Sunday, November 14, 2010

(BLOG) Anti-Israel Students Will Not Frame The Conversation

"Before starting the Do the Write Thing (DTWT) student journalism session in New Orleans as part of The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly (GA), I spent a brisk Saturday night at a place where anything goes in an environment full of insanity packed within a few blocks. The locals and people who visit know this place better as Bourbon Street.

As my newly acquired friends and I turned to go back to our hotel after a long night, we ran into a raggedly-dressed African American man with an interesting challenge.

'I’ll bet you $10 I know exactly where you got them shoes from,' he asked one of my new friends.

She was reluctant to take the bet, but eventually shook the man’s hand and asked where he thinks she got them, expecting to be educated on how to figure out the origin of a shoe.

Instead, the conversation went in a different direction.

The man responded, 'Now I never said I know where you bought them, but I know exactly where they’re from. You got them from your feet. Now let me shine your shoes and pay up.'

Despite our disagreement of whether we made the bet or not, the man delegitimized our right to a dialogue with a New Orleans native and instead framed the conversation so that we felt obligated to allow him to shine our shoes, and therefore, pay him the $10.

At that point, we had no chance of engaging him, so we paid him a dollar and walked away.

The next two nights, I made sure to educate my friends that the way to avoid being scammed is to just answer with, 'I got my shoes from my feet, and my feet are on Bourbon Street in New Orleans,' and walk away.

This experience unfortunately came again just a day and a half later. The environment turned out to be nearly as wild, but this was not Bourbon Street.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the GA, only to be interrupted by six protestors, who were there not to have a conversation, but to disrupt an excellent opportunity to listen about Israeli foreign policy from the man who creates it himself.

As it turned out, the protestors had an agenda before they met any of us GA participants—just like the man who told my friend where she got her shoes from—and had no interest in having a dialogue.

Instead, they wanted to scam the audience out of a chance to be educated by shouting at five-minute intervals.

Unfortunately, the wildness of the protestors is nothing new for us DTWT participants as college students.

And that is why our participation in DTWT is so important to Israel advocacy. The world we live in is not interested in a dialogue about Israel, but instead puts us on the defensive so we feel guilty in disagreeing over Israel’s right to exist.

This conference gave the 30 student journalists in the room a chance to gain the tools necessary so that we are better equipped to handle anti-Israel sentiment in our campuses.

Even with the experience I already have in Israel advocacy as a member of my school’s pro-Israel group and as a JUF Write On for Israel alum, I came out of the conference feeling like answering anti-Israel sentiment is as easy as answering 'from my feet,' to someone telling me they know where I got my shoes from.

We heard from a variety of speakers ranging from the Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, to Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky, to an array of Jewish journalists.

DTWT taught us how to be educators by using our skills in journalism to inform the public. We didn’t just learn skills from professional journalists, but also engaged each other in issues going on throughout our campuses. For example, during one of the breakout sessions, a student who is a news editor at her paper brought up the issue of balancing Jewish or pro-Israel events with other on-campus news.

These sessions were valuable to our learning experience because they gave everyone a chance to talk about our experiences and to help each other overcome obstacles on our campuses.

For people who aren’t on campus, it’s difficult to understand the anti-Israel climate we live in. It’s equally as wild and unpredictable as anything you’d run into on Bourbon Street.

But unlike the man my group of friends and I ran into that Saturday night, those who challenge Israel’s right to exist and are only interested in framing the conversation on their own terms will not get away it. Instead, they will run into students like me, who are well-prepared to deal with anti-Israel sentiments, and who will not walk away.

Adam Miller of Deerfield is a senior at the University of Massachusetts.

Do the Write Thing is a program of Hagshama, the collegiate unit of the Department for Diaspora Activities of the Word Zionist Organization.
" (source)

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