Perhaps the most dangerous place to be a Zionist is on today's American college campuses.
From coast to coast, left-wing politics and the Palestinian cause have joined forces, notes Middle East analyst Mark Silverberg. Supporting the Palestinian cause, he says, has become "fashionable" in liberal college circles.
Jewish students on numerous American campuses need to counter canards and half-truths about Israel with hard facts, passion and confidence. This requires training, the kind that will soon be available in Cleveland for current high- school sophomores.
The Cleveland Jewish News is partnering with The AVI CHAI Foundation for a program titled Write On For Israel. It is an intensive two-year program for high-school juniors and seniors. The goal of the program is to prepare them to respond to anti-Israel propaganda and events they may face when they get to college.
Some Middle East studies departments portray militant Islam as a benign movement, and anyone who suggests otherwise is labeled either ignorant or prejudiced, states Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist at The New York Sun and The Jerusalem Post.
Imagine confronting these scenarios from the recent past:
- At Oberlin College, Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine sponsored a weeklong seminar featuring movies, guest lectures, and an introduction to the "Divestment from Israel" Campaign.
- At Kent State University, Julio Cesar Pino of the history department published an ode to a Palestinian suicide bomber, lauding her courage and calling on Allah to "elevate your place in paradise."
- At the University of California, Berkeley, Jewish students have been beaten, threatened and pelted with raw eggs.
- At Columbia University, Richard Bulliet, a specialist on Iran compared Israel's military maneuvers in Jenin, West Bank, (to prevent future suicide bombings) with the Nazi Holocaust.
- At The University of Chicago, fliers posted in a dorm to publicize a pro-Israel rally were defaced with obscenities and vile, anti-Semitic comments.
- At Penn State University, the University of Maryland (College Park), and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, student protesters had themselves bound and gagged to dramatize the Israeli army's detention of Palestinians.
This kind of hostile climate is not abating. Write On for Israel alumni will have the expertise to confront these kinds of disturbing events.
The Write on For Israel program will be held for seven Sundays, one a month. Approximately 25 selected students will learn the history of Israel and of modern Zionism and will hear guest speakers on current Israeli issues. They will also receive training in debate, writing letters to the editor and op-eds, and other forms of advocacy.
The program, fully funded by AVI CHAI, includes a free, 10-day Israel mission where students will tour and meet with politicians, journalists and other key figures.
Recruitment and the accompanying application process occurs this spring. Program directors are Amnon Ophir of Akiva High School and Tina Keller, youth director of Beth Israel-The West Temple. All Jewish high-school juniors are eligible. Acceptance into the program will be based on writing skills, academics, and commitment to Israel (see box).
Rabbi Michael Unterberg of Fuchs Mizrachi School is the main educational director. CJN editor Cynthia Dettelbach will supervise media training.
"When people understand our claims to the land n by history, by military victory, and by UN mandate n they find it easier to speak up," says Unterberg. "And I will tell them even half an answer is better than perfect silence."
These future college students will have the historic knowledge, communications training, and moral confidence to make Israel's case effectively n whether in casual dorm room conversation, an op-ed page in the campus newspaper, a letter to the editor of their city paper, or in organizing a pro-Israel rally or event. They will learn to recognize and counter misinformation or media bias.
Write On For Israel began six years ago in New York City, in partnership with The Jewish Week newspaper. The program expanded to Chicago four years ago. This year the program is expanding to San Francisco and Cleveland.
Write On alumni have stepped up to leadership roles on campus, as they were trained to do. When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia last year, Write On For Israel alumni organized a counter-rally. When President Jimmy Carter, author of the controversial and inflammatory book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, spoke at Emory University, a Write On For Israel alumnus passed out fliers showing the historical inaccuracies in Carter's book and organized an Israel mission for Emory professors.