A while back I wrote about the Israeli Apartheid week taking place in colleges and universities around the States. I talked about the importance of having a strong, honest connection between Israelis and the American-Jewish community in order to fight back against that fundamentally wrong, negative campaign against Israel. I recently found out about an amazing initiative which takes place in University of California in Santa Cruz. Each year for the past four years, the pro-Israel student organization on campus, otherwise known as Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee, organizes a week highlighting Israel’s cultural traditions and political achievements otherwise known as Israel Peace Week. This year’s Israel Peace Week took place from April 23rd to April 27th. Lauren Kasner, who is Vice President of Programming and former president of the Israel Action Committee, managed to find some time to answer my questions:
Who came up with the idea and how?
“We first began doing this when the Committee for Justice in Palestine, otherwise known CJP started planning and executing “Israel Apartheid Week” every year, but sometimes called it “Palestinian Awareness Week”. During this week, the CJP aims to demonize and delegitimize the actions of the Israeli government and military. We first started putting on Israel Peace Week as a response to this, emphasizing Israel’s efforts towards peace, as well as its vibrant culture, which is often overlooked.”
Why is it so important to you to provide an answer to the Israeli apartheid week?
“As a student of one of the most liberal and apathetic campuses in America, it’s crucial to have Israel Peace Week every year. If we were unresponsive, students would have no counter ideas, and take everything that was said by CJP as it is. Students at such a liberal campus tend to love the idea of becoming a social activist, and often blindly follow causes without a sturdy amount of information.”
Who is your target audience?
“Our target audience is students who generally haven’t made up their mind, and know little about the country or the conflict. We know we’re not going to change the minds of those who already have their minds made up, and we’re not trying to purposely build aggression or angst. We want to be a resource not only for anyone who is Jewish or has some connection to Israel, but on a larger scale, for anyone who has any interest in the country or the region.”
What is the itinerary for the Israel Peace Week?
“Typically during Israel peace week we bring one political speaker who will talk about Israel’s efforts towards peace, or give some overview on the conflict. We have a large-scale Yom Ha’atzmaut (the Israeli independence day) party as we always plan IPW to be around Israeli Independence Day, we have some sort of Philanthropy, such as Save a Child’s Heart, and we have a Shabbat Dinner, usually cosponsored by Chabad on campus.”
What are the reactions you receive? Do people decide to support Israel? Are people protesting against you?
“We definitely have a mix. A lot of people react in a relatively positive way, and really resonate with the culture and even the politics of the region. Often, however, we come across students who stand for the absolute opposite of us, and despise what we do whole-heartedly. He receive a lot of negative reactions, and have to deal with them in the best way we see fit. When we bring political speakers, we generally get students who are a part of the CJP to come and ask rhetorical questions just to get their voices heard and prove a point. Luckily are speakers are well trained in answering these questions.”
Are you being asked tough questions? What is the hardest question you were asked? Do you always have answers?
“We definitely get the tough questions, and don’t always have answer. Some questions I have gotten over the years include:
- How can you support Israel’s illegal and unjust occupation of Israel?
- How can you say Israel is not an apartheid state—it is purely racist.
- Why can’t Israel divide Jerusalem so Palestinians can also have their capital there?
- Why should the US give so much foreign aid money to Israel?
- Aren’t Israeli Jews just European colonists?”
I can now only hope there are more groups like that, who really take the Israeli- American cooperation one step ahead. I thank those of you who help us clear our image, and give a decent fight back to those who are using half-truths in order to get some sympathy. These groups of Jewish students, and all Americans who help strengthening Israel’s image, are doing so much for us, that I can’t find enough words to express my gratitude. And to those who take part in such pro-Israelis activities, all that’s left for me to do is to salute you, IDF style…