This summer, students from all over the world convened in Boston for CAMERA’s Sixth Annual Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference. They came from New York, Toronto, California, the United Kingdom, and Israel. They came to learn how to defend Israel on campus and how to correct bias in the media, and to meet other CAMERA Fellows and members of CAMERA-supported Israel groups.
I expected to leave with an understanding of the situation on campus and how students are fighting bias and lies about Israel. I got all of this and more: I left with the power of a network committed to truth and to defending Israel. Yes, the information was valuable, but more valuable still were the new connections I made with other students, all with their own perspectives and stories on Israel.
The American students came from diverse environments. Some were fighting apathy, some were fighting hatred, and all were fighting for truth.
Two of those interesting people were CAMERA Fellows Jesse Horowitz and Jason Storch from Vassar College. The environment on their campus was appallingly one-sided in its demonization of Israel. Students sold Leila Khaled t-shirts on campus and silenced any alternative perspectives.
Horowitz said that the overall attitude on campus was “If you don’t agree with me, you’re a bad person.” The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—denounced even by staunch critics of Israel like Noam Chomsky—was the barometer for being considered progressive at Vassar. Anyone opposed to BDS was deemed not progressive. There was no alternative voice, and those who disagreed were afraid to speak up. Horowitz’s articles got the attention of CAMERA, while Storch planned an event through CAMERA with Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid attended by eighty-four students and faculty members despite an SJP event happening at the same time. Their activism drastically changed the conversation at Vassar.
While Storch and Horowitz were introducing people to new perspectives on the East Coast, Anthony Berteaux, a journalism student at San Diego State University, was opening up the conversation on his campus in a new way. Berteaux grew up in Tokyo. He had never met a Jewish person but was very progressive and joined SJP when he started college. His ideas changed when his roommate, a Jewish girl, exposed him to a new perspective. He learned that the narrative about the Jewish people he had heard before was misleading, and that the true story of Israel was that of a people fighting for Jewish indigenous rights. When Berteaux wrote an article condemning SJP, his progressive friends started “dropping like flies.” Later, he went on a trip with the Anti-Defamation League and learned about the history of the Jewish struggle and how it connected to other communities’ struggles. He got involved with the pro-Israel group on campus and was selected for the CAMERA Fellowship. He attended the CAMERA conference to learn how to use CAMERA resources in his efforts.
Today, Berteaux works for the Huffington Post as a student editor and runs a radio show. He’s a member of the Society for Professional Journalists and he hopes to connect with them on writing more accurately about Israel and the Middle East. For him, “Israel is a radical, intersectional, progressive cause” but because of his unique background, he understands all sides, knowing that most have “good intentions, they’re just misled.”
In addition to students from American universities, four students flew in from Israel for the conference. They started their own CAMERA group at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For Bar Fabian, CAMERA is just as important in Israel as it is outside the country: “In Israel, most of the people live the reality everyday so they don’t care, but we are the best ambassadors. We want to show the world that we care and we want to do something. In Israel, people don’t know anything about BDS so we want to educate the [Israelis] about the problems abroad.” With backgrounds in elite units in the army and the spokesperson’s unit, the Israeli students are ready to use the resources CAMERA provides to defend Israel and raise awareness of the lies and anti-Semitism on college campuses.
The strength and courage of the students at the CAMERA conference impressed me deeply. These leaders are shifting the conversation on their campuses, driving the fight for truth, and defending Israel without fear.