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May 7, 2015 11:29 am

How to Effectively Fight for Israel on College Campuses

avatar by Chaiel Schaffel

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Emet Israel logo. Photo: provided.

In today’s world of lightning-fast news updates, Twitter stump speeches, and morose newsroom ethics, finding the truth is harder than ever. Thankfully, a new organization, Emet Israel, is dedicated to getting the truth out there. CAMERA has supported Emet Israel since its inception through the CAMERA Campus Activist Program (CCAP).

Founded in 2013 by a  CAMERA Fellow and based on the University of Miami campus, the group  seeks to spread the word about Israel while providing a platform on which all students can participate. So far, they have garnered much success, and enjoy much support from students on all sides of the spectrum. The group’s events are well attended, and its current high popularity should be a subject of  interest for new groups that are just starting out.

But how did Emet Israel get where it is today?

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The answer lies in a key tenet of the organization: inclusivity. Emet Israel strives to include all students from all background, and this bipartisan approach has fueled support from a variety of places, sometimes unexpected ones at that. Contrary to the norm of most pro-Israel groups on campus, Emet Israel enjoys a warm relationship with many Arab and Muslim groups at the university.

In stressing alliance over mutual goals, instead of conflict over exclusive ones, the group has turned an unlikely ally  into a friendly source of support. “Having such a good relationship with them confirms that we are representing Israel with integrity,” said the group’s marketing director, Caela Cohen. The inclusive nature of the group has made it strong and connected with a huge variety of groups on campus, and with each bond, the group grows stronger.

A key point for Emet Israel is bonding with disparate, seemingly unrelated groups and people over the similarities they share with Israel and in general. By understanding what is important to other groups, Emet Israel has forged connections by exhibiting the relationship between Israel and what these groups hold dear.

For example, the group recently held a “Gay Life in Israel” event, in conjunction with UPride, the LGBTQ group at U Miami.  “Our relationship with UPride has remained strong ever since,” said Becky Taylor, the group’s Vice President of Outreach. The bond between the two groups is not an opinion. It is a fact. Jacob Randolph, the President of UPride, said “Without a doubt, Emet Israel has had a hugely positive influence on UPride’s membership. Through our co-programming events, we have had the opportunity to build connections among LGBTQ topics and Israeli ones… and who would have thought there would be so many! Emet Israel has been nothing but a welcoming, dedicated, and loving group of people with whom we look forward to many more special moments together.”

Clearly, the actions and words of Emet Israel have made an impact on UPride, just as it has made an impact on countless other organizations.

Additionally, the group has successfully run two “Hafla” (Arabic for “get together” or “Party”) Nights, drawing groups such as the Middle Eastern Studies Society and Muslim Students UM. To say that bonding between these groups is unusual is an understatement, and yet, Emet Israel has pulled it off with flying colors. The group even has a wing dedicated to outreach. “The outreach that we do at Emet is essential to maintaining a strong presence on campus and expanding our following. Talking about Israel with students who love Israel is a treat; however, showing our peers the true Israel, away from what they might see or hear on the news, is a privilege,” said Taylor.

A key factor in many students’ involvement is the Emet Israel Fellowship, a student fellowship offered to pro-Israel students that want to learn more about the Jewish State. Fellows at Emet Israel learn to successfully advocate for Israel, and are trained on the history of the country and current events, as well as leadership skills.

The Fellowship has two distinct groups and areas of focus: Marketing and Outreach. Fellows are put into either group, and are schooled on that area of the Emet Israel organization.

Marketing Fellows work to put the word out about Emet Israel on campus by learning about activism through social media and how to draw an audience. Outreach Fellows specialize in forming relationships with other student groups on campus, the very same area that has seen much success in the Emet Israel organization, as seen above.

The Outreach side of the Emet Israel Fellowship frequently reaches out to students that know little to nothing about Israel and helps them understand the country and what it has to offer. Each of these areas of expertise have been massively beneficial to the  group, which enjoys both high popularity among students and excellent relations with other student groups.

Ryan Kesselring, now the Co-Chair of the Emet Israel Fellowship, was one of the many students that benefited from the Fellowship. “I learned a lot from my time in the Emet Israel Fellowship and continue to learn a lot leading it. We cover topics ranging from the history of Israel and the Zionist movement to the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict to modern Israeli politics and US-Israeli relations. …I learned a wide variety of topics that to this day make me a better and more skilled advocate for Israel,” he commented.

Kesselring added that the Fellowship helped him decide to visit Israel with CAMERA. “I had very little prior knowledge of Israel the first time I visited and wanted an opportunity to take the information I had learned in the Fellowship and revisit the country and its people to see all things we had discussed in the Fellowship,” he said.

Kesselring credited CAMERA and the CAMERA trip to Israel with reviving his passion for Israel advocacy, and said that “…It allowed me to gain much more knowledge and appreciation for Israel, its people, its history, and the struggle to survive in such an inhospitable neighborhood. I was inspired by the other student leaders on the trip and came back to campus with stronger convictions and a more energized approach to Israel advocacy.”

Perhaps the origin of Emet Israel’s unprecedented inclusive methodology lies in Abir Gitlin, the founder of Emet Israel and former CAMERA Fellow at  U-Miami. Abir credits his time spent serving in the West Bank while in the IDF and his spokesmanship at the Israeli National Training Center as the formative experiences behind his drive for advocacy.

“I got to experience first-hand the real complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the one hand, and worked to advance better understanding of Israeli reality on the second hand,” he said.

Gitlin, now a senior, started the group in his freshman year. CAMERA was also instrumental in the formation of Emet Israel, as Gitlin’s drive to represent Israel was, in part, inspired by the CAMERA conference Gitlin attended before his first semester at UMiami. “I attended the CAMERA conference before my first semester at UM, and I arrived to campus revved up and motivated to advocate for Israel,” he commented.

However, upon arrival at U-Miami, Abir was confronted with an enemy that makes its home in many a college campus: apathy. There simply was not much activity surrounding Israel, either pro or anti. Abir, with the help of his friends and the CAMERA on Campus division, wrought a unique pro-Israel group with his own two hands where none had existed previously.

“No existing organization or student group covered the exact niche or angle of Israel activism that I wanted to stand for,” said Abir. And so he created one. Gitlin, and many others, view the group as “The Israel voice on our campus.”

Through intense effort, peaceful inclusivity, and a passion for Israel, the Emet Israel group at U-Miami has forged a uniquely pro-Israel campus.

We at CAMERA on Campus were so impressed with their efforts that we decided to rebrand all of our campus groups with the name “Emet for Israel,” in recognition of the exemplary job that Emet Israel has done at U-Miami. The sun shines bright indeed in Miami, and because of Emet Israel, the future shines a little brighter.

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