I have good news: after spending three days with student leaders from across North America and the world at the StandWithUS International Conference, I can report that BDS and the anti-Israel movement has met its match: a carefully structured, well-organized, education-based effort to prepare student leaders not only to deal with BDS and anti-Semitism on campus, but to be trained to defeat it.
StandWithUs — an Israel advocacy organization founded in Los Angeles in 2001 at the height of the Second Intifada — brought hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish Israel advocates from over 100 campuses for three days of intensive training, led by 100 experts on the issues and challenges facing Israel today. The conference was not limited to students already on college campuses — indeed, the organizers had the foresight to also include high school student leaders, to enable them to prepare properly for their college experience and to help their fellow classmates do the same.
Plenary sessions included Neil Lazarus of Awesome Seminars teaching how to answer difficult questions about Israel; student leaders detailing how they defeated BDS resolutions on their campuses; state legislators relating their experience passing anti-BDS laws; Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explaining her legal battle to cut off funding to terror organizations via Shurat Hadin; David Renzer of Creative Community for Peace describing how students can help his organization combats boycotts; Jacob Baime of Israel on Campus Coalition presenting some of the newest challenges facing students on campus; and Hussein Aboubakr telling his journey from anti-Semitic Egyptian Muslim to Zionist Hebrew teacher.
I had the honor of presenting Innovation Africa at one of the plenaries. It was thrilling to see just how engaged the students were, and how they wanted to learn more and get involved the moment they heard about this non-profit organization that uses Israeli technologies to bring clean water and electricity to villages throughout Africa.
These young people — who have a passion for Israel and a drive to lead — were able to choose from a wide variety of breakout sessions throughout the conference focusing on what they need to know to successfully make the case for Israel and defeat the anti-Israel organizations. Highlights included Itamar Marcus from Palestinian Media Watch presenting the incitement of the Palestinian Authority; Joe Hyams from Honest Reporting detailing the media’s bias against Israel; IDF soldiers explaining the challenges they face and the morals and values of the IDF; Gur Yalon of Act.IL , Nelson France of Jewish National Fund, and Fay Goldstein of Hasbara Fellowships teaching how to be proactive on campus; Ze’ev Ben Shachar of Jerusalem U exposing the students to feature films that can help them make the case for Israel; Julian Markowitz of AEPi relaying successful marketing strategies; and StandWithUs staff teaching Israel’s history, including all the attempts Israel has made to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
There were also practical sessions run by StandWithUs staff on planning effective campus events, becoming a successful public speaker, how to use social media, creating coalitions with other campus groups, and making use of StandWithUs’ pro bono attorneys when legal actions are necessary on campus.
Educational materials made available to students throughout the conference included detailed maps, booklets about topics such as human rights in Israel, and pocket-size handouts telling Israel’s story.
Aside from the educational component, the conference also gave students the opportunity to strategize and plan together: sessions in which students divided into their seven regions to discuss the unique challenges they face and how to confront them, and strategy sessions to plan the next steps for high schools, college campuses, legislation, and outreach to new groups such as Christian students.
Education. Strategy. Planning. Long-term thinking. Teaching students about the conflict. Inspiring all — whether left-wing or right — to have a strong conviction for Israel’s legitimacy and be able to tell its story. Directors and advisors in every region – for campuses, high-school students and a new middle-school division — made available throughout the year to help coordinate events, educate, and provide advice. Coaching through hands-on training how to reach thousands of others. Creating a network in which students realize they are not alone, but are part of a movement of thousands who are in this battle together. And most importantly — a willingness to use experts from other organizations. These are all the necessary ingredients for success in defeating the BDS movement. Not declarations, but action. Not bemoaning a lost cause, but standing up and doing something proactive to confront a difficult challenge.
For many years I have believed that if we pool all of the remarkable resources in the pro-Israel camp together, and formulate a clear strategy on presenting Israel to the world and how to defeat the anti-Israel movements, then we can be successful. These past few days have shown me that we are on our way to doing just that. I applaud the entire StandWithUs team led by co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein, for everything that they do, and commend Gila and Adam Milstein for having the vision to sponsor this annual conference.
The back page of the conference booklet reads: “Save the date March 1-4 2019. Join StandWithUs in telling Israel’s story and fighting antisemitism.” I hope that the hundreds who attended this year’s conference will turn into thousands attending next year. I also hope that the Israeli government and pro-Israel philanthropists will sponsor similar conferences for students and community members throughout the world as we join together and reach even closer to our ultimate goal: defeating BDS and the anti-Israel movements, and further cementing Israel’s legitimacy and international standing.
(An additional benefit of the conference: UNITY. Watch students from all streams come together for Havdala at the end of Shabbat):