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March 1, 2017 1:09 pm

New Israeli Initiative to Equip Jewish High School Students With Tools to Counter Campus Anti-Zionism Lauded by Advocacy Groups

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The "apartheid wall" at Columbia University. Photo: Columbia SJP/Facebook.

The “apartheid wall” at Columbia University. Photo: Columbia SJP/Facebook.

A new Israeli initiative to prepare high school students to deal with and confront anti-Zionist activity that they are liable to encounter when they get to college was lauded by Jewish advocacy groups this week.

“Opportunities that expose young people to Israel’s people, history and culture are incredibly important in developing educated, engaged students who can stand up for Israel’s right to exist when threatened on campus. We welcome programs that educate students about Israel and build love and respect for the Jewish homeland before students arrive on college campuses,” Hillel International spokesman Matthew Berger told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

Berger, speaking for the world’s largest Jewish student organization, was referring to the joint Jewish Agency for Israel-Strategic Affairs Ministry endeavor — first reported on by The Jerusalem Post — to equip Jewish students about to enter universities with the “tools to better cope with propaganda smears, antisemitism and boycotts,” according to JAI Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Educational group StandWithUs Executive Director of High School Affairs Miri Kornfeld told The Algemeiner that “preparing the many high school students who may not know how to respond articulately” to the ideological assault on the Jewish state “will shift the emphasis from putting out fires to preventing them before they even start.”

Gilad Skolnick, director of campus programming for the campus bureau of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, said that anti-Israel activists and professors are “more organized than ever before” at spreading lies and disinformation about Israel. He said that “students — especially those not coming from the Jewish day school system, and therefore have greater challenges when it comes to understanding the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict — can always benefit from more training” to counter hostile narratives.

But a lack of knowledge is not the main problem that Hasbara Fellowships Executive Director Elliot Mathias said he hopes the initiative will take into account. The key, he said, is first teaching kids why they should care about Israel before training them in how to advocate for it.

He explained: “Students must be engaged in why Israel is so important to the Jewish people; how they can have a personal connection to Israel; and why standing up for their brothers and sisters in Israel is an integral part of their Jewish identity. They must be given the tools to understand the mission of the Jewish people to make the the world a better place, and the central role that Israel plays in this. If they understand these things, they will be receptive to learning how to advocate for the Jewish state.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative, told The Algemeiner that many Jewish students, regardless of their personal or political affiliations are being “singled out, harassed, intimidated and sometimes even assaulted by anti-Israel activists. As a result, they are thrust into the role of Israel’s foot soldiers simply because they are Jewish. Preparing high school kids for this intolerant climate, which we are working hard to change, is critical.” 

The announcement about the launch of the initiative comes amid a sharp increase in anti-Israel activity — often crossing the line into antisemitism — on campuses around the world. In February alone, images of a Nazi gas chamber and nearby crematorium were scrawled in the room of a Jewish student at the University of Minnesota; pamphlets accusing “Jewish terrorists trained by Israeli Zionists” of orchestrating last month’s deadly shooting at a Montreal mosque were found at Canada’s Western University; and a speech at Trinity College in Dublin by the Israeli ambassador to Ireland was cancelled at the last minute, due to protests outside the lecture hall.

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