Israel Education Efforts Are ‘Changing Opinions’ on Irish University Campuses
JNS.org – At the age of 18, Tal Hagin is one of the first Zionist and Israeli speakers to present his message on university campuses in Ireland. His feat comes in a country where many observers believe that the environment for supporters of Israel can be hostile.
But with mentorship and funding from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), Hagin used Israel as a case study on overcoming media bias during a speaking tour from October 23 to 27.
“I went with the hope of changing opinions, helping the students to question the media in what they see of coverage of Israel, and I was able to do that,” Hagin told JNS.org. “I could tell that people were influenced.”
But how did it all come together?
Hagin met Alan Lyne, a second-year student at the University of Maynooth, while playing online games. After chatting and finding their mutual passion of Israel education, they came together to organize one of Ireland’s first Zionist speaking tours.
“When CAMERA heard that the one society in Ireland at Maynooth University needed support in educating their peers about Israel, and wanted to host an Israeli teenager to speak about his life and discuss biases within media coverage, it was an obvious and necessary choice for CAMERA on Campus to get involved,” said Aviva Slomich, international campus director for CAMERA, a media watchdog group devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
A week after CAMERA heard of Lyne, the organization sent him to Boston for a conference that it hosted there. Lyne said that CAMERA provided him with educational materials, and supported him “financially and mentally” for the speaking tour.
Slomich noted that this past summer, Irish President Michael Higgins shook hands with BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti, and applauded the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for hosting Barghouti. Such anti-Israel bias often makes its way onto Ireland’s university campuses. Lyne says that he was punched in the face on his campus during Israel Peace Week in March for his outspoken support of Israel. When he began recording the incident with his phone, the assaulter smashed it on the ground.
The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in collaboration with Academics for Palestine, recently hosted a talk by former University of Illinois professor Steven Salaita, who tweeted in 2014, “I wish all the f*ing West Bank settlers would go missing.” Yet Hagin, a Zionist without any such record of controversial rhetoric, has been barred from speaking at one Irish university.
Lyne, now president of the Maynooth University Israel Society, maintained that Ireland isn’t anti-Israel as a whole, but that there is a vocal anti-Israel minority. At the same time, he pointed out that there is a growing movement of politicians in Ireland who equate Irish and Palestinian independence.
On Irish college campuses, the environment is even worse for Israel advocates, Lyne said. “Growing up in Irish school, the environment was antisemitic,” he told JNS.org. “People said terrible things about Jewish people, so I wanted to learn more. My motivation to begin learning was a sense of justice and seeking the truth. I believe that people should never be demonized for who they are. I am fighting for those who don’t have a voice.”
In February, Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Ze’ev Boker’s event at Trinity College Dublin was cancelled following an anti-Israel protest. Hagin intended to give a lecture on the same campus, but even a Jewish student group at the school refused to host an Israeli speaker because they were fearful of appearing to take sides.
Hagen maintains that the Irish people are polite to him, but not necessarily friendly. He was called a Nazi propagandist on a Dublin bus for wearing an Israeli-Irish flag pin on his collar. The Stratford College Secondary School — Ireland’s only Jewish school — also didn’t allow him to give a presentation.
Due to fear of anti-Israel protests, Hagin was only allowed to announce his address at University College Dublin the day before the October 25 event.
During his speaking tour, Hagin’s message was not only about media bias, but also the importance of critiquing one’s own “side,” while maintaining its positive image.
Hagen — who is critical of Israel’s educational system for not sufficiently promoting Israeli-Arab integration — explained that when presenting on one’s country, it is beneficial to show “the beauty as well as the dark sides.” As soon as he portrayed Israel as imperfect at University College Dublin, Hagin said, his audience let down its defensive mindset and listened to him. Two students stayed after the event, speaking to Hagin for more than an hour.
“If you don’t criticize your own country, it won’t grow,” said Hagin. “It’s like a relationship. If you don’t talk about your problems, your relationship won’t progress.”