Soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces will tour Atlanta schools Oct. 19-23 as part of the StandWithUs program. The first stop, a public event Oct. 21 at The Weber School, kicks off the efforts of the new SWU Teen Leadership Council including Jewish high school interns: Shani Kadosh of the Atlanta Jewish Academy, Elye Robinovitz of Weber, and Sydney Siegel of Northview High School.
SWU is an international nonprofit Israel education organization that fights hate and anti-Semitism and gives students a pro-Israel voice on campus. We interviewed an SWU intern and three Emerson fellows from Atlanta area colleges. They were trained in August in such areas as countering Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns and how to know when Israel criticism is anti-Semitism.
“Many of us first got involved with StandWithUs because we faced anti-Semitism. … I heard stories of classmates drawing swastikas on Israeli flags, coins being thrown at the Jewish students, or being told the Israel Defense Forces kills babies. Unfortunately, these real stories are not as uncommon as one would think. I have never been more motivated to make a difference,” said Siegel, a senior at Northview.
We hear from Emerson fellows Melissa Harari, vice president of Eagles for Israel at Emory University; Josh Cohen, education vice president of Dawgs for Israel at the University of Georgia; and Shira Solomon, Georgia State University Hillel vice president and religious events chair of Chabad at GSU.
AJT: Why are you involved with SWU?
Shira: It’s important that on a politically neutral campus like GSU, the attitude toward Israel steers in a positive direction. People tend to make judgments about confusing situations like Israel based on hearsay rather than facts and research.
Melissa: I’m involved in SWU because I want to empower other students to actively support Israel on their college campuses. I want to stand up for Israel because I don’t believe it gets recognized for all of the contributions it makes to the world.
AJT: Why is this work important to you personally?
Shira: I grew up with an Israel-can-do-no-wrong mentality. As I got older and actually lived in Israel, I realized this idea was not true. However, whether or not you agree, there are reasons the country makes its decisions. So it’s important to see both sides – both for and against Israel – and make an independent conclusion.
Josh: Israel is my second home and I don’t appreciate when my home is attacked, on any level. I want people to know the whole truth, but provide them what they need to make that determination for themselves.
Melissa: My family has been religiously persecuted in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, and in the Middle East during anti-Semitic political movements. Many of them found a home in Israel and I now have several family members that hope to make aliyah there due to its values, culture, innovative spirit and their historical connection to the land. I want to advocate for peace, coexistence, strategic collaboration, and education. I want to give Israel a voice on college campuses and to defend its right to exist for my family, my ancestors, and for the generations to come.
AJT: Have you ever been confronted with anti-Israel propaganda?
Josh: I’ve witnessed it on campus from Students for Justice in Palestine. Personally, I have encountered it in conversations with my peers who are misinformed and either want to criticize or to genuinely ask for more information.
Melissa: Aside from the Apartheid Wall being put up by our SJP chapter during Pesach, I experienced ignorance and disrespectful commentary from students who clearly had not been to Israel or Palestine, but were quick to protest our pro-Israel group’s Humanitarian Aid event by calling it propaganda.
I intervened when I saw several people yelling at a Jewish student and not giving him a voice. Interestingly, I engaged in constructive and diplomatic conversation with the only Palestinian student at the event, and we ended the conversation on a positive note hoping for peace.