IAN forum here tackles challenges BDS poses for young Jews

IAN forum here tackles challenges BDS poses for young Jews

Young people in high school and college are hearing several different messages about Israel, some of which can be openly hostile or taken out of context.

At an Israel Action Network community forum last Wednesday, June 12, at the Jewish Community Center, students, IAN and local community leaders tried to address this problem.

The IAN is a strategic initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

Part of this counter assault is taking place in high schools and colleges nationwide. People in this age group are particularly vulnerable to the anti-Israel messaging that IAN tries to fight.  This messaging is done through BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) initiatives.  

IAN works to combat BDS initiatives and give Israel a voice on college campuses.

In February 2012, IAN collaborated with the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia and the area Hillel to counter a planned BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania. The conference became a launchpad for new, positive programming that deepened ties between Jewish and non-Jewish students while encouraging free speech. The BDS conference had less of an impact because of the work IAN did.

The issue also arose at other colleges, including the University of California, Berkeley, where there has been a recent rash of student senate resolutions branding Israel an apartheid state and calling for divestment from companies doing business there.          

Before the debate reaches college, though, it is fought in America’s high schools.

“We’d spark up discussions in class when the recent missile attacks increased,” a Pittsburgh Allderdice High School student said at the forum. “I noticed a lot of people weren’t arguing at facts.  A lot of the Jews were just saying you’re wrong and we’re right.”

David Dabscheck, deputy managing director of IAN, said that arguing, even with facts, is the wrong way to approach making a pro-Israel argument. Instead, he said the students should try to address the concerns that others may have about issues in Israel and allow for open debate.  He also condemned blindly throwing facts at people, saying that Israel’s supporters should become storytellers and talk about their personal connections and stories of Israel (see story, page 5).

But that is not always so simple because there is often apathy involved with high school and college aged Jews when discussing Israel.     

“I go to things when they’re offered but a lot of kids at my school just don’t care,” said Rachel Reibach, another high school student at the forum.

While there may be apathy, other young Jews are going about the debate another way.  The Jewish Voice for Peace, a political organization that supports divestment from Israel, is largely made up of young Jews.

Because they are more politically active than other young Jews who may support Israel, but do not show it openly, it creates the appearance that the young generation of Jews supports a BDS initiative.

“Boys and girls in my class are like ‘I talked to this one kid, he was Jewish and he [supported BDS],’ and that’s their whole argument,” Reibach said.  “This [argument] isn’t by a Palestinian, it’s a Jew.”

Gregg Roman, Community Relations Council director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, asked the students present if having advocacy classes for students in their junior and senior years of high school would help.  The students agreed, and Roman said that they would be arranged.

(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at andrewg@thejewishchronicle.net.)