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Jewish Journal

Prepping Campuses for Anti-Israel Surge

by Rachel Brand

October 16, 2003 | 8:00 pm

When Ross Neihaus exited his chemistry class three days after the start of UCLA's fall quarter, he saw the words "Anti-Zionist and Proud" scrawled in chalk on the wall of an adjacent building. Such a statement coming so early in the quarter was a surprise to the fourth-year biology major, but not a shock.

"I expect this to be my toughest year in college," said Neihaus, the president of Bruins for Israel, UCLA's pro-Israel group. "We are concerned that what will be said this year will be nastier, more radical and essentially more anti-Semitic."

Like Neihaus, many pro-Israel students and organizations are bracing themselves for a torrent of anti-Israel activity this year. While the war in Iraq brought a lessening of anti-Israel rhetoric on campus during the 2002-2003 school year, many experts believe that the anti-Israel movement will gain momentum during 2003-2004.

"This year, a confluence of political dynamics and an escalation of violence in and around Israel will set parameters for a tremendous upsurge of anti-Israel campus activity," said Jonathan Kessler, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee leadership development director, during a Sept. 11 briefing.

Pro-Israel campus organizations are taking precautionary measures and making sure that students are prepared.

Many Jewish organizations are focusing on education as their primary weapon in the battle on campus. While positive Israel programming, such as Israel Week, was last year's tactic of choice, Jewish organizations speculate that students will need to address some difficult and complex questions this year.

The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) brought Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, to speak at 13 East Coast campuses in September to debunk myths that Israel is a violator of human rights. (Sharansky is scheduled to appear at West Coast campuses in the near future.)

"It's difficult for Jewish students and people who are involved in organizations that promote human rights to hear allegations made against Israel and not know how the respond," ICC Director Wayne Firestone said.

Locally, the pro-Israel grass-roots organization StandWithUs launched two campaigns to provide students with accurate information. The first, United For Freedom (united4freedom.com), is a multicultural panel of speakers that tours campuses speaking about Israel from different perspectives. The second, Stand4fact.org, which is expected to launch this semester, is a Web site that looks at speeches given by anti-Israel speakers and deconstructs them with facts.

StandWithUs is also planning an advocacy conference on Nov. 16 in partnership with the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles to teach students how to respond to anti-Israel activity.

"It's just not enough anymore for students to say 'I'm Jewish and I'm proud of Israel,' because it's hard to feel that way in the current campus climate without knowing the facts," said Esther Renzer, president of StandWithUs. "Students need content material to fight this battle."&'9;

In addition to educating students locally, many Jewish organizations plan to encourage the education of students in Israel.

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life will launch a pilot leadership mission to Israel in December that will focus on 360 students chosen from across the country who have been to the Jewish state previously.

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles also plans to send local students on a leadership mission to Israel in December.

While education is the main push, the proactive activities of last year have not completely gone out of style. In fact, students at Rutgers University Hillel chose to respond to the third annual National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, originally scheduled to take place on their campus this month. Named Israel Inspires, the campaign is a yearlong effort to "show that Israel is more than just politics and conflict," but rather "the land and the people who inspire it all the time"

Since Hillel students began planning their campaign, however, the pro-Palestinian conference has been making headlines across the country, ever since New Jersey Solidarity, the original host of the conference, branched off to form their own conference at Rutgers -- a split that some believe is due to the fact that New Jersey Solidarity is too militant for the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

In the meantime, the Ohio State University Committee for Justice in Palestine offered to host the national conference on their campus while New Jersey Solidarity held their conference at Rutgers from Oct. 9-12, even though university administrators canceled the conference claiming that organizers had missed a paperwork deadline. Despite the controversy, Israel Inspires kicked off their campaign with a rally of pro-Israel speakers, live music and free food from Oct. 9-12.

Locally, student campus groups plan to continue doing positive Israel programming as well. Both UCLA's Bruins for Israel and USC's SC Students for Israel are planning Israel Weeks in an effort to start school off on a pro-Israel tone and make Jewish students feel at home.

"We want to make people feel good about Israel before they experience what I think is going to happen the rest of the year," Neihaus said.

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