‘Putting a Face on Every Soldier’

March 5, 2013 1:41 pm 0 comments

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (far left) with a reserve division that held a joint-training drill at the Tzalim base, involving forces from the Israel Air Force, Armored Corps, Paratroopers Brigade and Artillery Corps. Credit: IDF.IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (far left) with a reserve division that held a joint-training drill at the Tzalim base, involving forces from the Israel Air Force, Armored Corps, Paratroopers Brigade and Artillery Corps. Photo: IDF.

Ben, an Israel Defense Forces reservist, recalls when his unit took up a position to sleep inside a beat-up old Volkswagen van outside a Palestinian village. Hearing a knock on their van’s door, and preparing for the worst, the soldiers jumped up with their guns ready—only to discover it was a “little old Palestinian grandma.”

Telling personal stories such as that one, which Ben recently recounted at Boston University (BU), helps put a human face on Israeli soldiers who are often condemned by anti-Israeli activists as “war criminals” or worse, Ben believes.

“The most important thing for me is putting a face on every solider, I think it’s important for people to understand that Israeli soldiers aren’t super soldiers, they aren’t Spartans or what you see in the movies,” Ben tells JNS.org. “We are just regular kids, but due to the circumstances Israel faces, we have to join the army in order to protect our country from existential threats.”

Ben’s talk at BU was part of a unique program from the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs called Israeli Soldiers Stories. Now in its fifth year, the program attempts to bring a fresh perspective to the IDF by sending 12 Israeli solders on a speaking tour of campuses, schools and community centers in dozens of cities across the U.S.

“I am a core believer in that if we can change one kid’s perspective then we have been successful,” Ben says. “If I can open up one apathetic student, then personally I feel like I have achieved something.”

“However, I do think there needs to be larger campaign for pro-Israel students to be informed and to know how to counter such [negative] claims about Israel,” he says. “I also think they need to be taught on how to answer.”

A flyer for the StandWithUs "Israeli Soldiers Stories" program. Photo: StandWithUs.

But Jossi, another soldier who participates in the program, tells JNS.org that he feels students shouldn’t always need to worry about countering their anti-Israel counterparts.

“Why should they always be countering? Why can’t people come, who have been to Israel, and share something positive and personal about their experience?” Jossi says.

For Ben and Jossi, the most effective tool on their speaking tour was recalling their army experience and offering students an unfiltered perspective about Israel and the threats it faces.

“It is important for people to understand the kind of day to day weights and measures we have to deal with in the army. When you’re confronted with moral dilemmas, how do you balance the ethics of the IDF with keeping yourself safe?” Jossi rhetorically asks.

Ben, an IDF reservist who is part of the StandWithUs "Israeli Soldiers Stories" program. Photo: StandWithUs.

The soldiers said that to their dismay, the speaking tour confirmed the general apathy, ignorance, and latent anti-Israel hostility they had heard existed on American campuses.

“I sort of had a preconceived notion [about campuses being bad here for Israel]; I was sort of secretly hoping was wrong. But after traveling here, what I was told about American campuses in Israel is mostly true. There is a large amount of apathy in the student body and anti-Israel feelings that come from misinformation or no real knowledge of the situation,” Ben says.

At one event at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., a group of students from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an anti-Israel organization with chapters throughout the U.S., showed up to protest the event.

“They stood up a few minutes into Ben’s story, took off their jackets to expose their black shirts with papers that read a Palestinian child’s name, death, and ‘SILENCED.’ They walked out a few minutes later. Both Ben and Jossi asked them to stay and ask questions during the Q&A, but they silently all continued to walk out,” StandWithUs Campus Coordinator Lihi Benisty tells JNS.org.

Jossi criticized the students, who apparently belonged to an SJP chapter from nearby Hampshire College, for their close-mindedness.

“If you’re at a time at university when intellectual curiosity is supposed to be at its peak and your eager to come listen to a group of people from a different country where you don’t live and don’t have experiences in. And then you decide the best way to learn from them is to make sure they know you are not listening to them, seems to be a futile and self-defeating exercise,” Jossi says.

Nevertheless, the tour had its positive moments for the soldiers.

“I spoke to a girl who was from Muslim girl from Yemen. She asked me if I thought the rest of the Middle East would be able to accept Israel. I said historically it seems unlikely, however I still remain hopeful. I then asked her the same question and asked if Yemen would ever be able to accept us and after breaking out into a smile she said ‘no,’” Ben says.

“However, from the talk, I think she came to understand that not all Israeli soldiers are how she was taught growing up in Yemen. That was really a highlight for me on my tour, you could really see that she came to understand that there is something much deeper than what her country had been telling her about Israelis,” he says.

For many pro-Israel students, overcoming apathy and generating interest in Israel is the main problem, not debating the conflict with anti-Israel activists.

Jossi, an IDF reservist who is part of the StandWithUs "Israeli Soldiers Stories" program. Photo: StandWithUs.

“Not every student wants to get into these types of ‘campus wars.’ A lot of people who support Israel support the country for positive reasons,” Jossi says.

For these students, sharing their personal Israel experiences or highlighting the positives of Israeli society, such as its diversity and its high-tech industry, can be effective. Groups like StandWithUs, meanwhile, provide the tools, resources, and programs such as Israeli Soldiers Stories that can help students develop their own positive personal narratives about Israel.

But for those students on the campuses with active anti-Israel groups like SJP, it is challenging to work up the courage to overcome anti-Israel hostility.

“I am hoping for a future where people everywhere will let others talk about Israel more openly, however there is still this open hostility to Israel on campus, we have also often heard of hostility from the faculty, which is the most disheartening thing to hear. The biggest thing is getting involved and getting support from other groups,” Jossi says.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.