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May 10, 2017 2:23 pm

‘We Need to Stop Being Wishy-Washy on Israel’; Former IDF Soldier Urges US Jewish Students to Prioritize Zionist Activism on Campuses

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Interview

Former IDF lone soldier Leibel Mangel, and his grandfather, Holocaust survivor Rabbi Nissan Mangel, stand at the gate of Auschwitz. Photo: Facebook.

A former IDF lone soldier turned motivational speaker is urging Jewish students on US college campuses to “stop being wishy-washy on Israel” and prioritize Zionist activism in their lives.

Leibel Mangel spoke with The Algemeiner about what he has learned about the approach of young Jews to Israel while visiting some 30 universities this academic year — “there’s a lot of misinformation and apathy” — and the challenges facing those who want to promote the Jewish state at their schools.

Mangel said, “The most disturbing aspect [of campus activism] is hearing Jewish student leaders stand up again and again, and say, ‘I love and support Israel, but…’ There is a lot of apologizing for who you are, rather than being unashamed of our country and our nation.”

He said Jews looking for Zionist allies will not get the respect of others and cannot expect to, “until we respect ourselves first. The pride needs to come from within ourselves — and then we can get others on board.”

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Mangel noted that some of his best conversations have been with students who are anti-Zionist or “hold negative views, because most of the time those views are coming from a good place,” and the person “needs to learn more, or think deeper [about the issues].”

“At least the person is engaged, even negatively,” he added. “In my opinion, just not caring [about Israel] is even worse.”

Mangel said students are often impacted by the beyond-politics nature of his personal story — including his service in two 2014 Israeli military operations, Brother’s Keeper and Protective Edge, after he was inspired to volunteer for the IDF by his grandfather, Rabbi Nissan Mangel, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz.

Mangel explained he grew up in an ultra-Orthodox household that was not “intensely Zionist or talking about Israel all the time, so I came to this on my own,” an experience to which many students can relate.

“I’m not preaching to them,” he said, adding that his lectures — often facilitated by campus Chabad centers — include question-and-answer sessions that can get “heated,” but usually “remain civil.”

“That’s when we can have really great discussions,” he stated.

The most common topics Mangel is confronted on are concerns about Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and his views regarding potential resolutions to the conflict.

“Students need to be educated, but they need to put in the time to do that research,” Mangel said. “I say they shouldn’t just listen to what these big campus organizations — on any side of politics — try to tell them. They shouldn’t just listen to what I tell them. They need to make that little bit of effort and learn what is actually happening over there [in Israel] for themselves. Then they won’t be intimidated about speaking about all this on campus.”

He also called on students to be “more proactive, not reactive to hatred,” noting that the Jewish community is often successful at mobilizing in opposition to a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign once its been introduced, but that he did not believe “we should wait for antisemitism to rile up the troops.”

“We need to get Jewish students to care about Israel on a random Tuesday afternoon,” Mangel said. “We need to be setting a precedent that antisemitism is not accepted on campus. We need to get [groups like] Students for Justice in Palestine to react to what we are doing, and not the other way around.”

Mangel is hopeful that there can be a strong, vibrant future for Jews and pro-Israel activism on American campuses.

“We are so splintered as Jews — we all have different opinions on Judaism, what it is, how to practice it,” he said. “Why don’t we let Israel be the one thing that unites us?”

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