Sunday, November 21, 2010

(BLOG) Don’t Let Israel Be Demonized On Campus

"By Ryan Kuhel: Images that are distasteful can be so outrageous they become humorous. As I scrolled through my Facebook messages, I found an image of Justice Louis Brandeis wearing a kaffiyeh (Arab men’s headdress) alongside an invitation to participate in 'Israel Occupation Week' at Brandeis, which I attend. This potent image dances between being offensive and funny.

However, the programs being planned for 'Israel Occupation Week' on campus were not to be taken lightly.

Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace are two groups at Brandeis that helped organize and facilitate the event. Many members of these groups are Jewish, and some are Israeli. The programs included performances by a Palestinian hip-hop group, an event promoting a boycott of Israel, and a speech by Prof. Noam Chomsky about why Americans have the responsibility to pressure our government to stop Israeli war crimes.

These programs were a blatant display of educational malpractice. Israel was demonized, and no mention was made of the Jewish state’s overtures of peace; the disengagement from Gaza and the Gush Katif; Arab leadership’s crimes against the Palestinian people; and most important, Israel’s serious security concerns. While universities should be open to different perspectives on difficult issues, we must be able to distinguish between education and incitement.

The Brandeis Zionist Alliance, of which I am a part, held 'Israel Peace Week' to contrast Occupation Week. This forum included an Israeli gourmet buffet, distributing shot glasses printed with 'Israel gives peace a shot' and an Israeli flag, and distributing information about Israel’s overtures for peace.

Many students were frustrated with this lackluster response. To bolster the message, some of us started a campaign to give context to the anti-Israel propaganda. Our goal was both to inform the Brandeis community about Israel’s serious security concerns and to show our unwavering support for Israel’s right to exist and to defend its populace. When asked by the student newspaper what group we were a part of, we simply responded 'Brandeis students.'

Our group organized a campaign to educate the Brandeis community about the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. We spoke with hundreds of students walking to class about his capture and received more than 300 signatures on a petition to allow Magen David Adom (Israel’s version of The Red Cross) to visit Shalit.

We also presented a dramatization where names of terror victims were read along with the place they were murdered. This forced students to consider the security fence as a necessary evil that helps protect Israel’s people.

During Chomsky’s speech, we had about 50 students dressed in white and blue leave quietly as part of a peaceful protest. Students were forced to question Chomsky’s credibility and consider whether Chomsky’s one-sided agenda gave full context to the issues being discussed.

Beside 'Israel Peace Week,' the most important advocacy happenings on campus are educational programs. Many speakers come to campus to present Israel’s perspective in this conflict. The Brandeis Zionist Alliance brought in Israeli soldiers to give their account of the conflict. In addition, Holocaust survivor Irving Roth spoke on campus about anti-Semitism and its relationship to anti-Israel propaganda.

I hope to inform Clevelanders about the political landscape at Brandeis and offer a constructive suggestion. If you are frustrated with the way Israel is being demonized on colleges across the country, you can help remedy this situation. I strongly suggest supporting local institutions that build strong Jewish leadership, such as NCSY, Birthright, and Jewish day schools.

I especially applaud The Fuchs Mizrachi School for its efforts to build informed, proud Jewish leadership. During my high-school experience there, students had the privilege of studying Zionism, learning Hebrew, and hearing Natan Sharansky speak. The school teaches students about our bond to Israel and our responsibility to protect Israel.

My hope is that the Cleveland community will stand together and support institutions that are educating future Jewish leadership so students are able to stand up on campus and support Israel.

Ryan Kuhel, a native of Beachwood, will graduate from Brandeis University in 2013." (source)

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