This past April, supporters, advocates, and special guests gathered at the annual Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) awards gala in New York City. Colonel Richard Kemp, a battle-tested veteran of the British Forces and a fearless defender of Israel, was honored at this year’s gala. In addition, two student Israel advocates, Michael (Misha) Vilenchuk and Reut Baer were recognized for their extraordinary efforts on campus with David Bar-Illan Awards.

Colonel Richard Kemp poses with students for a photo at the 2016 CAMERA Gala
Colonel Richard Kemp, center, with CAMERA students and advocates at the 2016 CAMERA Gala

A long-standing officer in the British forces, Colonel Kemp was presented with the CAMERA Emet Award in recognition of his work to defend Israel and, more specifically, the IDF’s high moral standards which are often criticized. Having planned and led many counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and abroad, Col. Kemp has an exceptional understanding of morality in times of war. He has spoken in the UN numerous times on behalf of Israel regarding such issues. Additionally, he has lectured students at CAMERA events on campuses.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US and formerly the senior adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, attended the gala as a distinguished guest. Later in the evening, Dermer delivered the keynote address.

Following Dermer’s speech, dedicated student activists Michael (Misha) Vilenchuk (on behalf of CAMERA-supported group Judges for Israel) and Reut Baer were presented with this year’s David Bar-Illan Awards for their outstanding efforts to promote Israel on and off campus.

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 through the Emet for Israel program on more than 55 college and university campuses.

This year’s Campus Activism Award was awarded to Judges for Israel, for their outstanding Israel advocacy. Vilenchuk, a Brandeis University student, accepted the award on behalf of the group, which CAMERA helped found in 2013. This past October, Judges for Israel co-sponsored an event with the South Asian Student Association, bringing an expert on the Indian community in Israel to campus.  An engaged audience of both Jewish and Indian students learned about this important minority and subculture, furthering Israel’s identity as a diverse and accepting nation.  Through Misha’s initiative, JFI organized with seven other area colleges to march against media bias.  Cheers of “Am Yisrael Chai” and “open your eyes, stop the lies” were heard coming from the one hundred students marching.  The passion of the students was echoed by passing motorists with honks and waves – made more meaningful as this event was held only a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Following Misha’s acceptance of the Outstanding Campus Activism Award on behalf of Judges for Israel, this year’s Outstanding Student Leadership Award was given to Baer, a Cornell student. Born in Jerusalem, Israel, Reut has always had strong ties with Israel. Her passion for Israel flourished as she grew up and began college in the US. As an intern for CAMERA, Reut has has organized several educational and advocacy training programs and a variety of speakers on campus. She is the president of CAMERA – supported group Cornellians for Israel, and is the Vice President of Pre-Professional Programming for her pre-law fraternity, KAPi.

Congratulations, Judges for Israel, on the David Bar-Illan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism, and Reut, on the David Bar-Illan Award for Outstanding Student Leadership!

Below are their beautiful acceptance speeches from this year’s gala.

Misha Vilenchuk is given the David Bar-Ilan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism
Misha Vilenchuk is presented with the David Bar-Illan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism

Bar-Illan Acceptance Award Speech

Misha Vilenchuk, Brandeis University Student

It is with great honor that I accept the David Bar-Illan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism on behalf of Judges for Israel. I cannot express how grateful I am to CAMERA; it has been a genuine pleasure to serve as the EMET for Israel CAMERA Intern and to reinvigorate Brandeis’ call for social justice through a pro-Israel lens.

Though I am the one on stage today, my Israel co-activists deserve a special acknowledgement; I would like to thank three of them, Daniel Shpilsky, Ron Gadot and Andrew Jacobson, who are in the audience today, as well as our personal “Doctor X,” the former president Ari Givner, who brought us all together. While CAMERA provided me the guidance, training, and funding to conduct constructive events, the Judges for Israel team was essential to our success.

Working with CAMERA empowered me to cater to Brandeis’ unique Zionist demographic. Though we face no boycott issue, apathy, ignorance, and organizational incompetence prevented a serious pro-Israel voice at our historically Jewish college. With CAMERA’s support since the fall of 2013, we introduced exclusive speakers such as Dr. Maina Singh, who spoke of the Indian-Israeli minority, raised hundreds of dollars for OneFamilyFund through bake sales, and organized 130 students for a Vigil for Terror Victims in Israel. Disappointed in the global media’s anti-Israel bias, we utilized CAMERA’s student network in Boston and led over one hundred students from eight different universities in the March for Truth from Harvard College to the UK Consulate, highlighting BBC’s slanderous lies.

Though I graduate next month, I know Brandeis is in good hands. Students feel more open about their Zionism. I have had underclassmen approach me and thank Judges for Israel for empowering them to openly criticize their friends, and have seen non-Jewish students take interest in pro-Israeli programs. Zionism is not only alive, but blooms at Brandeis.

CAMERA helped us turn advocacy into activism. And for that, ladies and gentlemen here tonight, I thank you. At a time when Students for Justice in Palestine chapters grow and BDS continues to emerge, your gracious support is needed more than ever.

As my university’s namesake once said, “”Zionism finds in it, for the Jews, a reason to raise their heads, and, taking their stand upon the past, to gaze straightforwardly into the future.” Together, let us turn against apathy in search for truth.

Thank you.

Reut Baer speaks after after accepting her David Bar-Ilan Outstanding Student Leadership Award
Reut Baer speaks after accepting her David Bar-Illan Outstanding Student Leadership Award

Bar-Illan Acceptance Award Speech

Reut Baer, Cornell University Student

Thank you so much for this award. I really appreciate it, as well as all of CAMERA’s support that led up to this moment.

When I first started at Cornell University, I didn’t think my Israeli identity would matter. I assumed the school would be a place for exchanging ideas, not judging people on the basis of their national origins. But what I found was that it came into play on a daily basis, even before I got involved with Israel advocacy.

My freshmen year, my professor class decided to use Israel as an example of wrongdoing: she stated that all Israeli doctors forcefully abort Palestinian children and sterilize Palestinians.

Something should have been said. But that time, I was honestly so shocked she would say that, knowing both my parents are Israeli doctors, that I didn’t even say a word.

Soon after, the “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) on campus tried to pass a BDS motion in the student assembly. They were relentless and aggressive in their tactics.

Thankfully, we as a pro Israel campus community acted fast and quickly had the motion tabled indefinitely without being heard even. There simply was no place for that on Cornell’s campus.

Being confronted with BDS and this opposition to my Israeli identity was what got me involved with Israel advocacy.

This is when CAMERA came into my life. I joined the pro Israel group on campus Cornellians for Israel (CFI) and became a CAMERA fellow.

Since the moment I became a CAMERA fellow, I had a support system for whatever came my way and I was encouraged to take action like never before.

I and my board of CFI are focused on bringing a positive spin on Israel within the campus community through bringing speakers and having pro Israel events on campus.

With CAMERA’s help, we got specialized training in Boston and were able to bring a multitude of speakers on campus. People like Bassem Eid, the Palestinian human rights activist who speaks frankly against BDS. People like Kasim Hafeez, the former Islamist extremist who is now pro Israel. People like comedian Benji Lovitt.

We also held pro-Israel events. Published articles in the Cornell Sun. Raised money for Israeli causes like humanitarian aid. Distributed educational material around the campus. In short, we had an impact on the culture of the campus.

As I accept this award, I cannot be more proud of my organization CFI, which has been a CAMERA supported group since 2011.

As an organization, we have become a force to be reckoned with, gaining a presence throughout the campus, whether on the Student Assembly, among Jewish Groups, among Christian groups, and various other minority groups.

This striking difference became even more apparent last year when I experienced SJP members following me and my friend on campus – stalking us actually — hoping to intimidate us, to silence us, to bully us.

My friend had to call the police to report this overt intimidation.

At an anti-Israel protest a month later, SJP students spat at pro-Israel students. Smeared ketchup on us. Ripped signs out of our hands.

Thanks to CAMERA, I knew it was imperative to record their aggressive behavior, so as to monitor and influence the media coverage. This video was then added to the blog Legal Insurrection and garnered a lot of attention.

I want to thank you all for the help and support you have given us. These are a few of our experiences at Cornell as pro-Israel students, and I know that without your backing, those experiences would have been even tougher.

The support you gave us daily helps us face the challenges and helps us be a positive pro Israel influence on our campus.

No matter how tough it gets, we won’t stop advocating for Israel and showcasing the truth.

Thank you CAMERA and thank you all.

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