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August 16, 2017 11:32 am

CAMERA Conference Helps Students Combat BDS at Home and Abroad

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An anti-Israel protest at a college campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

JNS.org – Some 80 students from 13 different countries participated in a recent high-level training conference to prepare them to respond to campus antisemitism and anti-Israel activism.

The seventh annual Student Leadership Training Conference, hosted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), was held from August 4-9 in Boston.

Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s president and executive director, said the tools that students learned at the conference are greatly needed, and will help the students fight for Israel on campus.

“One of the things that’s so powerful about this program is the tremendous emphasis on high-quality training,” which teaches students “real usable skills,” and allows them to “be effective,” Levin said.

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“[This is] a global problem, which is attested this year by the many countries the kids are coming from. But the very good news is the spirit and positive energy of the wonderful students who care about Israel and its cause,” she added.

The CAMERA program offered intensive training on how to make Israel’s case to various audiences, including anti-Israel professors and campus activists, many of whom lead the BDS campaign against the Jewish state.

“People often don’t realize how violent the BDS activists on campus can get,” said Khulan Davaajav, a student at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, whose ethnic background is Mongolian. “When I became vocal on campus about my support for Israel, the BDS activists questioned my right to debate and take part in a discussion on Israel because of my ethnic origin. I was slurred with racist language in which [BDS supporters] cruelly mocked my Asian heritage.”

Last year, dozens of police officers were called to a CAMERA event at University College London to protect Jewish students who were barricaded inside a room after an anti-Israel mob burst into their private event.

“It was terrifying,” said Tamara Berens, a student at King’s College London, who witnessed the incident. “That’s partly why I came all this way to CAMERA’s conference — because I’ve seen first-hand what we’re up against.”

Ilana Sperling, a University of Florida senior, said that the conference “prepared me to combat the [anti-Israel] lies prevalent nowadays on college campuses.” She added that conference participants not only learned how to fight for Israel, but also gained a global network of like-minded friends.

Rebecca Zagorsky, a junior at Ohio State, said that she was eager to attend the CAMERA conference because she and other Jewish students often “get bullied for supporting Israel.” Zagorsky and her friends have withstood insults and slander for standing up for the Jewish homeland, she said.

“Outright lies are told about Israel and its supporters — and, sadly, many millennials are being deceived by these lies,” said Zagorsky.

According to a Pew Research Center study published last year, “Millennials are less likely than older Americans to sympathize more with Israel, and more likely to sympathize more with the Palestinians.”

Conference attendees came from diverse countries including Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Israel, Hungary, Venezuela, Columbia, Papa New Guinea, France, Ukraine and Mongolia. Participants of the all-expense-paid conference — which was funded by CAMERA — spent six jam-packed days learning techniques for defending and promoting Israel in the upcoming school year.

The students role-played, learned debate skills, participated in public speaking exercises, learned how to write newspaper articles and trained in Israeli martial arts. They also attended lectures and studied academic papers on the Middle East conflict.

“Our conference develops the students’ intellectual and leadership skills,” said Aviva Slomich, CAMERA’s international campus director. “It’s an in-depth, detailed program that addresses the major challenges facing pro-Israel students today.”

Gilad Skonick, CAMERA’s director of campus programming, added, “What students get from the conference are practical strategies, lots of resources for handling discrimination and also a firm understanding of the moral case for Israel.”

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