By: Yael Steinberg, Associate Director of Education, Hasbara Fellowships
It is no secret that college campuses are hostile places for young Zionists. New stories come out weekly about anti-Semitic student government members, physical altercations at pro-Israel events, and BDS. To make matters more difficult, the anti-Israel movement has done a great job of co-opting other social justice causes. Every cause has become fair game for drawing attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the Dakota Access Pipeline, election results, Black Lives Matter, etc. Topics that pro-Israel students are entitled to relate to, and support should they choose, have become exclusive and alienating. In March the anti-Israel movement co-opted feminism: Linda Sarsour declared that feminists can not be Zionists, and the International Women’s Strike called the “decolonization of Palestine” part of “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” Pro-Israel students have been put in an uncomfortable position, having to defend their Zionism at every turn.
Unfortunately, the situation is not new. I remember feeling similarly alienated by social justice movements when I was a student. In 2011, during an “Occupy Wall Street” inspired rally, my English professor rose to the podium and declared, “We must occupy the 1 percent in order to free the world of all other occupations, FREE PALESTINE!” My stomach sank.
Anti-Israel groups have left a legacy of hatred that has proven to renew itself with each incoming freshman class. New generations of students continue to face die-ins and walkouts. Year after year freshmen have woken up to fake eviction notices under their doors. However, every year when Apartheid Week rolls around, another week returns as well. “Israel Peace Week.” This week, envisioned by student Hasbara Fellows in 2010, is an opportunity to reclaim campus– to say, “you can try to vilify Zionism and to co-opt ‘justice.’ We will prove you wrong and take pride in our word, peace.” Israel Peace Week is a proactive response to take back our narrative.
Israel Peace Week’s message is clear: “Israel, Israelis, and pro-Israel students, want peace and will never stop believing and striving towards its possibilities.” Peace means working toward equality. Peace means tolerance. Peace means striving for social justice. This message, spread through creative tabling and meaningful conversations, is an opportunity for students to share Israel’s values and build their own legacy on campus.
Anti-Israel groups try to make pro-Israel students feel isolated, but it isn’t working. Pro-Israel students are part of a large, inclusive movement. When the initial founders of Israel Peace Week graduated from college, the facilitation of their project was taken on by Hasbara Fellowships, who have continued to help coordinate and support this larger movement. Last year over 50 campuses across North America hosted their own Israel Peace Weeks. As a former organizer of multiple Israel Peace Week events when I was a student, I’m exciting that even more campuses are getting involved this year. It is encouraging to see pro-Israel students bravely stand up for themselves and their values. These young Zionists prove that they are committed to the pursuit of social justice, even when social justice movements try to shut them out.