How best to respond to the annual hate fest known as “Israel Apartheid Week”?
Each year, the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement revs up on campuses to try to isolate Israel and its supporters. Its victories are few and far between, but its activists manage to rile Jewish leaders on campus and off. When the BDS movement touched down at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month, a Jewish faculty member wrote an op-ed condemning the organizers and criticizing the university for allowing itself “to be associated with this hateful genocidal organization.”
A very different tack was taken by David Bernstein, executive director of The David Project. In a JTA op-ed, Bernstein asserts that without the publicity provided by their pro-Israel opponents, BDS-ers won’t be nearly as effective in getting their message out. Reacting to every anti-Israel infraction “creates a wonderful adrenaline rush,” writes Bernstein; however, the real work that that must be done in supporting Israel is targeting influencers, from student government presidents to campus Hispanic leaders, with a positive, pro-Israel message.
The leadership at Rutgers Hillel and the outside groups that support their work — including the state federation movement — seem to have struck the right balance between ignoring pro-Palestinian activities and overreacting. Hillel has planned a week not of counter-demonstrations and angry letters to the administration, but of presentations by Israelis representing the diversity of their democratic, pluralistic country. “We will show the many different sides of Israeli society so people can have the opportunity to see these many faces,” Hillel Israel engagement director Tzvi Raviv tells NJJN. “Instead of bashing their side, we will show the real Israel.”
Newton tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Recent polling suggests that the pro-Israel actions that are the most effective are ones that put a human face on Israel and provide an alternate narrative to the one-sided, distorted pictures painted by its opponents. Hillel deserves support for empowering Jewish students on campus, and for fighting lies with the truth.