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Groups counter yearly apartheid slur

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From left, U of T students Tamar Berger, Ahuva Goldberg and Beca Bookman presented Hot Chocolate, Hot Topic, a tabling event during which students distribute hot chocolate and information about Israel.

A number of campaigns on Canadian campuses are in the works to give pro-Israel students the tools to counter false accusations presented by Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) organizers.

With IAW set to launch its eighth annual series of anti-Israel events on Canadian campuses March 5, organizations such as Hasbara Fellowships, Canadian Academics for Peace in the Middle East (CAPME), JerusalemOnlineU.com and Hillel of Greater Toronto are taking a proactive approach by presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a more accurate light. 

Hasbara’s Israel Peace Week (IPW), now in its third year, aims to counter anti-Israel propaganda with a simple message: “Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace.”

Hashem Hamdy, Hasbara’s eastern Canada regional co-ordinator, said IPW will run alongside IAW, but he insists they have a different approach.

“Ours is positive,” said Hamdy, an Arab Canadian. “We feel our message is positive and straightforward enough… We consider it to be so separate that we don’t even call it a response to IAW… because it’s our own campaign that we would do regardless.”

Seventy-five campuses across North America, including nine Canadian schools, will host programs that promote Israel as a country dedicated to peace.

He said one of the programs being presented at Concordia University in Montreal is called Faces of Israel.

The project, led by the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, presents a diverse panel of Israelis, including former soldiers, Ethiopians, Muslims, Jews and Christians who will share their experiences of living in Israel.

“It’ll put a human face on the issue and it shows that… Israel is a diverse and accepting place,” Hamdy said.

At McGill University, McGill Friends of Israel will be hosting Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler.

Pro-Israel students at campuses such as the University of Ottawa, York University, Ryerson University and the University of British Columbia will distribute fact cards and posters produced by Hasbara, as well as screen a documentary called Israel Inside and provide advocacy training.

“This isn’t an issue of spin for us. This is about truth versus falsehood,” Hamdy said.

CAPME’s response to IAW is to run a speaker series this month that presents a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tel Aviv University professor David Menashri, University of Maryland professor Yoram Peri, Notre Dame University professor Alan Dowty, and Italian photojournalist Ruben Salvadori will visit Canadian campuses on the speaking tour.

Another organization dedicated to addressing the anti-Israel narrative on campus is JerusalemOnlineU.com, which provides video-based education about Israel and Judaism.

Amy Holtz, JerusalemOnlineU.com president, said its new campaign, called Step Up For Israel, also aims to counter IAW with a film called Crossing the Line: the Intifada Comes to Campus, which can be viewed on the group’s website.

The idea behind the film and the campaign – chaired by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold – is to expose the anti-Israel movement on campus as being largely antisemitic.

“It’s a powerful film, and it really is designed to make people understand the problem, and they need to prepare their kids,” Holtz said.

She said it’s important to educate students before someone else does.

“I want our kids to know the truth about Israel so they don’t hear about it for the first time from an anti-Israel guy with a one-sided agenda… I want our kids to know that this isn’t the truth. Israel is not an apartheid state.”

Holtz said her organization is also working with Canadian Jewish groups to screen Israel Inside in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

Hillel at Ryerson president Mitch Reiss said one of the approaches Hillel has adopted is to partner with other campus groups to give a positive image of Israel.

He said Hillel has developed relationships with groups such as AEPi and Delta Pi, the Jewish fraternities, as well as the Catholic Students’ Association and the Jewish Business Network.

“We really built a network of different groups and work together, with each group taking on their project and angle for advocacy,” Reiss said

“Rather than it being a response to IAW, it’s a week of education to let people know about the amazing things that are going on in Israel.”

Taking place weekly until the end of the semester on GTA campuses is a campaign called Hot Chocolate, Hot Topics.

“We’ll be handing out hot chocolate while presenting information about a hot issue, whether it be women’s rights, LBGT issues, or the environment,” Reiss said.

Last week, Hillel students at the University of Toronto set up an informational table to promote Save A Child’s Heart, an Israeli-based international humanitarian project that provides free cardiac care for poor children with life-threatening heart disease in Third World countries.

“We’re definitely trying to be more proactive to plan programming that we’re excited about and not just a response. It’s what we want to showcase about Israel,” said Beca Bookman, Hillel’s U of T Israel committee chair.

Later this month, Hillel will present an event with Chefs for Peace, an Israeli non-profit organization that uses culinary arts to build bridges between different faith communities. Three Israeli chefs – a Jew, a Muslim and an Armenian – will tour GTA campuses in the second week of March giving cooking demonstrations.

“We think it’ll be a good opportunity to open dialogue and discussion,” Bookman said.

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