Briana Cropper, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, had no knowledge of the recent spate of Palestinian attacks and murders of Israelis, or the incitement that fosters them.
But after stopping to speak to members of Panthers 4 Israel at a rally held outside the William Pitt Union on Monday, Cropper feels she is now better educated about the facts on the ground in the Jewish state.
“I didn’t know anything about this until today,” Cropper said. “I didn’t know anything about the incitement, or that there was still so much hate against Jews. I thought the world was past that.
“I’m glad I stopped by,” she continued. “And I hope to learn some more about it.”
Handing out free T-shirts reading, “I love Israel,” as well as laptop stickers reading “I stand against incitement,” pro-Israel students engaged in similar conversations with their peers in an effort to help inform those who may not have read or heard about the violence through media accounts.
“We feel there’s not representation of Israel right now, on campus, and in the wider world,” said Amit Shimshi, a junior at Pitt and president of Panthers 4 Israel. “We wanted to have this gathering to show our solidarity, and that we’re willing to stand up for our people in light of what’s going on.”
One of the primary purposes of the rally, she said, was to explain that the Palestinian leadership’s incitement to violence has a negative effect on the peace process.
“Many of them are using their religion to incite the stabbings and the terrorist attacks,” Shimshi said. “And it has been going on so frequently.”
Just days before the rally, Palestinian violence against Israelis claimed five lives, including that of Boston native Ezra Schwartz, an 18-year-old yeshiva student who was killed in a West Bank terror attack on Nov. 19.
While Shimshi would like to engage in a conversation with representatives of the pro-Palestinian campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, they have been noticeably absent from recent events hosted by Panthers 4 Israel, she said. Despite attempts at outreach, SJP members did not attend Monday’s rally or an event held in October that featured a Palestinian man whose son had been jailed by Israel and an Israeli settler.
“SJP doesn’t show up to have these conversations with us, even though we reach out,” Shimshi said.
Still, Panthers 4 Israel did connect with many students passing through the William Pitt Union courtyard on Monday.
“It’s our way to reach out to students we don’t otherwise have contact with,” Shimshi said. “We are having one-on-one conversations with people who are willing to stop and listen.”
As part of the rally, Panthers 4 Israel displayed the latest political cartoons its members say are representative of Palestinian incitement in newspapers and online, and texts of Palestinian leaders’ speeches that encourage their constituents to murder Jews.
The rally was part of a broader incitement awareness campaign that Panthers 4 Israel has launched on Facebook. Through social media and the hashtag #StopIncitement, the group sends out frequent updates about the violence perpetrated against Israelis.
Those organizing the rally hoped to fill a void largely ignored by the media, according to Zach Schaffer, a senior at Pitt and president of Hillel Jewish University Center.
“There is obviously a lot of tension and tragedy happening around the world, and the media and the international community have been egregiously silent about the current situation in Israel,” he said. “We hope this program helps to educate our campus community not only about terrorism, but also the root of that terrorism, which is incitement.”
Pitt senior Josh Robertson got a conversation going with a young woman who had stopped at the table to pick up a shirt.
“There is violence being promoted by the Palestinian government,” Robertson explained to her. “That is not effective for promoting peace. That’s why we’re out here.”
She was listening.
“Cool,” she said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.