she feels ready to face strident anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine.
“I plan to use my winning smile to meet as many people on my campus as possible and spread a positive message about Israel that would combat SJP’s misrepresentation of Israel,” she said. “I want to use my days off to set up a table at school and help students who don’t know much about Israel care about Israel.
“I will also be writing about Israel, its need to exist in this world, its misrepresentation in the media and by SJP, and about the psychology behind the conflict and why peace is so far away. I plan to attend SJP meetings for as long as they let me in order to psychoanalyze the members who want to see Israel wiped off the map.
“Hopefully my school will allow me to publish controversial content. Even if they refuse, CAMERA is there to help my pieces get published elsewhere.”
This article was originally published at The Jewish Standard.