Just as students head back to college for the fall semester, yet another report shows the increase in anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitism at U.S. universities: during the last academic year alone, there were 1,630 anti-Israel incidents on 181 campuses, and a 132 percent surge in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns against Israel compared to the previous year.
The new study by the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) notes that “There is no doubt that Israel’s detractors are increasing their efforts on college campuses across the country,” using “increasingly sophisticated” methods to demonize Israel. The good news, though, is that students in the pro-Israel camp are mobilizing and responding: “Pro-Israel students,” states the report, “are increasingly disciplined, coordinated, and strategic” in addressing anti-Israel activity.
The ICC’s findings are a reminder of my first experience with overt anti-Semitism. I was on my way to class as a graduate student at York University in Toronto when I heard a commotion in an area where pro-Israel students had set up a table with flags and fliers to bring attention to Hamas’ kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. I discovered that a female student had been slapped by another student because she was speaking out for Israel
Although I was shocked by the incident, I continued on my way. Back then, my primary interest was getting my master’s degree. While I supported and felt connected to Israel, I didn’t have the knowledge or sufficient drive to get involved — especially at a school with a reputation for anti-Israel hostility.
Fast-forward seven years: Today, I’m an outspoken advocate for Israel and recognized for my expertise about anti-Semitism on college campuses across North America. In my work as a public speaker, I talk to high school and college students, parents, educators and administrators about why it’s so important to address the increasing incidence of anti-Israel activity on campus.
I teach people that if we don’t take immediate steps to combat anti-Israel fervor on college campuses and elsewhere, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel attacks will worsen; allowing this worrisome trend to grow stronger will embolden people to act on their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments. And history has already taught us what happens when we don’t speak up or allow fear to stop us from taking action.
A new documentary I directed, “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus,” reveals this rise of anti-Israel activity on both U.S. and Canadian campuses and demonstrates when reasonable criticism of Israel ‘crosses the line’ into anti-Semitism. A new film I’m working on exposes the anti-Semitic sentiment stoking the growing BDS movement on many North American college campuses. That includes my alma mater, where in 2013 the York Federation of Students voted to endorse BDS.
My own journey from feeling a general sense of connection to Israel to becoming a proud, outspoken advocate was gradual, fueled by numerous family trips to Israel as a youth and frequent conversations about Israel in my home. My brother’s bond with Israel led him to join the IDF as a Lone Soldier. After earning my master’s degree in 2011, my feelings of connectedness prompted me to travel to Israel to develop my film-making skills. A year later, I made aliyah.
Along the way, I’ve learned a great deal about Israel. More importantly, I’ve learned the facts and tools I need to defend the country against unfair and unreasonable attacks.
I can’t help but think that had I known as a graduate student what I know now, I would have acted differently the day I walked past the anti-Israel melee at York University. Had I been armed with the information I’ve since gained, I would have reported the assault to the administration. I might have written an op-ed for the student newspaper. And there’s no question I would have taken action to support my fellow, pro-Israel students.
Though I’m disturbed by some of the findings from the ICC report, which mirror those of a Brandeis study released last month, I’m heartened that students are increasingly fighting back against anti-Israel (and often anti-Semitic) detractors. While feeling connected to Israel is helpful, I know that it takes more than that to publicly support Israel: Students, their parents and communities must first equip themselves with facts and information.
This fall, I’ll travel across the United States to host screenings of “Crossing the Line 2” and deliver lectures about Israel to provide college students and their communities with the information and knowledge they need to confidently respond to anti-Israel attacks on campus and elsewhere. My goal is to ensure that students don’t feel the way I once did – concerned but unprepared to take action. Instead, they will feel emboldened, empowered and ready to stand up for the Jewish state.