They could be travelling around India. They could be pursuing studies and careers in Tel Aviv or Toronto. Instead, this remarkable group of young men, who just completed their service with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) – many of whom are from Canada and the United States – are visiting campuses across North America to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda.
They are volunteers with Reservists on Duty (RoD), an organization for army reservists that was founded in 2015 and is dedicated to “spreading the truth about Israel and Israelis” by interacting with students of every background.
Wearing white T-shirts, with “Defending Freedom from Hate” emblazoned on the front, the delegation to Canada, which is composed of six RoDs, spoke in Toronto on Oct. 8. All but one (who’s from Kansas) were born and raised in Canada.
Daniel Hochman, 24, a tall, brawny man with a disarming dimple, grew up in North York. He is the son of Brian and Pam Hochman, the second of three children raised in a warm, traditionally Jewish home. After high school, he decided to join the IDF and made aliyah. “I was raised to be a Zionist,” he said. “But the decision to move to Israel came out of a conversation with Ernie Bloch, a Holocaust survivor, when I was on the March of the Living. I asked him how it could have happened. He answered: “How do you prevent it is the real question.”
Timing their visit to coincide with Israel Apartheid Week, the reservists set out to counter the increasing convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses, with documented facts and their own personal stories, explaining the high moral code that puts Israeli soldiers at a higher risk of getting wounded or killed.
Sponsored by Hasbarah Canada, they spoke at Aish Hatorah on Oct. 3. Tomer Bar-Lavi told the audience that “time after time,” the soldiers rescue wounded Syrians and bring them to hospitals in Israel, “even though we know they consider us to be the enemy.”
They counter the lies propagated by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which infiltrates campuses in Canada and the United States, with statements such as: Israel is a racist apartheid state whose aim is to “ethnically cleanse” the Palestinians; and the IDF is guilty of brutal, gratuitous violence. They demand boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli products, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the cessation of building in Judea and Samaria, and the dismantling of the settlements in the so-called occupied territories.
“We’ve been yelled and cursed at and even spat on,” said Bar-Lavi.
RoD, which is called Miluimnikim in Hebrew, was founded in 2015 by Major Amit Deri, after he discovered that the BDS movement in Ireland based its protests on materials provided by Israeli organizations, such as Breaking the Silence, a non-profit that collects information about alleged IDF abuses in the Palestinian territories.
‘We’ve been yelled and cursed at and even spat on.’
“Our goal is to expose the hate system against Israel on North American campuses,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “We educate the students and give them information to fight the lies and slander, thereby empowering them to stand up for Israel.” In Israel, they fight against organizations such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.
At the University of California, Irvine, SJP have been suspended from operating for the next two academic years. The decision came after its members shouted horrific chants at an event in May that was put on by Students Supporting Israel, in an attempt to shut it down.
“Because we come from here, we can get through (to the students) in a way Israelis can’t,” Hochman said. “We are here to stay and spread the truth about Israel.”
The next day, the group met with several members of Parliament in Ottawa. “Everyone made us feel sure of their commitment to support Israel and denounced BDS,” Hochman reported.