Spreading the message
Students at the University of Pittsburgh have taken to the streets. Armed with hummus, pita and educational materials, the young activists have one objective: promoting peace in Israel by dispelling misinformation.
Between April 3 and April 8, Panthers for Israel, a student group at the University of Pittsburgh, conducted Israel Peace Week. The weeklong event, which is facilitated by Hasbara Fellowships, is a self-described “grassroots initiative” intended on educating those less familiar with Israel.
“The general objective of Israel Peace Week is to engage as many students on campus who might not know about Israel and show them that most Israelis want to live in peace with their neighbors, that Israel actually has shown that it has made compromises to live in peace with its neighbors,” said Elliot Mathias, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships. “And in order to achieve peace, there has to be someone for Israel to speak to, and the real obstacle over the past year has been the Palestinian leadership, which has not been willing or able to make peace with Israel.”
Sharing these messages with college students is the thrust of Israel Peace Week, said Mathias. “The message of peace is something that most Israelis want, and it’s not a message that is heard so much on campus.”
Too often, groups have denigrated Israel through activities and propaganda. Israel Peace Week seeks to counter those tactics with positive messaging.
“In light of all the focus of BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] and all the other things happening, it’s exciting there is a positive proactive campaign that gets across what Israel is about, that’s the goal,” said Mathias.
Israel Peace Week at Pitt was marked by several activities. On April 4, students decorated cookies and distributed Panthers for Israel T-shirts. Emblazoned on each shirt was a drawing of two fingers raised in a peace sign with the word “peace” denoted by several languages within the fingers. The logo was designed by Pitt student Emma Rose Shapiro.
On April 5, a whiteboard and imagination were used to craft a social media campaign. Students were asked to take a whiteboard and conclude the phrase “Peace means …” Participants were then photographed holding the whiteboard with their written responses. The pictures were then shared on Facebook.
On April 6, representatives of Panthers for Israel gathered before the William Pitt Union and dispersed hummus, pita and educational materials to passersby.
We’ve engaged with at least 100 people, said Amit Shimshi, Panthers for Israel president.
Along with 180 pitas and 28 pounds of hummus, 250 blue-and-white cookies were available for consumption.
“So many people came by. It was so cool to see people who aren’t even Jewish supporting Israel,” said Alyssa Berman, a freshman studying political science and Jewish studies.
Drew Armstrong, a freshman studying chemistry, stopped by the table to enjoy free pita and hummus.
“I guess getting the word out there with food is pretty effective,” he said.
The organizer’s message seemed to bond with Armstrong.
“It seems like they are trying to bring a peaceful conclusion to what’s happening in Israel. Any peaceful resolution to what’s happening in Israel is a step in the right direction,” he said.
The goal is to show “it’s a common interest of many students on campus to promote peace,” said Shimshi. “We have this week been promoting hope.”
Israel Peace Week at Pitt culminated in two events. On April 7, Lucy Aharish addressed students with a talk titled “Unapologetic.” As host of Israel’s I24 News, Aharish is the first Arab news presenter on a Hebrew-language Israeli television.
“I think it’s an awesome thing to have an Israeli-Muslim journalist come talk about peace in Israel,” said Berman. “It’s just nice to hear it from a super reliable person.”
On April 8, Israel Peace Week ended with Shabbat services and dinner at Hillel JUC.
Pitt was one of 50 universities participating in Israel Peace Week, said Mathias.
“Tens of thousands” of college students have been engaged by the program, he added.
“To my knowledge Israel Peace Week is the largest national coordinated pro-Israel campaign on campus; there is nothing like it.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.