TORONTO — StandWithUs has big plans this year to revitalize Israel’s image at Concordia University, York University, the University of Victoria and 37 other campuses across North America.
The international educational organization has trained select students as Emerson Fellows to make university campuses more Israel-friendly.
The Emerson Fellowship, now in its second year, empowers students attending universities with strong anti-Israel sentiment to become stronger advocates for Israel through the support of philanthropists Rita and Steve Emerson.
“My first year at York was a big eye-opener for me when it came to the intensity of anti-Israel propaganda on campus,” said Anna Neuman, right, the Emerson Fellow at York.
“I remember the first time I walked through Vari Hall [York’s main entrance] and saw the Israeli Apartheid Wall,” an exhibit erected by anti-Israel campus groups.
Neuman plans to use the training and expertise she gained from the program to help all supporters of Israel voice their opinions safely on campus.
In September, she helped bring Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul general in Toronto, to York to discuss the concept of “rebranding” the image of Israel both on and off campus.
At Concordia, Emerson Fellow Samantha Banks, who is also president of Hillel Montreal, hopes to eradicate misconceptions about Israel in the student community.
“Concordia’s well-documented history [of conflict] does not reflect the current climate on campus,” Banks said.
“We have established a much more comfortable and secure environment, and I want to show new and old students alike how vibrant and expressive we are today.”
Banks’ plans include a mock UN Security Council, meetings with election candidates, and positive marketing campaigns such as Tel Aviv 100.
At UVic, Matan Levanon, left, who lived in Israel until age 22, aims to inform the broader community about Israel’s contributions to the world.
“Coming to Canada from Israel, I was taken by how much the situation in the Middle East affects Canadian Jews, but I also noticed a lack of knowledge. I want to help students educate themselves about issues regarding Israel, and not just the conflict,” Levanon said.
“I would also love to see a growing involvement by the entire campus community and not only by Jewish students.”
This year, Levanon hopes to initiate a “World Awareness Week,” covering hot topics around the world, such as environmental sustainability, with an emphasis on Israel’s contribution to each field.
StandWithUs has assisted each of the fellows by providing them with financial support and training in California to learn how to fight anti-Israel rhetoric and stereotypes.
Speakers were also brought in to discuss coalition building, event planning and even media training.
“I was surrounded by very dynamic students and speakers from across North America,” Neuman said of her training experience.
“It was a great opportunity to share our experiences of Israel activism on campus and exchange ideas too,” she added.
In September, StandWithUs helped hundreds of students from across North America rally to protest the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations.
“For many students, especially from Canada, this was their first rally or protest,” explained Dani Klein, StandWithUs’ campus director.
“I think we were able to send a message out to the world leaders at the UN.”
StandWithUs has also teamed up with the Jerusalem Post to produce Campus Post, a new, free monthly publication distributed with the Jerusalem Post and on university campuses.
“Jerusalem Post writers contribute articles about Israeli culture, society, and current events, while students and campus professionals write articles concerning the face of Israel advocacy here in North America, and on campus,” Klein said.
“We are looking for more channels of distribution onto the campuses, so if students or professionals are interested in distributing the paper, they should contact us.”
For more information, e-mail [email protected].