Panel on College Anti-Semitism Discusses Israel Advocacy on Campus
Speaking before a capacity crowd, Yeshiva College senior Chanan Reitblat reflected on a semester of anguish and humiliation spent abroad.
“When I went to St. Andrews University last semester to study chemistry, I never expected to learn a lesson in anti-Semitism and Israel advocacy,” said Reitblat, who was part of a panel discussion on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses titled “Confronting Campus Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in America” held at Yeshiva University’s Weisberg Commons on November 8.
Recounting the defamation of an Israeli flag in his dorm room and the court proceedings that followed, Reitblat emphasized the need for Jewish students, especially at YU, to show solidarity and support for students on other campuses.
“We have to be proactive, think strategically, and promote the many positive aspects of Israel,” he said. “Had I not had the support of like-minded and caring friends at YU and other institutions, I’m not sure I’d have been able to go through with my case and stand up to my attacker.”
The panel discussion featured personal testimony from students who had been subjected to hate acts or aggression and explored guidelines for Israel advocacy in universities, as well as insight from YU President Richard M. Joel, Matthew Ackerman of the David Project, and Rabbi Elliot Mathias of Hasbara Fellowships.
Eric Schorr, a senior in Middle East studies at Columbia University and modern Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, spoke about the connection being drawn on college campuses between movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and anti-Israel or anti-Semitic groups. “These students think Israel is an issue of left versus right and that opposing it makes them a part of something great,” Schorr said. “We need to show them that it isn’t about partisanship—it’s about right versus wrong.”
Schorr also shared his experience as founder and president of LionPac, the largest Israel advocacy group at Columbia; struggling to engage anti-Israel groups in dialogue and respond to acts such as mock checkpoints or “Israel Apartheid Week” on campus. Schorr encouraged students to reach out to other advocacy groups as well. “Every campus is nuanced and different and has their own model for activism at their school,” he said. “If you want to get involved, contact those leaders and find out how they are talking about Israel on campus.”
During a question and answer session, President Joel and Ackerman drew on their years of experience at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life (where President Joel formerly served as president and international director) and the David Project, respectively, to frame the night’s conversation.
“It’s important to give this conversation the texture it needs,” said President Joel. “Universities are an attractive setting for people looking to spread anti-Semitism. There are a lot of people and scholars with strong opinions and it’s also cheap to advertise in campus newspapers which attract larger media and put Jews on the defensive.”
Ackerman agreed, adding that he had noticed an evolution in anti-Semitism over the years. “It’s now more of an ‘anti-Israelism,’ a denial of Jewish collective identity which therefore denies us the right to our own state,” Ackerman said. “We must make this kind of bigotry socially unacceptable.”
Follow-up programming to the event, which was sponsored by YAKUM and the YU Israel Club, included Israel advocacy training on the Beren Campus on November 13. To get involved or more information on advocacy training, contact Berel Bronshteyn, co-president of the Israel Club, at firstname.lastname@example.org.