By Hadara Ishak
This year Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine tried to attend a screening of Jerusalem U’s film “Beneath the Helmet,” a coming-of-age story about five Israeli soldiers.
They were met by an angry mob chanting, “Intifada, intifada, long live the intifada,” and other anti-Israel venom. Police escorted the Jewish students away “for their own safety.”
In response, Jerusalem U — with Hillel, AEPi, Chabad, StandWithUs, Students Supporting Israel, Hasbara and others — spearheaded a follow-up screening on campus. The Irvine community showed up in full force, and we scored a victory for free speech, turning the tables on Israel’s opponents. This type of response to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on campus seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Our kids may have a Jewish education through Hebrew school, Jewish camp or youth group, and it may have included learning about Jewish culture, holidays and other important topics. But how many understand the burning issues surrounding Israel today?
How many of our children know how to respond to anti-Semitic or anti-Israel rhetoric on campus? How many of them know the facts? With a 45 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college campus, we need to know the answers to these questions.
It was not long ago that Georgians had never heard of BDS or SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), but the reality is different today.
Emory and the University of Georgia both have had deceptive Apartheid Weeks, and Georgia State has had a number of “anti-occupation” speakers. At UGA, SJP disrupted an Israeli soldier’s speech and staged a walkout during a StandWithUs/Dawgs for Israel event. This is happening in our back yard.
Many cities have adopted the “not here” or “it’ll pass” mentality, but according to an AMCHA Initiative study, there were nearly 100 more anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2016 than in the same period in 2015. The number of incidents on campus opposing Israel’s right to exist nearly tripled.
Now they’re starting to focus on high schools.
To be fair, not every campus is explosive, and not all anti-Israel criticism is anti-Semitism. But there is a line often crossed, and our kids need to feel safe and knowledgeable enough to recognize that line.
So we must do everything possible to educate our kids about Israel before they get to college. As it stands, we’ve found that many Jewish students get to campus and feel resentment toward Israel. They don’t want to be affiliated with anything connected to Israel because they’re made to think it’s not politically correct, and they feel threatened.
Much of the reason is that these students just don’t know enough or understand all the factors involved.
It’s important that kids are not blindsided by the conversations taking place on campus. They should understand the significance of tactics like the Apartheid Wall and be able to recognize when professors spew anti-Semitic rhetoric. We must never let Israel-haters, with their lies and distortions, be the source of our children’s Israel education.
To address this challenge, Jerusalem U has created a film-based Israel education curriculum to prepare junior high and high school students for campus life. We also have online classes for college students to provide them knowledge, awareness and confidence.
Why film? Because kids spend a great deal of their day looking at screens. That is why film and video — on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere — are the most effective ways to reach our kids.
An important aspect to our success is that we form partnerships with Jewish and pro-Israel organizations to provide quality Israel education. When we come together, we are stronger and can make the greatest impact.
Our unity also sends a clear message to our kids that we support them and want them to be empowered and ready for the future. As a community, especially in the current campus and global environment, it is imperative that we put politics aside and show the next generation that we not only support Israel, but also understand its strengths and weaknesses in depth.
Thanks to one of our most outstanding partners, our material is available at no charge to Jewish organizations in Atlanta. We hope you’ll encourage your kids’ youth groups and day schools to sign up for our education this fall.
Regardless of whether they choose to engage in the conversation on campus or on social media, our children should at least have a solid foundation of knowledge they can use to make informed and educated decisions.
Hadara Ishak is an associate producer and the director of international engagement for Jerusalem U. Based in Atlanta, she develops strategic relationships with organizations and markets Jerusalem U feature films and film courses all over the world.