On Sunday a record 600-plus guests attended the annual Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) awards gala in New York City. CAMERA honored activists including student leaders, a retired professor, and an internationally known journalist for their work in supporting Israel and upholding news media integrity and standards of fair reporting.
Prolific British journalist Melanie Phillips, this year’s CAMERA Emet Award winner, was recognized for her astute analysis of the growing danger of radical Islam in Europe and the weakness of European political and cultural leaders in the face of unjustified anti-Israel propaganda and policies. Phillips warned that attacks against Israel are motivated not only by its status as the world’s sole Jewish state, but also for its being an outpost and exemplar of Western values.
A columnist for the Times of London, panelist on BBC-Radio’s “The Moral Maze,” and author of the 2006 bestseller Londonistan, Phillips delivered the dinner’s keynote address.
Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s president and executive director, applauded the hard work of the honorees in particular and CAMERA supporters in general. Levin noted the successful, ongoing campaign to highlight anti-Israel bias in the New York Times through CAMERA’s analysis of the paper’s reporting and commentary, and the use of billboards throughout New York City that expose the paper’s double standards. She also noted progress this year in CAMERA’s projects to monitor Spanish and Hebrew language media.
CAMERA’s Outstanding Campus Activism and Outstanding Student Leadership awards honor the late David Bar-Illan, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post and long-time friend of the organization. CAMERA supports CAMERA Fellows and autonomous pro-Israel groups in the Emet for Israel program on more than 55 college and university campuses.
This year’s Campus Activism Award went to SUNY-Binghamton University student Justin Hayet for his work in organizing pro-Israel events on campus and writing opinion pieces for the campus newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, and on the CAMERAonCampus blog. In addition, Hayet appears in the documentary “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus.”
Chloé Simone Valdary of the University of New Orleans received this year’s Outstanding Student Leadership Award. An electrifying speaker and innovative programmer, Valdary’s “To the Students for Justice In Palestine: A Letter from an Angry Black Woman” was the online Tablet Magazine’s most widely-read article, with more than half a-million readers. Valdary has also initiated CAMERA campus campaigns “This is What a Zionist Looks Like” and “Zionism First” to strengthen pro-Israel support on campuses.
Alan Stein was presented with the Letter Writer of the Year Award for his work in correcting media anti-Israel bias. Stein, a retired mathematics professor from the University of Connecticut, has been a member of CAMERA’s National Letter-Writing Group since shortly after its inception. Stein is one of CAMERA’s 17,000 letter writers in 47 countries who work to correct media coverage that misrepresents the facts about Israel.
The gala was chaired by George Violin, a CAMERA national board member and lay leader, distinguished for his long career as a pro-Israel advocate.
Congratulations, Chloé, on receiving the David Bar Ilan Award for Outstanding Student Leadership, and Justin, on receiving the David Bar Ilan Award for Campus Activism. These students were presented the award for their amazing work during the 2013-2014 academic year.
Below are their beautiful acceptance speeches at this year’s dinner.
Israel’s National poet and my distant relative Chaim Nachman Bialik wrote:
“Warriors are we!
Last in the era of bondage,
The first to be free!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, when I think of warriors, I think of the thousands of students risking their grades, reputations, and even safety in defense of Israel; many of these warriors are CAMERA students.
I would like to thank CAMERA, Andrea Levin, and the CAMERA on Campus team, led by Aviva and Gilad, two incredible professionals at the helm of the Pro-Israel movement. Congratulations to my friend Chloe; you’re simply invincible.
Since Freshman year of college, I’ve longed for an organization that would allow me the ability to DO something with my Zionism; luckily, CAMERA came along. It was not until now-Member of the Knesset Dr. Anat Berko spoke at Binghamton that I realized the power of bringing in Israel-related speakers. With over 135 students on a Tuesday night listening to the research of one of Israel’s finest scholars on terrorism and the psychology that drives it. Students from dozens of student groups packed the room.
I’d never seen most of the dozens of students excitedly raising their hands during the event’s Q and A session. This is what success looks like for an Israel event on campus. Today as MK Anat Berko works in the halls of the Knesset, she is my mentor, role model, and friend. Though she is not here tonight, I dedicate this award to her.
With CAMERA’s guidance, I wrote articles for my campus newspaper and the Jerusalem Post calling out the tragic hypocritical actions of Students for Justice in Palestine; my character was attacked, my name defamed by members of Students for Justice in Palestine who sought to destroy me and everything I stand for. I didn’t sleep for weeks. The Jewish State was under attack on my campus, and I realized my ability to defend the Jewish State was infinite—I wrote articles and still get emails to this day from people who’ve read my articles. But because of these articles, I became a target via email and on Facebook and walking to class; the looks and words pointed my way from professors and graduate students I’ll forget forever, but I want to thank them for their contempt.
These professors and graduate Students added oil to the flame and geared my purpose. Truthfully, I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know who I wanted to be, until I stood on the other side of until my character was defamed publicly and on online forums simply for defending Israel. It was not easy; it was a dark time for me personally as I didn’t sleep for weeks. Despite this darkness, oddly enough, surrounded by bigotry I eventually found myself propelled by the hope, our hope. It is our hope for a safer, better, more accepted, more understood and more prosperous Israel which drives me as I recall countless times I stood with friends, wrapped in Israeli flags defending our nation across from students, graduate students, and professors who seek to destroy Israel. Friends, hope can be found in the strangest of places.
As I walk across the stage to graduate college in a few weeks, with a magen david painted on top of my cap, I know what matters in life. As the next generation of Zionist leaders begin to emerge, we clutch onto the stories—of Yoni Netanyahu, of Max Steinberg, of Ayal, Naftali, and Gilad—we compel ourselves to these stories of sadness and of triumph, of tears and of pride; knowing that Israel’s continually written mosaic of stories is begging to be written and begging for additional heroic players to color its already bright pages.
As this new era emerges, I can only say world: henine—here I am—and for Israel, in defense of Israel, and always with Israel. Am Yisrael Chai—the people of Israel live—and we will continue to live with warriors like yourself compelled to tell the story, the story of Jewish People, the story CAMERA’s student warriors and the story of the one and only Jewish State, because epic stories beg to be told. Toda Raba.
Chloé Simone Valdary
Thank you to CAMERA for this great honor, and thank you all for being here tonight. My journey and the work that I do on college campuses really began when I was a sophomore and was becoming interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And I had heard that there was an event at Tulane University about this topic, so I went to go explore.
The event was headlined by David Nesenoff, and he spoke about how he had exposed Helen Thomas, a member of the White House press corps who made disparaging remarks about Jews. Because of his efforts, Thomas was eventually forced to resign. Needless to say, the event at Tulane was a great success and I was intrigued by how students were able to bring it about. After I inquired further, I was told about this great organization that helped students host events with guest speakers and educate their student body on issues affecting Israel today. That organization, of course, was CAMERA. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Through my work with CAMERA, I have had the privilege of designing campaigns tailored for college students including such campaigns as “This is What A Zionist Looks Like” and “Zionism First”. I have also been able to create a college festival called “Declare Your Freedom,” which celebrates the Jewish struggle for liberty and which celebrates the totality of the great saga that is Zionism. At the heart of each of these projects is one simple yet groundbreaking theme: Empowerment. I believe first and foremost that the secret to teaching others about Israel is knowing who you are and loving who you are; CAMERA has given me the ability to express that sentiment through both the campaigns I have created and the programs I have initiated. For that, I say thank you.
Thank you for giving me a platform to use to speak truth to power. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to work towards a greater good.
In truth, however, I believe I should not be given an award for this. I am compelled to do this. Elie Wiesel, in his book The Town Beyond the Wall, says that a human being must, by definition, engage in action. A human being must, by definition, eschew indifference and apathy. A human being must do something, must take a side, must engage in the act of choosing, else he is not truly human.
Zionism, and advocating for it, for me fulfills that duty. But perhaps even more importantly, Zionism speaks to me because it speaks to the soul of humanity and illustrates what we as human beings are truly capable of.
Which begs the question: Have you ever sat back and thought, I mean really deeply contemplated, the fullness of what your people have achieved? It is something which can only truly be described in song and music and art and dance and love and poetry.
When I think about your people, I think of poetry. I think of Shakespeare: “This above all, to thine own self be true”.
I think of Longfellow: “In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!”
I think of Angelou: “Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise. Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise…Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave: I rise.”
And of course, being as I am 21 years old, I think of Nicki Minaj: “Put your drinks up. It’s a celebration every time we link up. We done did every thing they could think of. Greatness is what we are on the brink of.”
Greatness is what you are on the brink of. I thank you, CAMERA, for this honor, and I leave you with one small thing to contemplate, and I hope it will bring you great comfort for the rest of your lives:
You, your people, are the phoenix personified.
You are the definition of Rise.
As enduring as rain,
like the light that everyone knows will greet them at day break
You exist in the constant.
And the constellations greet you, as though you were their cousins following the same course
throughout the galaxy which knows you and recognizes your brotherhood.
Though falling stars and meteors will sometimes make themselves your acquaintances by way of hardship and persecution, rest in the comfort of knowing that like the never-ending circular spending axis of the earth, you, your people, are forever.