Preparing NJ College Students to Counter Anti-Israel Sentiments on College

Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ, is this week's guest blogger.

Considering the hostile environment directed at Israel on college campuses, our Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ (CRC) has made countering efforts to delegitimize Israel on college campuses a priority.

Talk Israel Weekend RetreatThis priority takes the form of training New Jersey college students to counter anti-Israel sentiments on campus and creating a social network through which students can find a community of like-minded people. This coming weekend, 56 students will participate in the Talk Israel Weekend Retreat in West Orange, representing Drew, Montclair State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Kean, and Rutgers universities, the Community College of Morris, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Union Community College.

Colleges have become the first strike zone for anti-Israel sentiment, including for those who are using Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactics to isolate and vilify Israel. BDS aims to undermine Israel’s right to exist by falsely equating Israel with racist and genocidal regimes. Just last weekend a BDS conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania. Harvard is soon having a “one state” solution conference, and last year our own Rutgers University was home to a variety of anti-Israel conferences and rallies.

Although anti-Israel activities may not be prominent on every campus in America or noticed by the majority, it is important that as a Jewish community we are vigilant and proactive in preparing our teens and college students to be inspired about Israel and provide them with leadership, advocacy, and cultural opportunities. Experience has shown that many Jewish students are not prepared for anti-Israel encounters but that with training and preparation, and with the pro-Israel community behind them, they can learn how to handle difficult situations — whether it be in the classroom, school newspapers, club programming, or at anti-Israel rallies or guerilla performances. 

To this end, the CRC and the Legow Family Israel Program Center of UJC MetroWest are working with one of our partners, the David Project, which will facilitate the weekend. The attendees at the retreat will hear from Elliot Mathais, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships, and representatives of the Israeli Consulate. They will have the opportunity to learn history, grapple with some of the controversial issues of the day, and discuss what it means to be a Zionist in contemporary society. They will also learn the iEngage technique and create advocacy and pro-Israel activities for when they return to campus. Saturday evening will feature a “Tel Aviv” party.

The CRC and IPC staff put in a great deal of time and effort identifying and recruiting students for this retreat. Once connected with Federation, the students expressed great enthusiasm in our interest in them and are looking forward to meeting other Jewish students from across the state. We look forward to keeping them connected.

This retreat is CRC’s latest initiative. Past efforts on behalf of Israel advocacy have included:

·         Campaign to Oppose Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence

·         Production and launch of the Campaign For Truth: Responding to Misinformation and False Accusations Against Israel website

·         Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit

·         Step Up For Israel mini-film course in partnership with 40 area synagogues

·         Stand Up For Israel On Your College Campus training for high school teens

·         Write On For Israel teen advocacy program for students in interested in journalism and broadcasting

·         “Crossing The Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus”

 

If you know a college student who would like to learn how to stand up for Israel, or if you have a suggestion for a program, we want to hear from you. Please e-mail crc@ujcnj.org or call (973) 929-3064.

Melanie Roth Gorelick is director of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ

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