March 26, 2019

StandWithUs Student Conference Primes Pro-Israel Activists

Student conference attendees gathered outside the Hyatt Regency near LAX. Photo by Jc Olivera Photography

Last fall, during the public comments portion of a meeting held by the University of California Board of Regents in Westwood, UCLA student Justin Feldman, 21, voiced his displeasure with an upcoming National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) conference billed as a “human rights conference” that was scheduled to take place on his campus. 

“Every year, SJP invites speakers with proven connections to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas. Some are even convicted terrorists themselves,” Feldman said. “These are SJP’s role models. Does this sound like a human rights conference to you?”

Feldman and his friend Naomi Kisel, 21, who isn’t Jewish but actively recruits her fellow Christian students on campus to join pro-Israel advocacy causes, waged an education campaign to counter the November conference. They held an Israel Celebration Day, distributed reading materials on Zionism and even hosted elected officials, including Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz. 

Both Feldman and Kisel, who run pro-Israel clubs on campus and are in the midst of dual degrees at UCLA, lead busy campus lives. On March 2-4, they joined over 200 other college students from across the country at the fourth annual Israel In Focus international conference organized by StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit international pro-Israel education organization founded in 2001. 

“I’m here to inspire and be inspired,” Feldman told the Journal. Kisel added, “Being able to speak with other students who have experienced similar things on their campuses and making those lasting connections will give us people to call and share best practices with when we return to our campus.” 

In addition to the college students at the conference, held at the Hyatt Regency near Los Angeles International Airport, there were 120 high school students, 150 SWU staff and lay leaders from Jewish communities around the world and representatives from at least 33 partner organizations. 

The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation sponsored the event with a clear focus on students and equipping the next generation of pro-Israel advocates. Along with a multitude of speakers, presentations, panel discussions and breakout sessions, there were Shabbat and interfaith services. Students also took advantage of ample reading material laid out on tables — pamphlets including “Israel 101,” “Israel Pocket Facts” and “Examining the BDS movement” — and an abundance of SWU-branded swag, everything from wristbands and sunglasses to chapstick. 

“Every year, this conference is filled with brand-new students who want to sharpen their skills to be able to have richer conversations about Israel,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein told the Journal. 

Rothstein and others started SWU out of her living room and now oversee 18 offices around the world. With a sizable social media presence and departments focused on middle schools, high schools, college campuses and communities, SWU seeks to empower a global network of activists and educators for Israel.

 “A conference like this bolsters my network so I know I won’t be alone in this. I’m not scared. I’m just excited for what my future Israel advocacy will look like.”
— Danielle York

A panel called “A Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim and a Hindu Walk Into a Pro-Israel Conference” was exactly that. The panel talked about the origins of their pro-Israel advocacy involvement and offered advice on how Jewish students can form partnerships with other campus groups. 

“Start with hummus,” Moussa Kone, 21, said. Kone, a Muslim student from Mali who attends Portland State University, said, “But know that more people than you realize are willing to listen. Be inclusive. Use discretion.”

Chelsea Andrews, director of special projects at Passages, affectionately known as the “Christian Birthright” organization, offers Christian college students trips to Israel. Andrews recruits Christian participants for these trips at colleges across the country and is no stranger to pro-Israel campus spaces. 

“Acknowledge the effort it takes for Christian students to learn about Israel and educate themselves on what’s going,” she said. “It takes a lot and Christian students on so many campuses are making the effort. Don’t assume they don’t know anything because oftentimes they do. Ask. Don’t assume.” 

Students also participated in panel discussions on fighting boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) legislation on campuses and mobilizing to condemn professors promoting anti-Israel agendas in classrooms. 

A few years ago, Alma Hernandez, 25, was an active pro-Israel advocate on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Last year, Hernandez, a Mexican-American Jewish Democrat, became the first Hispanic Jewish woman to hold elected office in Arizona, winning a seat in the state’s House of Representatives. After taking part in a panel discussion on “Feminism, Zionism and Anti-Semitism,” she told the Journal that despite a hectic schedule in her state legislature, it was important for her to be in Los Angeles for the conference. 

“I wanted to come connect with young students and share my story and encourage them to continue doing what they’re doing,” Hernandez said. 

One of the conference’s most buzzed about speakers was 29-year-old Hussein Aboubakr, an Egyptian-born Muslim who talked about growing up in a climate of anti-Semitic indoctrination. Aboubakr, who now works full time as a Hebrew teacher in Monterey, advocates for Israel through public speaking engagements.

“There’s no switch,” Aboubakr told the hotel ballroom filled with over 500 people. “It’s residual. There’s hope in all those Syrians, all those children getting treatment in Israel. There is hope for change. It requires a lot of work and a lot of education. The hardest thing to do is change people. I believe that’s what we’re doing, by being here.” 

Danielle York, 18, a Palisades Charter High School senior, goes to school just a few miles from UCLA students Feldman and Kisel. With studying at a four-year university likely in her near future, York came to the conference, in part, to learn about the climate of Israel advocacy on campuses. 

“I’ve never really faced much anti-Israel or anti-Semitic propaganda and as
strange as it may sound, I’m actually excited to combat it for the first time,” York said. “Everything comes with experience and having that experience of combating BDS, overt anti-Semitism or whatever the case may be is something I’m looking forward to. And a conference like this bolsters my network so I know I won’t be alone in this. I’m not scared. I’m just excited for what my future Israel advocacy will look like.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Roz Rothstein started SWU by herself out of a Santa Monica storefront. 

Community Responds to Nazi-Saluting Orange County Teens

Screenshot from Twitter.

On the evening of March 2, a group of Newport Beach high school students at a party posted a photo online of themselves giving the Nazi salute over a series of red-solo cups formed into the shape of a swastika. 

One partygoer wrote “ultimate rage” in one photo while another was captioned “German rage cage,” perhaps in reference to a drinking game, before posting it on Snapchat.

Orange County’s Temple Bat Yahm’s Senior Rabbi Gersh Zylberman told the Journal that it was “unnerving” that anti-Semitism is on the rise. “Did they learn it from peers or pick it up from home?” Zylberman asked. “Or social media? We don’t know.” 

The Los Angeles Times reported March 4 that some of the partygoers in the images are believed to be current students or recent graduates of Newport Harbor High School.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District President Charlene Metoyer told the Orange County Register she was “devastated” by the photo. “As a school board, we’re not only concerned by the underage drinking, but also the mental health of the students who participated in this horrendous act and all their fellow students who will be affected by it,” Metoyer said. “This is appalling to not just our Jewish student community, but to all of us who care about human rights.”

In a statement she provided to the Journal, she wrote: “At this time we are focused on investigating the situation, listening to our community, and working with community partners and determining next courses of action. We are taking action!”

On March 4, Newport Mesa School District held a town hall meeting attended by more than 500 people. 

“We all, collectively, bear responsibility for the hijacking of these symbols of human misery and destruction for casual entertainment.” — Paul S. Nussbaum

Arlene Miller, CEO and President of Orange County Jewish Federation and Family Services, who attended the event, told the Journal she was impressed by the number of elected officials, members of the community, Jewish officials, students and Holocaust survivors who attended the town hall. 

Miller said Orange County’s Jewish community is vibrant, with 30 congregations of all denominations, three Jewish day schools and 300 Holocaust survivors. “The fact that  [Holocaust survivors] live within our midst, it was upsetting to them to hear that there are swastikas scratched into the desks at schools,” Miller said.

Miller said the next step is to understand how the district teaches the Holocaust and how the Jewish community can help. “That is our focus,” she said. “How do we listen to the schools and understand the gaps and let them know of the resources and access to programs regionally and nationally, and how do we create a roadmap moving forward?” 

“I’ve been impressed with the swift action by the schools and how they handled it,” Zylberman said. “I don’t know the students personally but I know they’ve expressed regret and claimed they didn’t understand the significance of those symbols. That may be the case but I hope their apologies are sincere and I hope those lessons become a teachable moment that they will keep in mind for the rest of their lives.”

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Paul S. Nussbaum also wrote in a statement, “We all, collectively, bear responsibility for the hijacking of these symbols of human misery and destruction for casual entertainment. Parents, teachers, educators and our elected leaders need to emphatically condemn these incidents and pledge to enlighten and educate our youth.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO of the nonprofit Israel advocacy group StandWithUs said in a statement to the Journal, “As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I know that swastikas and Nazi salutes are not a joke or something to be taken lightly. To make light of the industrial-scale genocide committed against Jews and others during World War II is to dance on the graves of millions of people. That said, despite the insensitivity and ignorance this incident represents, I believe it also creates an opportunity for a powerful teachable moment.”

The next town hall will be at 6 p.m. March 7 at Corona del Mar High School.

Additional reporting by Staff Writer Aaron Bandler.

Rep. Zeldin: ‘We Need to Crush the BDS Movement’

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) expressed how the Jewish and pro-Israel community needs to destroy the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement during StandWithUs’ “Israel in Focus” International Conference at the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport on March 3.

Zeldin was on a panel with Florida city Bal Habour Mayor Gabriel Groisman, Rep. Brad Sherman’s (D-Calif.) district director Scott Abrams and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who tuned into the panel via Skype.

Zeldin told the 500 attendees that Senate Bill S.1 “combats the BDS movement” and “supports our alliance with Jordan, and increases sanctions on those propping up the Assad regime.”

“We need to crush the BDS movement, we need to confront it head on on college campuses,” Zeldin said, adding that it’s necessary to protect “innocent Jewish students being targeted with anti-Semitism” on college campuses.

He argued that despite what the bill’s critics say, S. 1 “does not impede free speech.”
“It gives state and local contracts the ability to end contracts with businesses opposing Israel,” Zeldin said, adding that anti-Israel individuals would still be free to promulgate their views on Israel if the bill passes.

Zeldin also mentioned the bill “hasn’t even been sent to committee” in the House of Representatives after it passed the Senate on Feb. 5.

Abrams said that there needs to be “bipartisan” opposition to BDS and stressed the need for an official anti-Semitism bill to be passed by Congress. Zeldin agreed, stating it was necessary to educate people throughout the country on anti-Semitism.

Groisman touted the Bal Harbour Village Council’s unanimous passage of a 2017 ordinance defining anti-Semitism, in part, as “delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.” He added that Florida’s state legislature is taking up a bill that would make the ordinance a statewide law.

“Police officers need to know the language of anti-Semitism that’s being used today” when investigating hate crimes, Groisman said.

Groisman stressed to attendees that the Jewish and pro-Israel community needs “leadership from everybody when it comes to the state of Israel, the Jewish people and fighting anti-Semitism.”

Schneider said in his video that conference attendees need to have “the confidence in your day-to-day conversations” that “we support Israel because Israel is our best ally in the world,” not because of “dual loyalty.”

“We share values, we share interests, we share threats,” Schneider said, adding that it only makes sense to have a “common bond” with Israel.

Zeldin concluded the panel by telling attendees that anti-Semites should be held accountable. He also challenged attendees to get involved with local campaigns or newspapers.

“Don’t let anyone speak for you whose hate is filling their heart,” Zeldin said.

SWU Conference Session: How to Defend Israel

Israel supporters should always make it clear that they support a two-state solution.

This, according to Dr. Michael Harris, co-founder of San Francisco Voice for Israel. Harris made his remarks to attendees at StandWithUs’ (SWU) “Israel in Focus” International Conference this past weekend at the Hyatt Regency at Los Angeles International Airport.

Stating support for a two-state solution is the way to debate those who are anti-Israel, Harris said. Anti-Israel extremists, he said, can’t bring themselves to support a solution that would provide legitimacy to a Jewish state.

Harris suggested confronting those who are anti-Israel with the question, “I support peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, what about you?” to see if they try to “weasel” out of it with a statement along the lines of, “I support equal rights for everyone.” Then, he said, you can corner them on that statement.

Harris advocated following what he calls the ARM method:  Answer, Reframe, Message. As an example, he pointed to the claim that Israel kills  children on the Gaza border. He said, Israel advocates should respond with, “This is a tragedy,” but then re-frame it by asking, “Why is Hamas bringing children to a site where they’re violently attempting to invade Israel? Why are they using them as human shields? Hamas has turned Gaza into an armed terrorist camp,” Harris said. “They are the ones who bear a moral responsibility for this.”

He added that playing on people’s emotions is important. He noted that the anti-Israel crowd typically does this by naming Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces. But Israel advocates can play the same game, Harris said, whether it’s raising awareness about people who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists or highlighting specific individuals whom Israel has helped with its humanitarian work.

Harris listed five commandments that Israel advocates should abide by when debating: tell the truth, avoid ad hominem attacks, don’t generalize with overly broad statements, don’t use extreme rhetoric and focus on the desire for peace. For instance, Israel advocates shouldn’t make statements such as all Palestinians support terrorism or that all supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement like Hamas.

On the issue of BDS, Harris said that the movement’s call for a “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees is essentially calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, as doing so would result in Arabs outnumbering Jews, 9.5 million to 6.6 million, respectively.

Harris said there is inherent anti-Semitism in the BDS movement,citing as examples pro-Palestinian students at UC Davis chanting “Allahu Akbar” at Jewish students during a 2015 BDS resolution vote and BDS supporters calling for American Jewish musician Matisyahu to be removed from the 2015 Rototum Sunsplash festival in Spain for not endorsing Palestinian statehood.

“This is what all of us are fighting back against,” Harris said. “If the Jewish community doesn’t stand up for this, who will?”

Rescuers Without Borders, StandWithUs

From left: Israeli Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked presented Natalie Levy Sopinsky an Award for Excellence in recognition of her work with Rescuers Without Borders. Photo courtesy of Natalie Levy Sopinsky

Representatives of Rescuers Without Borders (RWB – (formerly Hatzalah Yehuda and Shomron), an Israeli organization that provides emergency response and first aid to the communities of Judea and Samaria, joined Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked for a community gathering at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills on Nov. 29. 

Attending the event were RWB Development Director Natalie Levy Sopinsky, Beth Jacob President Jess Dolgin, Beth Jacob Senior Rabbi Kalman Topp, Arutz Sheva’s Yoni Kempinski, and Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold, who was honored at the event for the efforts of the Beverly Hills City Council to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. 

“It is precisely thanks to strong moral leaders like Mayor Gold that we have been winning in our struggle against BDS,” Shaked said.

Shaked presented Sopinsky, who grew up in Delaware but now lives in Susya in Hebron, with an award for excellence in recognition of RWB’s work as emergency responders.

Addressing the audience of more than 800 people, Sopinsky said, “You come and visit your children, and when something happens, we are the ones who come to your aid.” 

During her visit to Los Angeles, Sopinsky visited with members of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and the women’s division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

RWB has more than 800 volunteer first-responders trained by Magen David Adom, the Israeli Red Cross, to be on the scene and render aid within minutes. Some RWB members also have accompanied Magen David Adom staff to help victims of disasters in other countries.

From left: Susan Pekarovics, Chanie Friedman, Ildiko Nagy, Attila Beres, Hungarian Consul General Támas Széles and Bais Naftoli President Andrew Friedman enjoy at Chanukah party at Bel Air Crest Clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Andrew Friedman

Consul General of Hungary in Los Angeles Tamás Széles and Los Angeles attorney and Congregation Bais Naftoli President Andrew Friedman held a Hanukkah party at Bel Air Crest Clubhouse on Dec. 8.

The festivities included a menorah lighting by Cantor Jance Weberman. 

The program also included renditions of holiday songs by singer Rosalie von Wendt and the Los Angeles Jewish Community Children’s Choir.

From left: Dr. Paul Finkel and Thousand Oaks City Council members Al Adam and Claudia Bill-de la Pena presenting a commendation from the city to Dr. Finkel at a gala. Photo courtesy of Ross Goldberg

Dr. Paul Finkel was honored at the New West Symphony League’s Dec. 7 gala at the Hyatt Regency Westlake for his longtime philanthropic support and two-term chairmanship of the symphony’s board of directors.

As an internist and nephrology subspecialist, Finkel served with the U.S. Air Force in the Vietnam War, was a faculty member of UCLA Medical School and practiced medicine at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and in private practice before retiring in 2014.

From left: AMIT Children L.A. Council Vice Chair Evan Roklen, AMIT Western Region Vice President Sandra Roklen, AMIT L.A. Council Chair Evan Green, three AMIT students and L.A. Council Member Joel Levine raising awareness about the work of AMIT. Photo courtesy of AMIT Children

The Los Angeles Leadership Council of education organization AMIT Children held a gathering on Nov. 20 featuring AMIT students from Israel that drew more than 30 community members to the home of Shari and Jeff Fishman.

“You could tell that everyone in the room was touched and inspired by the work AMIT is doing to create the future leaders of Israel,” said Evan Green, chair of the AMIT L.A. Leadership Council.

With an innovative approach, the Israel-based AMIT seeks to revolutionize the way Israeli youth are being educated to ensure their successful integration into society.

During the event, the Israeli students shared their stories and highlighted their experiences at AMIT schools, particularly the impact the organization’s staff, students and curriculum have had on their lives.

From left: StandWithUs (SWU) CEO Roz Rothstein; Bruce and Ellie Lederman; Frank Luntz; Justin Feldman and Sarah Tagger; aviator Elgen Long; SWU honorees Helen and Haim Dayan; philanthropists Debbie and Naty Saidoff; SWU co-founder Esther Renzer and comedian Elon Gold attended the SWU Festival of Lights gala. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

The pro-Israel education and advocacy organization StandWithUs celebrated its 17th year during its annual Festival of Lights gala on Dec. 9 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. 

The event raised nearly $4 million, which will go toward the organization’s $12 million budget for 2019. Naty and Debbie Saidoff and Bruce and Ellie Lederman supported the gala so that all the monies raised went into programming. 

The gala honored board members and philanthropists Helen and Haim Dayan, “whose humble and quiet leadership continues to build and sustain important Jewish organizations and schools,” the StandWithUs website says.

Pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz was the keynote speaker.   

“Leaders of Tomorrow” recipients Justin Feldman and Sarah Tagger explained how they utilized StandWithUs resources to confront boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts on their campuses.

The gala also recognized aviator Elgen Long, 91, the last surviving member of Alaska Airlines’ clandestine seven-day mission that brought nearly 2,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel in 1949. Their daring flights were the precursor to Operation Magic Carpet, which rescued approximately 45,000 Yemenite Jews. 

Four students told how the StandWithUs curriculum for middle schools helped them form a love for Israel. 

Film producer Robert Lantos, who shot the only movie filmed at Treblinka, spoke of the deception of the BDS campaign and the importance of Holocaust remembrance. 

Los Angeles acting Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Eitan Weiss opened the gala. Comedian Elon Gold performed. Alon Miller and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot sang the Israeli and American national anthems. Israeli singer Hagit Yaso sang “Jerusalem of Gold.” David Kates’ orchestra performed.

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Illinois Board, Florida Town Reportedly Condemn Airbnb

Photo from Flickr.

An Illinois state board and a town in Florida have each condemned Airbnb for its recent decision to no longer provide listings for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Illinois Investment Policy Board Committee on Israel Boycott Restrictions voted unanimously on Wednesday to declare Airbnb as being in violation of state laws for engaging in a type of Israeli boycott. Airbnb has 90 days to respond, or else it will be blacklisted by the state.

“This is a watershed moment for anti-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] laws in America,” a former Illinois official told the Free Beacon. “If I’m an investor looking at a possible IPO next year, this is very worrisome.”

On Tuesday night, the town commission for Surfside, which is located in Miami-Dade County, voted unanimously to condemn Airbnb as being in violation of its contract with the town, according to Bal Harbour Mayor Gabe Groisman:

According to StandWithUs, Vice Mayor Daniel Gielchinsky introduced the resolution, stating: “Let’s make South Florida a shining light and beacon of truth, good and love prevailing over hatred, evil and hypocrisy throughout the world!”

“BDS is a campaign disguised as anti-Semitism,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to speak up against hate and condemn this actions Airbnb from city hall to the Governor’s mansion. We applaud the efforts of the Vice Mayor and Governor-elect [Ron] DeSantis. We urge other cities, counties and states to follow their lead.”

DeSantis has said that he will determine if Airbnb is in violation of the state’s anti-BDS laws.

The city of Beverly Hills has also condemned Airbnb’s decision as an example of “hatred, prejudice, ignorance and hypocrisy.”

Airbnb did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment at publication time.

Kentucky Becomes 26th State to Adopt Anti-BDS Policy

Kentucky became the 26th state to prevent their state government from entering into contracts with companies that engage in boycotts of Israel.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) signed the executive order barring the Israel boycotts on Thursday; the executive order states that “Israel is a critical and invaluable ally” that is singled out by “a boycott that threatens its sovereignty and security.”

The executive order also calls the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement discriminatory that “serves to inflame conflict” and lauds the nearly $85 million in goods and services that trade with Israel provides the state of Kentucky.

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky should take action to protect its trade relationships, and thereby the welfare of its citizens and economy, and to renounce restrictive trade practices based upon discrimination, such as the BDS movement,” the executive order states.

Bevin said in a statement, “We will not allow state resources to benefit entities that intentionally engage in discriminatory practices to harm the sovereignty and economic prosperity of any ally nation.”

“Today’s executive order makes it clear that Kentucky condemns the BDS movement and that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friend, Israel,” Bevin added.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said in front of the state capitol that BDS is an anti-Semitic movement because it treats “the Jewish people by a different standard than you treat other people around the world.”

StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement sent to the Journal via email, “The fact that over half the states have adopted anti-BDS legislation is a blow to the bigoted BDS campaign. States and the American people are sending a clear message: doing business with companies which engage in discriminatory conduct against the only Jewish state in the world which is also an American ally and trading partner is not in our best interests, not in Israel’s interests and certainly not in the interest of peace.”

“We welcome the Bluegrass state’s partnership with Israel, the Blue Star state,” Rothstein added.

Meet the Israelis Who Expose Our Country’s True Face

Courtesy of StandWithUs

This is the 11th year of one of my personal favorite projects to battle bigotry and modern-day anti-Semitism – the “Israeli Soldiers Tour. ”This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.

In this tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, 14 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students travel the United States and speak on campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches, etc. They recount their personal experiences of serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code while fighting an enemy that hides behind its civilians.

They also present their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer questions. “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” puts a human face to the IDF uniform, and by doing so, trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.

Two of the participants of this year’s tour, Chen and Omri, agreed to let us in this emotional, exciting, life-changing experience, and answer some questions:

Chen, 24, was born and raised in Jerusalem to a family of longtime Jerusalemites.  Her family fled anti-Semitism, one side in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition, and the other from Yemen.

After high school, Chen participated in a pre-military program where she volunteered with at-risk youth in Sderot, a city along the Gaza border. During Operation Pillar of Defense, Chen decided to stay under the threat of rocket fire to help the youth both mentally and physically.  She served as a Navigation Instructor in the IDF, responsible for teaching soldiers to read maps and navigate in the field. Today, Chen studies Political Science and Israel Studies at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Omri is 28 years old. His mother is of Eastern European descent and his father’s family is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Omri grew up in central Israel in the town of Rishon LeZion. He now lives in Beer Sheva and studies Computer Engineering at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

At 18, Omri began a 6-year stint in the Israeli Air Force as a pilot cadet, and he later transferred to “Yahalom” a special combat engineering unit, as a bomb technician. While in the IDF he participated and commanded missions in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and on the northern border, defusing missiles, explosive belts, and booby traps.

Following his military service he enrolled at the Ein-Prat Beit Midrash, an intensive Jewish learning programs for secular and religious Israelis in their twenties. After completing his studies Omri traveled around Central and South America.

Q:  What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Chen: Despite of all its inner conflicts, at the end of the day, it’s the most united place for me.  Israel is the only place in the world that I can truly call home.

I grew up in a house with Israel deeply embedded in our roots because my family lived here for many generations before the country was even established.

It was important to me that audiences understand that deep connection, and the relations among the people and what brings us all together as a nation.

Omri: Israel is the most normal-crazy place on earth.

On the one hand, we live our daily lives just like the American people: studying, working and focusing on having fun.   On the other, we put our life on hold for 3 years after high school in order to protect our borders by enlisting in the army.

I think I’m passing this message by just being me. I’m trying to show that Israel is not just a headline you see in the media.  It’s a real place with real people and real stories. When students see that I dress like them, watch Netflix like them, but I served in the army and dealt with bombs and some dangerous stuff. they get the message.

Q:  Walk us through the Israeli Soldiers Tour – how do you prepare? What does the tour look like?

Omri: The SWU (StandWithUs) Israel crew helped us develop our speeches, explained how to respond to friendly and hostile questions and how to properly approach Americans – they’re a bit different from Israelis, you know.

Our daily routine was 2-3 events a day in different locations. We told our stories about Israel and IDF to whoever wants to listen – Jews, Christians, Muslims, high schools, colleges, universities, local communities, synagogues and churches.  In our spare time we get acquainted with American culture. We travel the cities, eat American junk food and watch football.

I was very excited about the tour. The opportunity to meet a lot of new people and influence them seemed magical to me.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

I was happy to visit USA for the first time and explore a lot of new cities and culture that till now I’ve only saw at the movies.

My expectations from the tour partly matched the tour itself. In the good scenario, I thought we are going to talk to people who never heard about Israel and in the bad case, heard  lies about it.

I was surprised to see that we have a lot of events with only a Jewish crowd. After several conversations, I understood the relevance of those events. Jews who aren’t living in Israel experience life way differently than we do – it’s much harder to keep your Jewish identity abroad.

When we tell them about Israel, they sometime envy us and really start thinking about “Aliya” – it always comes up.

Israelis tend to take things for granted. The support of the Jewish people around the world, and the USA in particular, must not take for granted. The support we get from American Jews is vital for Israel thriving, from all aspects. There are also a lot of amazing programs in Israel that are being funded by our friends abroad.

To sum up, I understood the importance of that connection and I was glad that I could make it stronger.

Q: Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Chen: We were protested at Oregon State University (OSU) by members of the BDS campaign. They entered the classroom with signs saying things such as, ‘End the Occupation’ and ‘Israel is committing genocide.’  They stood in front of the screen, blocking our PowerPoint presentations.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

At first, we tried to talk to them, but they refused to move; eventually we decided to continue anyway.  They heard our stories, and at the end, asked us all their questions. We really created a dialogue. The amazing thing was that it felt like they were actually listening, and although they objected to some of our answers, there were some things they were truly surprised to hear.

We could tell that they began to realize that there may be more to this than they believe and some things they didn’t know.  It was really a memorable moment because it felt like we really made a difference, that we tried and succeeded in creating a dialogue and breaking many of the misconceptions they held.

Also, the rest of the audience thanked us for that dialogue and said they learned a lot.  Jewish students relayed that after hearing us, they feel better equipped on how to deal with these campus groups.

Stanford University’s Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) protesters weren’t there to listen.  They completely disrespected us and were only there to call us liars and murderers. They laughed at us and kept interfering when we tried to answer their questions.

I think that everyone has the right to have their own opinion, but these people don’t know the first thing about the Israeli reality. As someone who grew up around Jerusalem and the West Bank, and lived next to the Gaza border for a year under threat of rockets, it’s absurd when JVP members try to tell me what my reality is.

They have no idea what Israel sometimes has to deal with, and the terrible terror that sometimes affects our life…and, they don’t even care.  They see only one side and completely disregard the other, and that’s wrong.


Omri: Shabbat dinner. Friday night. Beit Chabad. Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Maya and I just told our experience in the army in a very intimate event – about 10 Jewish students from the local university.

We share about the Israeli-Palestine conflict from a personal point of view. We end by wishing for peace between the two people.

Right after we conclude, the Rabbi started singing…quietly…alone..

עוד יבוא שלום עלינו, עוד יבוא  שלום עלינו, עוד יבוא שלום עלינו ועל כולם…

(One day, peace will come to us and to everyone)

Then, he raised his voice a bit, and the whole group joined in while banging on the table.

סאלאם, עלינו ועל כל העולם, סאלאם, סאלאם..

(Salam (peace in Arabic) upon us and for all of the world.)

The rhythm of that classic song shook my soul, it felt more relevant now than ever. Our message for peace was successfully delivered.

Q: Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?

Omri: As I mentioned, I am aiming for anyone who wants to listen.  I am aiming for people who want to challenge their thoughts – those who aren’t rigid in their ideas and want to hear a different opinions and different point of views.

Chen: It’s about reaching anyone who will listen.  It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or not, if they are pro-or-anti-Israel, in between or just didn’t care that much.

It is important that they know that the media doesn’t necessarily provide all the information, or sometimes not even the truth, and that there is so much more to Israel than they may know.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

Q:  What are people still missing when looking at Israel from the outside?

Chen: One of the most important things is that Israel is more than just what they see or read regarding the conflict.  It has such great culture, people, views, economy and so much more.  Sometimes, people forget to look at it as any other modern country such as their own.  Sadly, sometimes Israel must deal with a difficult reality – but that’s only part of what it is.

At the end of the day, I think that most people don’t necessarily know Israel’s reality in the conflict – they look at it from only one angle without realizing that there are always two sides to a story.  Also, people tend to regard things as “black or white,” and the Israeli story has so many different layers.  It’s much more complex than people sometimes think – one story or one fact can never really encapsulate everything.

Omri: They’re probably missing the whole picture.

It’s easy to choose a side and stick to it, especially when the press reporting from the borders twists the reality and fake news fill the social media like a swirling, out-of-control hurricane.

An outsider viewing Israel likely thinks that it is a war zone.  But, they’re missing the fun parts – our beautiful beaches, amazing ancient cities and history, delicious food and incredible people!

Q: How can we contribute to the battle against modern antisemitism and Israel’s delegitimization?

Chen: We can battle against delegitimization through education.  Once individuals have more knowledge, society will be better.  Knowledge is power.  Once people explore different sources of information than just what they see in the news, they will begin to see the other side and the complexity of the issues.

Omri: The first thing that you already did is to read this blog! Half way to go!

The most important thing is to be actively involved. Stand up and defend Israel, don’t let issues pass right you by.

Personally, I believe in education. Spread the truth about Israel, show the good and bad – we’re not perfect, but nor is anyone else. Deliver our realty as it is without any propaganda.  When people know more and are less misinformed, they will fight antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel on their own.

And, you can always ask the StandWithUs team for programs and activities in the USA, Israel, Canada, the UK and Latin America. There’s a lot of good people there that deal with these issues on a daily base.

Q: How can you tell a tour was successful? What are your indicators?

Chen: Having so many people from different places and different ages – teens, collage students or community members – asking questions and being involved and interested in Israel. At the conclusions part of our talks, hearing their reactions and their thoughts about Israel, made me feel as if we really managed to reach them and that our stories touched them.

Omri: My main indicator is the people. After each event, we’re being approached by many people who want to thank us and ask us many personal questions. You can really feel the you’ve affected someone and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Q: This is now the 11th tour. Looking at the past 10 years, do you think the attempts to delegitimize Israel and the wave of modern-day antisemitism is decreasing? 

Omri: This is my first tour, and my first encounter with the American people in America. So it’s hard for me to feel the difference.

That being said, I can feel the wind of change after each and every talk. I can feel the young students, that might never have spoken to an Israeli or even a Jewish person, enlightened  by our meeting.

In my opinion, the roots of modern-day antisemitism is ignorance. There is no place for that in the 21th century.  It’s a process, it might take time, but in the end, knowledge will overcome it.

Michael Dickson, Executive Director StandWithUs- Israel:

“There is no silver bullet for Antisemitism – we expect it to continue. What is important is that we are constantly aware of how the threat metamorphoses. The attempts to delegitimize the world’s only Jewish country remain and they morph into anti-Semitism. 

The ‘Israeli Soldiers Tour’ was created years ago by students in our Fellowship program incensed by the lies being told about the IDF and asked us to confront it.  It continues to grow and the impact the multitude of speaking engagements and interactions these Israeli young adults have – in addition to their online following – is at its peak.  One of the best antidotes to BDS is for people to interact with Israelis – in many cases it is the first time they ever met one – and realize they are just like them.”

Pro-Israel Groups Urge U-Mich to Crack Down on Academic Boycotts

Photo from Flickr.

Pro-Israel groups StandWithUs, The Lawfare Project and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, penned a letter to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the university’s board of regents, urging the administration to crack down on academic boycotts of Israel among faculty members.

The letter, which has been obtained by the Journal, began by acknowledging the university’s condemnation of anti-Israel boycotts and disciplining Professor John Cheney-Lippold for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel. However, the groups were discouraged that the university will not commit to a thorough investigation of such academic boycotts.

“It seems highly likely that other students have been affected by the political positions espoused––and adopted–– by these individuals in a way that would be discriminatory under your now-enumerated policy,” the letter states.

Other tactics used in academic boycotts of Israel include rejecting academic events that are in anyway affiliated with Israel, programs at Israeli institutions and speeches given by Israeli officials.

“We are concerned that faculty may advance the academic boycott at their students’ expense without any accountability or oversight,” the letter states. “For example, a student may spend countless hours under faculty supervision researching and drafting a scholarly paper with a goal of publication, only to have the faculty member refuse to review the final product because the student chooses to publish the article in a journal based at or in collaboration with an Israeli university.”

The letter noted that there was recently a town hall on campus that was sponsored by university academic departments and promoted the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“In light of this report, we are deeply concerned that these faculty may take further steps in support of BDS that discriminate against and disadvantage pro-Israel and Jewish students,” the letter stated. “Without a broad institutional commitment to combating the effects of BDS activism by professors and academics at the University of Michigan, students will be left with little recourse.”

The letter concluded, “It is imperative that your administration clarify its current policy to reflect zero-tolerance for faculty discrimination and efforts to limit student educational opportunities––whether the conduct is inspired or advanced by BDS or by any other discriminatory movement or government. In particular, it is vital that university policy spell out the potential ramifications for faculty who interfere with a student’s academic privileges and/or opportunities based on that faculty member’s personal political views–– and not based on the student’s academic merit.”

Movers & Shakers Rep. Royce Honored, Israeli Soldiers Tour

From left: StandWithUs (SWU) Southwest Campus Coordinator Charline Delkhah; SWU Southwest High School Coordinator Kate Chavez; IDF reservists Linda and Ron; SWU High School Intern Yael Gluck; YULA Israel Advocacy Club Presidents Meital Gershov and Yonah Berenson and YULA Girls High School faculty member Menachem Hecht at Young Israel of Century City. Photo Courtesy of StandWithUs

About 120 high school students heard Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists Linda and Ron at the Oct. 14 kickoff event for the YULA Israel Advocacy Club at Young Israel of Century City (YICC).  

Linda and Ron were part of the Israeli Soldiers Tour organized by the group StandWithUs, which features reservists who reveal their personal experiences serving in the IDF. The tour runs from Oct. 14–28 throughout North America.

“The stories of participants have never been told. They share their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer tough questions, putting a human face on the IDF uniform,” StandWithUs said in a statement.

Both soldiers, whose last names of were withheld for security purposes, spoke about anti-Semitism. 

Ron, 26, said he faced it while competing as a triathlete in countries where he had to hide his identity, including the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  

Linda, 23, said she was drawn to Israel’s democracy and diversity, especially in the IDF, and made aliyah to find security in Israel from the anti-Semitism she experienced in Venezuela.

Linda serves in the social welfare unit, which takes care of the financial and social needs of soldiers. 

Yael Gluck, the 2018-19 StandWithUs high school intern at YULA Girls High School, arranged the talk, which was organized to prepare students for the challenges regarding Israel they may face at universities and in their communities.  Delivering remarks, YICC senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin stressed that students need to address these challenges through “participation.”  

Also attending the event was Menachem Hecht, director of Israel education at YULA Girls High School and YULA Israel Advocacy Club adviser.  

Linda and Ron also spoke at Milken Community Schools during a visit arranged by StandWithUs high school intern Nicole Bardi.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks presents Congressman Ed Royce with the Ronald Reagan Leadership Award.
Courtesy of Republican Jewish Coalition

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), at its 2018 California Bash on Oct. 15 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, featured a tribute and farewell to retiring Republican Congressman Ed Royce of Fullerton, whom the organization called “a great friend of the RJC and of Israel.” 

“It was a wonderful evening of friendship, unity and love of our great country,” the RJC said in a statement. “Our thanks to all of the featured guests and to the hundreds of RJC members and friends who joined us for this special event!”

Royce, who serves California’s 39th District and chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was presented with the RJC’s Ronald Reagan Leadership Award. Royce announced in January he would not seek re-election this November.

The sold-out evening featured speakers and special attendees, who included Donald Trump Jr.; Kimberly Guilfoyle, vice chair of America First Action, a super PAC dedicated to electing federal candidates who support the Trump administration; Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel; and conservative activist Charlie Kirk, founder of the nonprofit Turning Point USA.

Also participating was Bishop Robert Stearns, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron, who gave the invocation.

Anna Cave, director of the Ferencz International Justice Initiative at the USHMM’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.
Courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) held a screening of the new documentary “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz,” at the Pacific Theaters at The Grove on Oct. 10.

More than 300 guests viewed the film and participated in a post-screening discussion led by Anna Cave, director of the Ferencz International Justice Initiative at the USHMM’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and Ben Ferencz, 99, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

Barry Avrich, the producer and director of the film, also participated in the program. 

“Prosecuting Evil,” which debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, tells the story of Ferencz and his lifelong advocacy for justice for victims of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Ferencz has been involved with USHMM since its creation 25 years ago. He has donated his personal archives to the museum, which include 500,000 pages of documentation, and funded the Ferencz International Justice Initiative at the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center. 

In 2015, he received the museum’s highest honor, the Elie Wiesel Award, for his work holding Nazi perpetrators accountable for their actions, and his advocacy for Holocaust survivors and other victims of genocide.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Nina Hachigian, deputy mayor for international affairs for the city of Los Angeles, appeared at the L.A. Clippers’ preseason game against Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club.
Courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles

Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club played the Los Angeles Clippers in an exhibition game on Oct. 11 at Staples Center. Maccabi Haifa was not much competition for the NBA’s Clippers, who won, 124-76. 

Before tipoff, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Tova Litvin sang “Hatikvah.”

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg was among those who attended the game, along with several staff members of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Also in attendance were Nina Hachigian, deputy mayor for international affairs for the city of Los Angeles; and students from Los Angeles High School and the school’s Principal Travis Brandy, who were invited by the consulate and the city of Los Angeles. 

 “This game is not only a celebration of the U.S.-Israel relationship, but also of our common values and love for sports and competition,” Grundwerg said.

From left: Craig Prizant, Michael Rosenfeld, Glorya Kaufman and Brian Wickersham attended the groundbreaking for a new theater building at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services.
Courtesy of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services

Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services President and CEO Nancy Tallerino, Board Chair Laurie Konheim and Vice President of Development and Marketing Craig Prizant gathered on Oct. 11 to offer gratitude to philanthropist Glorya Kaufman, whose gift will fund a new theater building and dance program for the facility. 

The Glorya Kaufman Performing Arts Center, designed by AUX Architecture’s Brian Wickersham and contractor Turelk, is scheduled to be completed in fall 2019. It will have a 300-seat theater and rehearsal space. 

Vista Del Mar’s Jewish Life Programs, which serve children with autism and other special needs, will enjoy a home on the site.

Kaufman’s lifelong love for and involvement with dance, coupled with her family’s tradition of giving, has translated into her philanthropic support for dance and caring for the disadvantaged. Kaufman’s gift is part of a Vista Del Mar philanthropy initiative focused on raising funds for the organization’s therapeutic programs. 

“I feel extremely privileged to have the life that I have and the means to make a difference in the lives of others,” Kaufman said in a statement.

Vista Del Mar’s Theater Arts Program students performed a drumming and dance piece.

Originally founded as the Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California, Vista Del Mar serves more than 5,000 disadvantaged children and families in Los Angeles each year.

Want to be in Movers & Shakers? Send us your highlights, events, honors and simchas. Email 

Jewish Groups Call for Disciplinary Action Against Michigan Professor

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Myriad Jewish groups are calling for University of Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold to be disciplined for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel.

In a Friday letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative, 58 Jewish groups, including World Jewish Congress, The Lawfare Project and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, said that recent statements from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the university were insufficient.

“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible. Individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel,” the letter states. “But when faculty like Prof. Cheney-Lippold go as far as implementing the boycott’s guidelines by taking action to suppress students’ ability to travel to or study about Israel, they have abrogated the most basic professorial responsibility of promoting the academic welfare of their students.

“Such discriminatory behavior that impedes the rights of students must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of university policy.”

The letter added that the Wednesday statement from the university, saying they were “disappointed” in Cheney-Lippold, but didn’t actually condemn Cheney-Lippold’s actions and gave credence to the various opinions held by professors at the university.

“Both your omission and inclusion give the impression that individual U-M professors will be permitted by your administration to discriminate against students wanting to study about and in Israel,” the letter states. “This is deeply alarming, given that there are at least two dozen U-M faculty members in a number of departments who have expressed public support for the academic boycott of Israel, including seven faculty members currently serving as chairs and directors of U-M academic departments and programs. Left unaddressed, this isolated incident could lead to unchecked discrimination, and the denial to students of their fundamental rights.”

Additionally,  in a Friday press release, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for the Department of Education to investigate the matter, as well as for the university to discipline in the professor.

“This goes well beyond criticizing Israel, disagreeing with Israeli policy or even a personal boycott of Israel, which is despicable but a protected right,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said. “Jewish students are being punished for their affinity with Israel. In denying the letter of recommendation purely on his dislike of Israel and using a double standard to justify it, Cheney-Lippold has egregiously violated this young woman’s civil rights.”

Cooper asked if Cheney-Lippold would ever refuse to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in China or Pakistan, calling it “a gross hypocrisy.”

“Jewish students need protection from the likes of Cheney-Lippold and the academic bigotry he practices,” Cooper said. “University of Michigan and other great universities must hold anti-Semitic civil rights violators accountable for undermining the academy’s core mission.”

StandWithUs and Alums for Campus Fairness also sent a letter to Schlissel arguing that Cheney-Lippold should be disciplined based on the university’s policies.

“Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s email discriminates against Jewish students based on their religion, Israeli students based on their national origin and others at the University of Michigan who wish to study in Israel,” the letter states. “Furthermore, his refusal to write a letter of recommendation based on his support of a discriminatory academic boycott adversely affected a student’s education at the university. As you know, studying abroad is an enriching educational opportunity and a vital service offered to University of Michigan students. Mr. Cheney-Lippold is creating an ‘intimidating, hostile, [and] offensive’ education environment for this student, which unreasonably interferes with her’“participation in a University activity,’ in violation of university policy.”

Video: Israeli Child Recalls When Hamas Rockets Hit His Home

Screenshot from Twitter.

StandWithUs posted a video of an Israeli boy sharing the details of a Hamas rocket striking his home while he’s in a room with his dad, who was hospitalized in the strike.

The boy, identified in the video as Shalev Levy, said that when the first rocket alarm went off, he and his dad, Avi, stayed in a bomb shelter; when it ended Avi went outside.

Suddenly, another rocket alarm sounded and then Shalev heard a “boom.”

“When I went out to see what was happening, I saw that in my sister’s room there was a smoke and fire and I went to the living room and dad shouted and told me to leave the house quickly,” Shalev said. “When he said that I saw that his arm was bleeding.”

The video ends with Shalev saying that he used a cloth to bandage his father’s arm and then asked his neighbors for help.

According to the UK Guardian, Hamas and other Gaza terror group launched more than 180 projectiles into Israel; Israel has responded with 150 airstrikes into Gaza. Three Palestinians have died and numerous Israelis have been injured.

Hamas is claiming that there is a ceasefire agreement between them and Israel; Israel is denying this but acknowledged “that quiet would be met with quiet,” per the Times of Israel.

To get an idea of the constant barrage of threats those in southern Israel have to had to deal with lately:

Oshrit Sabag, who resides in Nahal Oz, told the Guardian, “We’re mostly scared that there will be another war. We’ve had tens of fires. Houses were burnt. Now rockets and mortar bombs. It’s chaos.”

South Carolina Becomes First State to Have Formal Definition of Anti-Semitism

Photo from Wikipedia.

South Carolina made history on July 6 when its state government officially adopted a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, the first state in the country to do so.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed a proviso stating South Carolina would adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which is as follows:

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The State Department also acknowledged that the delegitimization and demonization of Israel, as well as applying double standards to the Jewish state is also anti-Semitic.

The proviso was signed in order to help combat rising anti-Semitism on college campuses. Prior attempts to pass the law were met with resistance from organizations, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE), who were concerned that such law would infringe upon free speech.

However, the proviso merely works as a definition when it comes to targeted “harassment, assault, and vandalism,” StandWithUs argues.

“We have seen a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, according to the ADL. We have not seen a comparable increase in prosecutions for these crimes,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement. “Law enforcement and administrators are often left powerless to act because of an unclear definition of what anti-Semitism is.”

Rothstein added, “We need to define anti-Semitism in order to defeat it. Thankfully, South Carolina is leading the way.”

Back in May, a bipartisan bill was proposed in Congress to officially establish the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism at the federal level.

Moving & Shaking: LAJFF, Friends of IDF and More

From left: Stan Taffel; Tom Dreesen; L.A. Jewish Film Festival Founder and Director Hilary Helstein; Hal Linden and Manny Davis attend the opening night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival. Photo by Todd Felderstein.

The 13th annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) kicked off with a sold-out opening night gala on April 25 at the Ahrya Fine Arts theater.

The event paid tribute to the legendary African-American and Jewish entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and featured a screening of “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta
Be Me.”

The Sam Pollard-directed documentary examines the life and career of Davis, who was a child star, member of the Rat Pack and civil rights activist before his death in 1990 at the age of 64. Those interviewed in the film include Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Kim Novak and Jerry Lewis.

Speaking from a podium in the theater, LAJFF Director Hilary Helstein welcomed the crowd to the festival.

Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz presented Helstein with proclamations on behalf of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, respectively.

In an interview on the red carpet, Ken Davitian, co-star of the film “The Samuel Project,” said Davis transcended racial boundaries.

“He broke the barriers of these Black guys who could hang around with white guys [such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin] and they were actually having a ball,” Davitian said. “They had a fun time; they all had the talent; they were able to do stuff other people can’t do and they liked doing it with each other and it didn’t matter if it was an Italian guy or a Black guy.”

“Or a Jewish guy,” Helstein said, standing alongside Davitian.

“A Jewish Black guy,” Davitian said.

Rabbi Jerry Cutler of Creative Arts Temple described Davis as a “great man and a great entertainer.”

Local comedian Avi Liberman, whose film, “Land of Milk and Funny,” screened at the festival, said he has always appreciated Davis’s contributions to the arts. He called Davis “one of the greatest all-around performers ever.”

Additional attendees included actor Hal Linden, star of “The Samuel Project,” which premiered at the festival on April 28; George Schlatter, who produced the breakthrough series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”; Manny, Davis’ son with his widow, Altovise; and Kat Kramer, the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Kramer.

After the screening, Hollywood historian and Davis archivist Stan Taffel moderated a panel discussion.

The LAJFF is co-sponsored by Tribe Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal.

Friends of Israel Defense Forces Western Region President Tony Rubin and IDF Sgt. Yaniv attended a Yom HaZikaron celebration at the Saban Theatre. Photo by Positive Vibes Productions.

Approximately 1,000 members of the Los Angeles community gathered on April 17 at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre to commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), the Temple of the Arts and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles organized the community-wide night of remembrance, ahead of Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

“Over the last 70 years, we have faced countless challenges threatening our existence as an independent sovereign country,” Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg said. “In the face of current threats stands the Israel Defense Forces and the resilient nature of the Israeli people. Their courage and spirit guarantees the security and the continuity of our nation. We bow our heads because we know that Israel is here because of them.”

More than 50 local schools, synagogues and organizations partnered for this community event. The ceremony honored the memories of Israel’s fallen service members and paid tribute to the men and women in uniform who defend Israel and Jews around the world.

“As we prepare to celebrate 70 years of a strong and independent Israel, we must acknowledge that we are able to do so because of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of the IDF,” FIDF National Board Member and Western Region President Tony Rubin said. “Seven decades later, these heroes must continue to fight for the survival of the Jewish state. We are forever in their debt.”

An Israel Defense Forces sergeant led the community in praying for the safety of those in Israel and the men and women of the IDF. He mourned the 26,780 fallen soldiers and victims of terror by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Additional guests included L.A. Councilman David Ryu; Rubin’s wife, Linda; Temple of the Arts President James Blatt and FIDF Western Region Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

From left: Noah Pollak; Leah Yadegar; Yael Lerman; StandWithUs (SWU) President Esther Renzer; Professor Robbie Sabel and Jonathan Bell attend the inaugural SWU Legal Dinner. Photo by Dustin Thompson Photography.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem law professor Robbie Sabel delivered a lecture about how international law is on Israel’s side at the StandWithUs inaugural Legal Dinner on April 26.

Appearing at The Mark on Pico boulevard, Sabel told the audience that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is rooted in “a hatred of Jews” and that while the likes of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hamas and Hezbollah may not care about international law, international law does play an important role when it comes to defending Israel.

One such role for international law is that it gives Israel international legitimacy, as Sabel pointed out that it was a League of Nations agreement that helped lead to the Balfour Declaration in 1917.

“You won’t find a mention of this League of Nations agreement by propagandists,” Sabel said.

Sabel added that international law is important for negotiations, especially when it comes to particular phrases in agreements, citing particular wording in an agreement between Israel and Egypt that basically left the Gaza Strip as part of Israel during the time of the British Mandate.

On the issue of settlements, Sabel argued that they were actually legal under international law because international law states that occupation applies only when a country is occupying an “enemy state,” and there is no official Palestinian state.

“We’ve got to try and combat this attempt… to undermine Israel’s legitimacy,” Sabel said.

Also, StandWithUs thanked the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for providing a three-year grant of $75,000 each year to StandWithUs’s JD Fellowship program, which educates participants on how to use legal advocacy to advance the pro-Israel cause.

Pro-Israel activist Noah Pollak, StandWithUs President Esther Renzer and Director of StandWithUs’ J.D. Fellowship Program Leah Yadegar spoke at the dinner as well. Among those in attendance included Israeli-American Council Chairman Adam Milstein. 

Aaron Bandler, Contributing Writer

From left: On the occasion of Israel’s 70th birthday, Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch; Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; and Beverly Hills City Councilmembers Lili Bosse, Lester Friedman; and Robert Wunderlich celebrated the Israel-Beverly Hills partnership at Beverly Hills City Hall. Photo by Vince Bucci.

The city of Beverly Hills projected the U.S. and Israel flags on Beverly Hills City Hall in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day and in celebration of the city’s strong ties and support for the state of Israel.

“We thank the city of Beverly Hills for the amazing show of friendship and the unwavering support throughout the years,” Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg said during the April 18 ceremony.

Those in attendance included Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch; Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold; and Beverly Hills City Councilmembers Lili Bosse, Lester Friedman and Robert Wunderlich.

The relationship between the city of Beverly Hills and the State of Israel is multifaceted, including on water preservation, security and arts and culture. The city also has helped push back against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

That same day, a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration organized by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles at Santa Monica High School drew 1,100 people, including students from Gindi Maimonides Academy, Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, Yavneh Hebrew Academy, Emek Hebrew Academy, Shalhevet High School, YULA Boys and Girls High Schools and Harkham-GAON Academy.

“It is a privilege to speak to this audience in particular, because you are the next generation,” Grundwerg said, addressing the students. “You are the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.”

Pro-Israel Organizations Call On NYU President to Investigate Student Organizations Who Signed Anti-Israel Statement

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

StandWithUs and The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law issued a letter to New York University President Andrew Hamilton calling on him to investigate the over 50 clubs on campus who signed a statement calling for boycotts against Israel.

The anti-Israel statement, which was signed by the likes of NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) not only called for boycotts of Israeli goods, but also boycotts of pro-Israel clubs on campus due to supposed Israeli “occupation.”

“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), during which more than 700,000 Palestinians were violently expelled from their homes by Zionist militias, and of the establishment of the State of Israel, which continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing of Palestine to this day in the form of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights and brutal siege of Gaza,” the statement reads. “We support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement for Palestinian human rights as it is a non-violent method of resisting Israeli apartheid from abroad. We call on NYU to divest its holdings from companies and funds that are complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The letter from StandWithUs and the Brandeis Center denounced the statement for how it targets Jews.

“There are violations of NYU policy here, and conduct foreseeably undertaken in support of this statement could potentially violate state and federal law,” the letter states. “Moreover, it indicates a reprehensible joint effort to marginalize and stigmatize the Jewish student community at your university. We urge your administration to investigate this matter, and if violations of student conduct rules or applicable laws are found, discipline responsible organizations accordingly.”

The letter pointed out that the statement violates NYU policy, which prohibits discrimination of any kinds, and could violate state law, which prevents boycotts of people of “national origin.” There could also be a federal law violation, as the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stated in 2004 that Jewish students were protected from discrimination.

“This anti-Zionist statement, if not properly addressed by NYU’s administration, could create a hostile environment for students of Jewish and/or Israeli backgrounds on campus,” the letter states.

The letter concluded by calling for Hamilton to investigate the statement, denounce it and then provide training on how such anti-Zionism could lead to virulent anti-Semitism.

In an April 19 town hall, Hamilton condemned the BDS movement.

“The university will not participate in boycotting of academics based in Israel. We believe in academic freedom and the free flow of ideas,” Hamilton said. “Boycotting is antithetical to that vision.”

Hamilton has not responded to the Journal’s request for comment.

Empowering Student Activism

Sharren Haskel. Photo by Christina Mia Morales

Empowering high school and college students to fight anti-Semitism, combat the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and be pro-Israel activists is part of the lifeblood that is StandWithUS (SWU), the pro-Israel advocacy group.

It was also the main thrust of SWU’s Israel in Focus International Conference on Jan. 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport, which drew 550 attendees.

“You are part of a big experiment,” SWU co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein told the 350 students who attended, noting that this was the first year the organization had decided to combine its high school, college and BDS conferences under one roof.

Multiple sessions were held over the three-day conference, but journalists were barred from the strategy sessions. An SWU representative said this was done to allow attendees to speak freely and exchange ideas without the fear of their conversations appearing in the media.

While there were sessions geared specifically to students, there were plenty of opportunities for young people to mingle with other attendees. Harnessing that youthful energy has been a key to SWU’s growth since its inception in 2001. The organization has opened 18 offices worldwide and Rothstein has twice been named by The Jerusalem Post as one of the most influential Jews in the world.

“This is all of you, experiencing Israel, knowing the facts, knowing the truth and bringing them to your communities.” — Sharren Haskel

Many of the speakers at the conference were young and dynamic. The opening night plenary guest was Sharren Haskel, the 33-year old Likud Knesset member who sits on Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Haskel brought the room to its feet with her impassioned, nearly 30-minute speech in which she claimed that attacks on Israel are “really about anti-Semitism. Israel is just the excuse.”

Haskel spoke of how the Palestinians and their anti-Israel supporters are using a three-pronged plan to delegitimize Israel by attacking the country’s economy, history and reputation. She decried people who call Israel an apartheid and racist state, saying many are “uneducated people who have never been to the Middle East. The only way we can survive in this difficult region is by having strong allies, having communities standing together.”

Haskel said that while Israel sends its most “important and influential delegations to travel the world,” they are often seen as government agents spreading propaganda. “That’s why organizations like StandWithUs are so important,” she said. “This is all of you, experiencing Israel, knowing the facts, knowing the truth and bringing them to your communities, to your neighbors, to your school buddies. This is how you really fight this war. You [students] are holding this front.”

While asking students to stand on the front lines for Israel on campuses may seem a daunting task, SWU has programs for high school and college interns that help prepare them. A panel featuring a few of those interns highlighted just how powerful their voices can be.

Noga Even of Yavneh Academy in Dallas said that, after speaking on a panel about the Israeli army, she was approached by a woman who admitted knowing nothing about the army but who had a daughter Even’s age. “I told her, ‘Imagine if you lived in Israel now, your daughter would be drafted into the Israeli Defense forces,” Even said. “They defend a land about the size of New Jersey with boys and girls our age.” Even said the woman’s jaw dropped and she wanted to know how she could learn more about Israel and get involved in speaking up on its behalf.

Zoe Kurtz of Forsyth Country Day School in North Carolina said the most meaningful program she worked on was organizing a speaking date at her school for a young Arab-Israeli man. “He spoke about how he was taught to hate Israelis, but when he got a job in Tel Aviv and worked with Israelis, he realized what he had been taught was propaganda,” Kurtz said. Today, she said, he travels the world talking about what Israel is really like, “and how education is the pathway to peace between Arabs and Jews.”

The keynote speaker at the closing night ceremony was Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center who has been at the forefront of the legal fight against terrorism in Israel. She spoke about how social media — and Facebook in particular — is now being used as a weapon to incite Palestinian teenagers to stab Jews.

“The Israeli government tried to convince Facebook to tone down the rhetoric but they didn’t respond, so we decided to sue Facebook,” Darshan-Leitner said. Within 72 hours, 20,000 Israelis had joined the lawsuit. (“We ran the campaign on Facebook,” she quipped.) In addition to the injunction, Shurat HaDin filed a damages lawsuit against Facebook for $1 billion.

“We will not let Facebook sit in their ivory towers in Palo Alto when the blood is spilled on the streets of Jerusalem,” Darshan-Leitner said. “We get calls from terror victims on a daily basis who want to fight back, and we are dedicated to helping them. We have to fight terrorism the same way StandWithUs is fighting for the Jewish people of the State of Israel, because we don’t have any other choice.”

Moving & Shaking: Friends of ELNET, StandWithUs and More

From left: Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa; former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls; ELNET-Israel CEO David Siegel; Larry Hochberg, co-founder and chairman of the board at Friends of ELNET; and Ken Ruby, vice chairman at Friends of ELNET, attend the Friends of ELNET gala. Photo courtesy of Friends of ELNET

Friends of ELNET: European Leadership Network (FELNET), which supports the work of ELNET, an Israel advocacy organization devoted to improving the perception of Israel in Europe, raised more  than $800,000 at its Dec. 7 gala at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

The event featured a discussion between former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and David Siegel, chief executive officer of ELNET-Israel, with Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa moderating. Before the discussion, Valls delivered remarks about, among other things, anti-Semitism in France.

The approximately 200 attendees included Larry Hochberg, co-founder and chairman of FELNET; Ken Ruby, the organization’s vice chairman; Jonathan Boyer, West Coast director of FELNET; and philanthropists Stanley Black, Naty Saidoff and Annette Shapiro.

The event had been planned to take place at the Skirball Cultural Center but was moved to the Hilton because of last week’s Skirball Fire.

From left, top row: Adam Peri, Gal Hayon, Itay Shimoni, Ronen Gordon, Hush Paz and Kfir Melamed and (from left, bottom row), Noa Goren Zahavi, Gilat Rapaport and Liron Sela participated in the Base Band concert at American Jewish University. Photo by Linda Kasian

Base Band, a local musical group of Israeli musicians and singers, performed Israeli army band songs before a sold-out crowd at American Jewish University’s Gindi Auditorium. The Nov. 29 concert commemorated the Nov. 29, 1947, adoption of the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine.

“This show is meant not only for the Israeli community but for the Jewish-American communities who are familiar with the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] but are unfamiliar with the Israeli bands,” said Israeli musician Itay Shimoni, who formed the group with local Israeli singer Gilat Rapaport. “We want to bring them and their children closer to Israel through the songs of our country and give them a glimpse of the Israeli army culture life.”

Israeli army bands were popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Band members performed in military bases all over Israel in order to lift the morale of personnel. Sometimes they performed during lulls in the battle, when troops would regroup at the base. Their songs became part of the Israeli culture and some of Israel’s leading singers made their debut as singers in those groups.

Base Band was formed after Shimoni, who arrived in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, contacted Rapaport with the idea. The latter, who performed in such a band in the 1990s, immediately decided to join Shimoni in the project. The two managed to find young Israeli singers, including Gal Hayon, Liron Sela and Noa Goren Zahavi, each of whom immigrated in recent months to the United States.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

AJC honoree Marlene Grossman and her husband, Marshall (left), with
Dan Schnur, the director of the Los Angeles region of the American Jewish Committee. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles honored Marlene Grossman, an environmental advocate, urban planning expert and community organizer, with the Ira E. Yellin Community Leadership Award on Dec. 3 at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles. Her children, Leslie Bronson and Rodger Grossman, presented her with the award.

The Yellin Award, named in memory of former AJC regional president Ira E. Yellin, recognizes the accomplishments of outstanding civic, business and community leaders who have improved the quality of life in Los Angeles.

The keynote speaker was Erwin Chemerinsky, a nationally recognized constitutional lawyer and dean of the UC Berkeley Law School. He discussed protecting free speech on college campuses, combating hate crimes and how young attorneys can make a positive difference.

Yellin’s daughter, Jessica Yellin, a former chief White House correspondent for CNN, served as master of ceremonies.

AJC regional board members Marshall Grossman, the honoree’s husband, Marian Mann, Reeve Chudd, Phyllis and Bert Massing, Cathy and Len Unger and Adele Yellin, Ira’s widow, served as dinner chairs. Also in attendance were Dan Schnur, regional director of AJC; Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer; and City Councilwoman Nury Martinez.

About 40 people attended the inaugural Arq West Coast event in Venice. Photo by Danya Shults

The inaugural Arq West COAST event was held on Nov. 7at the Late Sunday Afternoon store in Venice. About 40 people attended the event organized by the lifestyle brand. Arq is designed to connect Jews and non-Jews to Jewish life and culture in a way that feels relevant and modern.

Founder Danya Shults, a public relations and marketing consultant, considers herself “Jew-ish,” noting on the Arq website that she read “ ‘Macbeth’ in Hebrew at Jewish day school, made out with a Jewfroed counselor in the red gazebo at a Jewish summer camp, and sang Shabbat songs around the piano every week with her Zionist mother, yarmulke-wearing father and siblings.”

The roots for Arq came about when Shults created “Pop-Up Shabbat,” potluck dinners for people in New York. Last year, Shults expanded the concept to include personal meet-ups that included community gatherings, retreats, couples’ salons, along with a website and a weekly newsletter called the “Ish.”

Shults and her husband moved to Los Angeles several months ago and launched Arq locally. Shults told the Journal that Arq is “less about specific age or background. We aim to be inclusive for people seeking something that is accessible.”

In that spirit, the event began with participants discussing with a partner questions such as: When have you fallen and gotten up again? Who helped you? What’s a cause that riles you up or that you have been an advocate for? What’s something that you need help with right now?

Chaplain Dina Kuperstock then spoke about the story of Noah’s ark and God’s promise to never destroy the world again, and she asked everyone to take part in a meditation session focusing on the notion that everyone has the power to find light and a spark in the darkest of times.

Shults said Arq’s events are a way for people not only to connect but to also come together during difficult times. “The political situation has been really tough,” she said. “There’s been violence and natural disasters. I don’t want to be a downer, but these things are in everyone’s Facebook feeds.”

To that end, she said, Arq’s mission to help people connect “is one of the key antidotes to the stress and anxiety and panic and fear that comes from all of this.”

Kelly Hartog, Contributing Writer 

From left: StandWithUs Festival of Lights honorees Alon and Rosana Miller and Dina and Fred and Leeds; keynote speaker Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations; Roz and Jerry Rothstein, CEO and COO of StandWithUs; and Michael Dickson, executive director StandWithUs-Israel, at the Beverly Hilton. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

The StandWithUs (SWU) Festival of Lights gala dinner, which was held on Dec. 10 at the Beverly Hilton, raised more than $3 million for the pro-Israel education organization.

The evening program honored Dina and Fred Leeds and Rosana and Alon Miller.

It also recognized Kfir Itzhaki, 28, with the Guardian of Israel Award, and Yahya Mahamid, 20, with the Star of David Award.

In November 2015, Itzhaki stopped a stabbing rampage by a 19-year-old terrorist from Hebron, who attacked an 80-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man. Ithaki chased the attacker and held him down until police arrived. A specialist in the Krav Maga fighting system, Ithaki told the 1,000 people at the gala that he knew he was risking his life but didn’t hesitate.

“I was raised by the Torah value that says, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.’ I don’t think it’s only your right but your duty to stop a terrorist from hurting other people.”

Mahamid, meanwhile, is an Israeli-Arab Zionist and SWU educator who has been touring the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, speaking at campuses, synagogues and high schools. Born in Umm El-Fahm, Mahamid said he was indoctrinated from childhood to hate Israel and Jews, but that things changed after he got a job as a busboy in a Tel Aviv hotel and found that Israelis were nice to him.

When three Jewish boys were kidnapped and later murdered in the West Bank, Mahamid posted their photos on Facebook. He said his friends and community didn’t take it well. “I started receiving death threats, but it didn’t stop me,” he said during his speech. “We must stand against hate and always show our love and support to the State of Israel.”

Mahamid plans to join the Israel Defense Forces upon his return to Israel, although Israeli Arabs are not required to join the army.

Roz Rothstein, chief executive officer and co-founder of SWU, discussed the work the organization has done for the past 16 years.

“SWU was created to fight against anti-Semitism and educate people around the world of all ages and faiths about Israel,” she said. “Based on what we are seeing today, it was timely and visionary that we began the organization, that we did not wait for someone else to do the work we do.”

Former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold, the keynote speaker, praised President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a national holiday for the Jewish people,” he said.

Comedian Elon Gold was the master of ceremonies.

Debbie and Naty Saidoff and Ellie and Bruce Lederman underwrote the event.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

You need to listen to what these 2 IDF soldiers have to say

What would you do if you were given the chance to change one of the world’s most disturbing misconceptions and deceptions?

StandWithUs’ (SWU) tenth “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST) recently came to conclusion, when six teams of two reservist IDF soldiers returned home, after touring throughout the United States from October 22 – November 5.  These twelve reservists spoke at more than 170 campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches and community centers, reaching tens of thousands with their stories and millions through conventional and social media.

Israeli Soldiers Tour” puts a “human face” on the IDF uniform. The main purpose of this tour is to give people a perspective about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the reality of living in Israel by relating their personal experiences during Israel’s Operations against Hamas in Gaza, interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank and serving on checkpoints and on the Gaza border, protecting Israel’s southern cities from rocket attacks.

They also share their backgrounds, struggles, successes, describe life in Israel and answer questions, the tougher the better.  Their stories have never been heard before and their last names are withheld for security purposes.


Because Israel has to constantly defend itself, military service is mandatory here, and young 18 year olds must enlist once graduating high school; men serve for 3 years and women for 2.

“Israelife” caught up with Itamar, who toured the South and Shir who toured the Midwest after the tour to gain their insights about speaking in the U.S.

Itamar, 25, is from Pardess Hana-Karkur, a small town in Northern Israel. Now living in Kibbutz Magal, he studies Education and Political Science at Oranim College. For the last 4 years, Itamar has worked in informal education on a Kibbutz, and has served as Head of the At-Risk Youth department in the Menashe Municipality.

Itamar served in the intelligence forces of the IDF in a classified unit. During his military service, Itamar consistently dealt with the complicated encounters between soldiers and Palestinian civilians

Together with Ilan Lopez, director StandWithUs Latin America, Itamar met with the Jewish community in Mexico prior to touring the South. Ilan joined the southwest team.

Shir, 26, grew up in Gush-Katif settlement in Gaza until the disengagement in 2005. Today she lives in the southern Israeli village of Beer-Ganim, and studies Law at the College of Management Law School.

Shir served in the Israel Defense Forces as a First Lieutenant in the ground forces as a “war room” operator on the northern border with Gaza, where she continues to serve as a reservist.  Shir took part in two operations against Hamas in Gaza as an officer – “Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Protective Edge” in 2014.

Shir volunteered in Africa with children, as a part of the Colman Student Union delegation.  She works as an Administrative-Legal Director at “Tmura center – The Legal Center for the promotion of equality” – representing victims of discrimination and various biases.

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

Shir: It’s important to let people hear information that is different from the information they’re used to receiving. People should be able to choose what they think about certain issues, and in order to do so they need to have different opinions. In addition, students on campus struggle in a difficult arena in which they hear about Israel in negative contexts – we are there to show a different, more positive side.

Itamar: I believe that telling our stories in campuses can create a dialogue, especially when sometimes people are given only one side and not the full picture. Things are more complicated than the media sometimes portrays.  I think that the opportunity of sharing our own personal experience, will encourage students to explore and ask more questions. It will help them realize that although the reality in our region is complex and despite everything Israelis have been through, we believe in education which is the key that can make a difference for the future.


What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Itamar:  Israel to me and to my family is a safe haven. My family arrived here from Europe and from Morocco and Yemen after suffering from persecution. I always knew, that in the state of Israel we’ll be safe.

My country is a place where each population can feel safe, no matter where they are from or what religion they practice.  Israel to me is a place where I can express my opinions, and where I feel that if I need anything, everybody will help me.

Shir: My heart and the craziest and yet sanest place I know.


Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Itamar: One of the most exciting events that we had, was in Houston, Texas.  We met Pastor Becky (Keenan) of Gulf Meadows Church and spoke to a combined Spanish and English Israel class she conducts weekly.  We then joined congregants and volunteers and helped people who are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. It was an amazing experience; we met a community that loves Israel, supports the Jewish community there and prays for Israel.  I wish we had more time to stay with them.

Here is Kayla and I:


Shir:  When we spoke with law students at one of the universities. In the last row sat four anti-Israel students with laptops who attacked us with masses of twisted and misinformation about the conflict, and the way that Israel behaves.  My tour partner Carlos and I calmly, fluently and professionally answered all the accusations – until they had no words left. I felt that we didn’t need to hide behind a computer and masses of information – I have the truth by my side, and that’s all I need.

What is your advice for people reading this interview, who also want to join the battle against the Israel delegitimization campaign currently taking over social media? 

Shir: Know the facts, research the subject you are talking about, know the twisted narrative of the other side – and always be critical towards any information you receive. If you are not an expert in a particular field or unsure of the facts – just say so. Correcting a wrong and false statement is more difficult than holding back.

Itamar:  My advice is to share as much as you can.

Unfortunately the social media campaign is huge, but on the other hand, it’s up to us to share and educate for the truth. Some people just see the headline or a short video without seeing the bigger picture. I think it’s our responsibility to have the answers and explain what it really means to boycott Israel – the technology that everyone uses, factories that hire Palestinians, and more important, our values as a democracy.


Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself? 

Itamar: I believe that if something happened once, it can always happen again. But I know that the only way that it won’t, is if we keep remembering and never forgetting what happened to the Jewish people throughout history. We need to educate the next generation that keeping our country safe, and learning about history is the key for saving our people.  It will also help us be responsive to people around the world who need our help because we’ll be able to identify with them.

Shir: Depends on what aspect. Could the Jews be threatened at this level again? Probably. Will we reach a situation similar to the Holocaust?  Never, because we have a country and a strong moral army. Such a situation could never be repeated.


How do you believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved?

Itamar: I believe in dialogue. We don’t have a partner for peace because they don’t educate for hope or for co-existence. When I watch how the summer camps in Gaza teach children to fight Israel, it’s hard to believe it. But we have to. I want to believe that the Palestinian leadership we’ll decide to stop this, and will prepare its people for similar values of peace and hope. I know that I will keep educating the kids I work with for hope. We should not give up. I believe that the next generation will find a solution, and it’s our job and their job to educate in a way that will allow a true dialogue.

Shir: Through education. By bringing the two peoples closer together, by stopping being afraid of the other side. Through more programs that bring the two peoples together, and that enable a dialogue with the other side, rather than distance and separation.



Meet the Israelis Who Battle Bigotry and Ignorance

This is the 9th year of the “Between The Lines: Voices From Israel: Stories Untold” tour (formerly the “Israeli Soldiers Tour”.) This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.


This tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, brings 12 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students to thousands on North American campuses, high schools, churches (including Hispanic), synagogues, community events and through the media.


During the tour, they related their personal experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code, often in the face of an enemy that hides behind its civilians.  Their stories from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria have never been heard before.


StandWithUs “Between The Lines” tour puts a human face to the IDF uniform, thus trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.


Itay and Ilan (Last names are withheld for security purposes) have recently returned back home from their tour, and agreed to share their experiences, the good and the bad, with us.


Itay is studying political science and communications at Bar Ilan University. He served in the IDF for five years as a human resources officer. His most recent role was in the Medical Corps where he continues to serve in his reserve duty.


One of Itay’s roles was to coordinate the construction of a field hospital to treat those wounded in the Syrian conflict. In addition to his studies, Itay works for the Ministry of Tourism as an assistant spokesperson and social media manager. In 2015, he participated in the Israeli delegation to South Korea as a part of the “Intergovernmental Youth Exchange Program.”


Ilan extended his Israeli Soldiers tour by speaking to Latino groups in Miami, Florida and then, in Mexico.  Born in Venezuela, he moved to Israel in 2010.  Ilan’s father is a Christian Venezuelan and his mother is the daughter of a Holocaust refugee. His home, education and life have always been an example of multiculturalism and coexistence.


Ilan served in the Humanitarian and Civil Affairs Unit in the IDF, also known as COGAT. During his service, Ilan worked with Palestinian civilians and representatives in projects focused on improving the life of Palestinian families.


Itay spoke in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest together with Yuval.  Ilan, who is also Director of StandWithUs Espanol and Mark traveled the Southeast.  The reservists were met by inquisitive audiences and an array of questions about Israel and the IDF.  But, every year, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stage a protest and for the second time, the University of Georgia was the target.  Ilan and Mark persevered and The Atlanta Jewish Times was present.

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Israeli-American students in the IAC Mishelanu group at UGA welcome two IDF veterans to campus Feb. 21. Via Atlanta Jewish Times

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?



It’s important to know what the IDF is REALLY all about: people who are defending their country but at the same time willing to help and treat anybody who needs it –- even people we may consider to be our enemies or they may consider us to be their enemies. The students we address are not necessarily aware of this.


The medical corps constructed a field hospital to treat the wounded from the Syrian civil war on Israel’s northern border. Thousands of Syrians received medical care that no one else offered them but Israel. The same happened in 2014 near the Gaza strip, only there Hamas denied its own people access to the hospital and the medical care that was offered to them. They even targeted the hospital with projectiles.


It is also worth noting that the IDF provides humanitarian aid not only in Israel’s region, but in the entire world: Turkey, Japan, Philippines and Haiti are just recent examples from the last years where our medical forces combined with search and rescue teams were sent to help in disaster struck areas.



I think it’s very important for people to have an opportunity to meet an Israeli and hear the reality from someone who actually lives there.


As a Venezuelan, I always wondered what the people from Israel think about the situation. Now, I have the opportunity to share my story – my Israel story – with people in other countries.


We realized that pro-Israel students need to hear our experiences, to receive more accurate information, and to build a connection to Israel through them.


Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?



During this tour, I had the opportunity to read every kind of audience: Jewish and non-Jewish, students who have never heard about Israel in their lives, anti-Israel students, Christian leaders, community members, etc.


I think we have an important message to transmit to everyone, but I was especially excited to address people who were hearing about Israel for the first time in their lives.


How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?



In Georgia, we had an anti-Israeli protest. Approximately 20 students rejected dialogue after hearing my experiences of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. They were so blinded by their hatred of Israel, that they didn’t realized they were violating the memory of their own victims. When we asked them to respect human life and not throw pictures of victims on the floor, they started placing them on tables.


To them and every other protester I say: the only path to peace is if we meet and discuss. Groups who decide to take unilateral actions, obstruct justice and eliminate responsibility from one of the parties, are not contributing to peace but encouraging hate.



Criticism is important for every organization, including the government and the military in order to minimize errors, form new rules, improve for future times and hold people accountable for their actions.


That being said, the actions of ‘Breaking the Silence’ suggest nothing of the sort. They are promoting a political agenda under anonymous testimonies which cannot be verified.  Even channel 10 television – which is very critical of the current government policy – investigation revealed that out of ten testimonies, only two were completely accurate. The others were impossible to verify, not true or overly exaggerated. Unfortunately, these testimonies are being used abroad for the sole purpose of smearing Israel and the IDF.


Add that to the fact that they are being funded by European countries and organizations with a similar agenda and with an expectation that their money will provide results – it is very hard not to question not only their actions and goals, but the content of their material.


I ask you to remember one of Winston Churchill’s finest quotes, “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack my own country.  I make up for lost time when I come home.”


What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?



For me Israel is an inspiration. It’s a country built by immigrants and minorities, built on the values of multiculturalism and coexistence….a country that helps others.


When I sought a way to transmit what I feel, I realized that sharing my daily dilemmas, the decisions and opportunities as an Israeli and especially an IDF soldier, was actually a good way to present Israel, the complexity of the Middle East and the incredible story of achievements of the Jewish people.


I think, people relate to Israel today because of its story of overcoming every single obstacle, and growing stronger every time. Our task is to create a connection between people’s every day obstacles, and Israel.


Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.



We were speaking in the Napa Valley, California.  During the Q&A, an 11-year-old wondered why we help those who have hurt us in the past, seek to hurt us today, hate us and view us as their enemies.


I explained that first and foremost, we are not fighting the people and we should separate them from their leadership. – even though they are taught to hate us. Why? Because we need to achieve the higher moral  ground. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who hate or teach hatred, but they are NOT the majority in Israel.


The true nature of a society is not determined by its extremists, but by its majority. Unfortunately, that’s the difference right know between the Palestinian and Israeli societies. I hope that one day we’ll see a change within the Palestinian education system. It’s an important element towards achieving peace.


Second, to achieve that higher moral basis, our values cannot be empty slogans. While some of our neighbors glorify martyrdom and death,  we say we praise the value of life.  We should transform our beliefs into actions, otherwise they don’t mean anything. This is our message of hope for peace. Yes, you may have hurt us in the past, but we are willing to overcome it even though it still hurts.  Our hand is reaching out for a better future.



In Jacksonville, Florida, we shared our story in a school located in a dangerous area.  We talked about the second Intifada and how Israel dealt with violence, and asked the students if they knew or, were ever affected by violence?  Every one of them raised their hands. As sad as that was, we created a connection between them and Israel by how we – and they – overcame violence.


How do you react to people showing you videos of Israelis criticizing Israel, especially with extreme left organizations like “Breaking the Silence” sharing testimonials by soldiers, which sometimes seem to steer from reality?


Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself?



It is well known that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, the recent despicable anti-Semitic attacks are not new to our people.


Anti-Semitism is almost as old as our religion exists. I cannot foresee the future, but I know that much has changed throughout the years:


For one, there wasn’t a Jewish state back then. There is a reason why our army was named “Israeli Defense Forces” – its purpose is to protect the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. It’s important to understand that Israel is the home for every Jew around the world, even those who don’t live in Israel. It is a part of our responsibility because of the horrific past our people have endured.


That leads me to my second point which is: I believe most Israelis and Israel’s government condemn every act of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging our allies around the world to denounce it and act against it. The Jews in the Diaspora are not alone and will never stand alone. I was moved by the actions VP Mike Pence took when he visited one of the vandalized cemeteries and by British PM Theresa May’s statement about anti-Semitism. Fortunately, they are not the only world leaders who condemn these kinds of actions.


Anti-Semitism is an old disease, and similar to many others, it might not perish completely from this world. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight against it wherever we encounter it.



I think the ideas that generated the Holocaust are still around us, and the line between an idea and a reality is very thin.  StandWithUs believes that education is the path to peace. I think education is the only way to stop hatred from spreading worldwide.

Moving and Shaking: L.A. celebrates Purim, IDF soldiers celebrated, Elon Gold reignites Jewish comedy

From left: Michael Robin, Melanie Zoey Weinstein, Marnina Wirtschafter and Jaclyn Beck sing a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” as part of IKAR’s Purim celebration. Photo by Len Muroff.

Mayim Bialik suited up for the Velcro wall at Valley Beth Shalom’s March 12 Purim carnival. Photo courtesy of Mayim Bialik.

Los Angeles Jews celebrated Purim across the city and around the world on March 11 and 12.

On the Westside, Shtibl Minyan and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills held “Hamilton”-themed shpiels, “Hamalkah: A Purim Musical” and “Esther: A Purim Musical,” respectively. Temple Isaiah hosted “The Late Late Show Purim,” with Rabbi Joel Nickerson playing talk show host James Grogger and featuring characters from the Purim story as his guests. At Temple Beth Am, senior staff and interns dressed as either Little Orphan Annie or her dog, Sandy, to convey the message that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Aish Los Angeles held a jungle-themed Purim party for young adults ages 21 to 32 at Morry’s Fireplace.

Venturing to Club Fais Do-Do, IKAR held a combination Megillah reading and shpiel, featuring slides with funny images. Between chapters, the shpiel team screened a number of video shorts, including “IKARaoke,” starring “Royal Pains” actor Mark Feuerstein. The spiel ended with a politically themed song parody of “Seasons of Love” (from the musical “Rent”). Costumes, too, skewed political, with Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Festivities continued Sunday around the region, with carnivals at Temple Judea, Temple Isaiah and Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), among other places. At VBS, actress Mayim Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”) was one of the carnival-goers who suited up for the Velcro wall.

In Israel, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was spotted dancing after a Megillah reading at the Tel Aviv Hilton with his son, Avi Hier, and Andrew Friedman, president of Congregation Bais Naftoli.

— Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles as part of Lev Chayal “Trip of a Lifetime” gather around
businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz (top row, seventh from left, seated). Photo by Debra Halperin Photography.

Lev Chayal held its second annual “Toast to Our Heroes” party on March 4 at The Mark for Events on Pico Boulevard. The party honored 10 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were wounded during hostilities with Hamas in Gaza in 2014.

Lev Chayal, which translates to “Heart of a Soldier,” is a group dedicaxted to honoring wounded Israeli soldiers by offering them free leisure trips to Los Angeles. Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini founded the group in 2016 under the auspices of the Chabad Israel Center.

The black-tie evening coincided with the second trip for soldiers sponsored by Lev Chayal. During their 10-day tour of Los Angeles, dubbed “The Trip of a Lifetime,” the soldiers attended a Lakers game, toured the headquarters of dating app Tinder and visited the Getty Villa museum, among other attractions.

Businessman and philanthropist Marvin Markowitz donated the use of the event space and paid for a significant amount of the event’s expenses.

Some 200 people attended the event, which raised nearly $50,000. Lev Chayal is preparing for the next trip for soldiers in December.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

Alan Dershowitz and Roz Rothstein at “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference. Photo courtesy of StandwithUs.

More than 250 people participated in the “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference on March 4-6, organized by the group StandWithUs, which focused on countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Supported by the Diane Shulman and Roger Richman Israel Education Fund, the conference at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport drew students, professionals and activists from the United States, Canada and Israel. Attendees and members of StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, shared their experiences with the BDS movement and the tactics they have used to challenge it on college campuses and other places.

“Today, you can’t say anything about minorities, about gay people, about Palestinians, about Muslims or about Arabs,” said Harvard University law professor emeritus and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “But when you put a shoe on the other foot, you can say analogous things about the nation-state of the Jewish people, about the Jewish lobby, and ultimately about Jews.”

He said college campuses should “demand a single standard” that is fairly applied to both sides.

“Whatever the left says is hate speech against them, we must demand that that be deemed hate speech against us on the other side,” Dershowitz said.

Other guest speakers included Judea Pearl, father of late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; and Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.

Hannah Karpin, 17, StandWithUs High School Intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, said the conference enabled her to learn more about the BDS movement.

“I think it should be acknowledged as an anti-Semitic movement,” said Karpin, who is planning to attend college next year. “It was shocking to hear that some recognizable organizations were behind the BDS movement.”

— Olga Grigoryants, Contributing Writer


Elon Gold. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Comedian Elon Gold performed at a Purim comedy concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 9, during which he talked about why Israel is the nipple of the Middle East breast (Gold said Israel is the most sensitive area and he doesn’t get to visit it as much he would like) and acted as Abraham negotiating with God over how much should be cut off during a circumcision (with God sounding like Marlon Brando and Abraham like Woody Allen).

Gold is Modern Orthodox and his material focused almost exclusively on the Jewish experience. He asked at one point if any gentiles were in the crowd. When nobody raised a hand, he insisted there were a couple of goy but they were hiding. He then asked the non-Jews how it felt for them to be the ones hiding.

Alex Edelman, a stand-up comedian who opened the show, gleaned material from his Jewish upbringing and did an eight-minute bit about the year his family celebrated Christmas, much to the chagrin of his yeshiva teacher.

The several hundred attendees included Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein; Jacob Segal, co-chair of the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., and his daughter, Tova; and Scott Jacobs of JooTube.

On a more serious note, Gold took the opportunity to denounce the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise over the past couple of months, with Jewish community centers being targeted with bomb threats and several Jewish cemeteries vandalized.

“You mess with the Jews, you lose,” Gold said.

From left: FIDF Chairman Ari Ryan and FIDF board members Francesca Ruzin and Michael Spector. Photo courtesy of S&N Photography.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held its Young Leadership Western Region Spring Mixer on March 9 at the Nightingale Plaza dance club on La Cienega Boulevard.

Some 650 young donors mingled over cocktails under violet lighting as house music blared, celebrating the work FIDF has done to support Israeli troops. Life-size posters of IDF soldiers in uniform beamed at the guests.

For an extra $18 above the $36 ticket price, attendees were able to send a Purim gift package to an IDF soldier.

The event, chaired by Danielle Moses, Mimi Paley, Francesca Ruzin and Miles Soboroff, raised more than $41,000 for FIDF.

In 2016, FIDF supported, by its own count, 66,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members, including 14,500 through educational programming, 2,800 through assistance to so-called lone soldiers who don’t have immediate family in Israel, and 8,000 soldiers needing financial assistance.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


Michael Janofsky

Michael Janofsky, a former correspondent for The New York Times and more recently managing editor of LA School Report, has joined the Jewish Journal as an assistant editor. Janofsky was a sportswriter, national correspondent and Washington, D.C. reporter over 24 years with the paper. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, he worked as a speechwriter for the dean of UCLA’s business school and a freelance writer and editor before joining the Journal.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email 

Moving and Shaking: StandWithUs gala, Milken Family Foundation Jewish Educator Awards and more

The pro-Israel organization StandWithUs (SWU) celebrated its 15th anniversary at its annual “Festival of Lights” gala on Dec. 11 at The Beverly Hilton. Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg welcomed the approximately 900 attendees and thanked StandWithUs for its strong support of Israel. 

The organization honored Debbie and Naty Saidoff, who have supported SWU since its 2001 founding. Together with Ellie and Bruce Lederman, the Saidoffs have paid for every “Festival of Lights” gala and recently pledged $1.2 million per year to the organization for the next decade.

SWU co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein presented recent high school graduate Eliav Terk with SWU’s Star of David Award for his legal fight against anti-Israel actions that were allowed at his school in Houston. Upon receiving the award, Terk said SWU’s Saidoff Legal Department, a new SWU initiative, helped him take action after Israeli flags were torn down at his school. Some students wore Hamas-affiliated scarves and waved Palestinian flags, Terk recalled. He complained to school administrators, but no measures were taken against the students.

 “Some administration members told me, ‘You need to empathize with Palestinian students and see where they are coming from,’ ” said Terk, now a college student. With the legal aid of SWU, Terk filed a grievance with the Houston Independent School District, which ruled against the school and will implement new protocols to prevent similar incidents. 

Also at the gala, Rothstein and her husband, Jerry, and SWU President Esther Renzer presented the Guardian of Israel award to seven American firefighters who recently flew to Israel to help combat wildfires there.

Comedian Elon Gold served as master of ceremonies. Musical performers included David Kates, Alon Miller and Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot.

Keynote speaker Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California and current advisory board chair of the Academic Engagement Network, a group of American college faculty opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, discussed the anti-Semitic nature of BDS and equated the battle over BDS with a fight for hearts and minds of future generations.

“What happens on campuses does not stay just on the campuses,” he said to applause. “Silence is complicity.”

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

From left: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles board chair Julie Platt; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson; Federation board member Jesse Gabriel; and Rabbi David Wolpe attend a Chanukah gathering at the Federation of Los Angeles offices. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Chanukah celebrations were held across Los Angeles in advance of the holiday that began on Dec. 24, including a menorah lighting ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall on Dec. 13 that brought together L.A. City Council members and local Jewish community leaders; the Chanukah party of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) at The Mark in Los Angeles on Dec. 15; and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ celebration at its headquarters on Dec. 19.

The City Hall gathering — which featured singing, candlelighting and more — was attended by City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO Jay Sanderson, Temple Akiba Rabbi Zach Shapiro and University Synagogue Rabbi Morley Feinstein.

Attendees at the AJC event included Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Julie Bram, vice president of the AJC L.A. executive committee; AJC Regional President Scott Edelman; Ira Handelman, chair of the AJC’s public policy committee in L.A.; and consuls general representing a variety of countries.

At the Federation celebration, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and State Sen. Ben Allen were among the attendees.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email

Where pro-Israel teaching meets pro-animal rights

The first time Israeli animal rights activist Chen Cohen met the StandWithUs (SWU) staffer who invited him to speak at last weekend’s Los Angeles conference, he thought she was a spy for the meat and dairy industry.

At many environmental and animal rights conferences, he explained, people from the factory farming industry will send their own undercover employees to gather “inside intel” on the tactics that activists plan to use to go after the major industry players.

“This woman showed up at every speech I gave, and filmed and recorded everything I said. I was certain she was working for the other guy,” Cohen told the Journal.

Instead, it turns out she was hoping the young Israeli’s message could help SWU — an Israel education organization — broaden the scope of its pro-Israel message. 

In recent years, Israel has become a leader in animal rights and plant-based eating movements. It has the world’s highest per capita vegan population, with the millennial generation leading the way in normalizing vegetarian cuisine as part of mainstream foodie culture, according to Cohen.

Even the Israel Defense Forces offers vegan food and clothing options, while the nation, as a whole, has banned foie gras, rodeos and circuses with live animals.

Cohen addressed these issues and more before kicking off his first U.S. campus speaking tour. He spoke to a room of roughly 150 students, shlichim (unofficial Israeli emissaries) and staff at the StandWithUs Milstein “Israel in Focus” Student Conference sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, held at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport hotel on Nov. 12. 

Cohen, 31, has been a key social activist in Israel for years. In 2011, the year he became a vegan, he helped organize a social justice rally in the southern Israeli town of Beer- Sheeva that attracted more than 20,000 participants, including this reporter. 

When Cohen’s good friend (and a former barbecue lover) became vegan in 2011, something clicked for Cohen.

“I had been involved in social justice and anti-vivisection campaigns,” he said, “but when I talked to him about being vegan, it connected to something deeper. I had been working to help protect and fight for the weakest members of society. Weren’t these animals, with no voice, part of the world? How could I believe that everyone deserves a good, pain-free life except them? I couldn’t.”

Cohen, as well as other activists, began doing undercover research on animal cruelty in factory farms. Israeli news outlets started to run the stories, and the animal rights movement gained traction. A former software engineer, Cohen eventually left his job to dedicate himself full-time to animal rights activism. 

He said Israelis have been at the forefront of the movement because they already have such a strong focus on kosher and parve food; the labeling allows people to more easily identify vegan and vegetarian options.

Ron Krudo, SWU’s executive director of campus affairs, thinks Cohen’s message will help students broaden their pro-Israel message to their peers.

“The issue of animal rights isn’t just a ‘progressive’ issue. It’s an issue of understanding different perspectives, an issue of human health and environmental justice,” Krudo said.

“The fact that Israel is proactive in something so positive can really inspire our students to reach out to others — to say, ‘Look at this really important thing Israel is doing that is outside of the realm of the most common pro-Israel discussions.’ Chen is providing an access point to a broader community, and the students are very intrigued.”

Dana Benavi, an SWU Emerson Fellow at UC Davis who attended the conference, couldn’t be more excited to have Cohen speak at her campus. 

“Davis students are exceptionally environmentally friendly. Our school emphasizes sustainable agriculture practices and has a large veterinary medicine program, so I reached out to places like the veterinary medicine school knowing that Chen would be a great speaker to have on campus,” she said.

Benavi said that while 10 percent of people will hate Israel no matter what, and 10 percent will defend it no matter what, 80 percent of people are open to learning more about the country and the people who live there.

“Before hearing Chen speak tonight, I had watched his videos. The kinds of things he cares about are exactly what students care about, and it’s wonderful that it’s exposing them to a positive part of Israeli society that they might not otherwise be aware of,” she said. 

While ideally Cohen would like to see everyone adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle, he knows that convincing people to take incremental steps away from animal product dependence is a more reasonable goal.

“For some people, taking part in ‘Meatless Mondays’ is a good, sustainable way to begin the journey toward a plant-based life. For others, they can start trying to incorporate more vegetarian recipes into their diets,” Cohen said. “Or perhaps they can try eating exclusively vegan food for a few days, just to see what it’s like. If you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing. You should always try to do something.”

Cohen understands that, especially for vegans, dietary choices can complicate life. Social events that revolve around food can be difficult and people can feel like outsiders when they have to make special food requests. 

Cohen likes to cope with that by reminding himself, and others, that veganism and vegetarianism are practices involving compassion, and practicing a plant-based existence is an expression of that value.

“If given a choice, I believe all people would choose compassion over cruelty. I want to help show them how,” he said.

A BDS survival guide

Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

Conference in Los Angeles details strategies to combat BDS

The second annual StandWithUs “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel” conference drew hundreds of people from across the country to Los Angeles to learn more about — and develop a strategy to fight — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). 

“We have to make every college student understand that being for BDS is like being against the environment, it’s like being against gays, it’s like being against civil rights, it’s like being against feminism. We have to make it unacceptable in the minds, hearts and souls of every open-minded student at colleges today,” said former Harvard law professor and renowned defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the conference’s keynote speaker. “Nothing short of that will be a victory.” 

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization that conducts advocacy work on college campuses, at high schools and elsewhere, organized the conference. 

The April 9-11 gathering at JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE drew more than 350 attendees, including 70 college students. It featured more than 50 speakers and 50 partner organizations coming together for approximately 25 panel discussions, lectures and breakout sessions focused on combating BDS on the legislative level, through legal means and through education.

The gathering’s Sunday night dinner featured remarks by Dershowitz as well as Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. 

The conference took place on the heels of a March vote by the University of California Board of Regents to approve a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which denounces “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination” on UC campuses. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and the founder of AMCHA Initiative, which investigates instances of anti-Semitism on college campuses, called the vote a step in the right direction.

The regents “came out with a statement that is aspirational. … It is a necessary but not a sufficient [step],” she said, appearing Sunday morning on a panel titled “BDS in Academia/Faculty.”

California Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) called the BDS movement a “global scourge” while appearing on a panel titled “Legislative Approaches to BDS.”

“This issue transcends politics, it transcends religion. This is about right and wrong,” he said.

Allen, who is not Jewish, introduced an anti-BDS bill earlier this year that, if passed, would force the state to stop doing business, in most instances, with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) recently introduced similar legislation. 

How does one combat BDS? Michael Harris, a co-founder of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which is now the San Francisco chapter of StandWithUs, attempted to provide some answers during a Sunday panel titled “BDS in the Community.” He said there are five ways to combat BDS, and they include using “positive language” in materials that speak about Israel. 

Robert Jacobs, Northwest regional director of StandWithUs, joined Harris on the panel and discussed what he called the rapid growth of “anti-Israel organizations” such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). This, he said, is reflected in an increasing number of anti-Israel speakers, including at high schools, college campuses and beyond. 

“We see anti-Israel speakers spreading rapidly,” he said.

(StandWithUs, for its part, conducts pro-Israel workshops in high schools across North America, and, during the conference, the organization’s CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein announced plans for the organization to begin working in middle schools.)

Jacobs also said that the “BDS movement has overreached … [and] crossed into anti-Semitism. … It’s bad, but it’s also good. … It’s getting the Jewish community engaged in a way that it wasn’t before.” 

At the conclusion of “Combating BDS Through Social Media,” Harris asked Rothstein why SJP has been able to make anti-Zionism synonymous with support for the Palestinians. 

“Why do we need to let them define ‘pro-Palestinian’ as ‘anti-Zionist’?” he asked. 

“SJP is not pro-Palestine,” Rothstein replied. “They are just anti-Israel.” 

Speaking to the Journal on Sunday afternoon, Rothstein said she hoped attendees would leave the conference ready to fight BDS. 

“Everybody is very, very stimulated, they’re enjoying it,” she said. “For me, it will all be in the follow-up.”

Breakout strategy sessions took place throughout the weekend, but StandWithUs declined to allow members of the media to join them.

The organization works with a broad cross-section of organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and this was reflected at the conference. Christians United for Israel Campus Outreach Director David Walker appeared on Sunday during a panel titled “BDS on Campus.” He spoke of a recent phenomenon in which the pro-Palestinian movement is attempting to apply the issues raised by Black Lives Matter to its cause.

“They’re hijacking the message of the Black community,” said Walker, who is Black.

Alex Schieber, 21, a political science and Judaic studies double major at the State University of New York at Albany and president of the school’s Great Danes for Israel, said he is all too familiar with the trend.

“Last year, [my school] had the ‘From Ferguson to Palestine’ rally and my friend put up a sign that said, ‘Jews believe Black lives matter, too’ or something like that, and [anti-Israel students] took a picture of it and made a meme out of it saying ‘Zionists be like lives matter. What a joke.’ 

“And it immediately blew up. It had thousands of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Israel comments, racist comments, bigoted comments, and that was a great shock for me, because my university is 28 percent Jewish. I never expected anything like that to happen at my university,” he said. 

“I had just come into the pro-Israel movement and it was a shock for me and I immediately wanted to figure out how to stop them on our campus and how to prevent stuff like this from happening … to make sure it never happens again.”

Anti-Israel UC Davis activists denounce Israel as a “liberal-democracy” – and they are right

George Deek is the child of Palestinian Christian refugees.  He is also a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Service.  Superficially, this seems to be an impossible contradiction.  But, Deek refuses to be placed into categories of other people’s makings.  Last week he spoke at UC Davis when a band of about 30 anti-Israel hecklers disrupted his talk, chanted slogans including long live the Intifada, waved Palestinian flags and, after about 10 minutes, walked out shouting “Allahu Akbar!”  Afterwards, they released a statement accusing Israel of the horrible crime of being a “liberal-democracy.”

You read that correctly.  Israel is a shameful example of liberal-democracy.  

No doubt, most Israelis would proudly proclaim “guilty!”

Their statement, heavy with cliché-ridden revolutionary rhetoric, calls Deek “a self-identified Israeli born to a Palestinian family [who] perfectly embodies the project of zionist (sic) liberal-democracy, which seeks to assimilate Palestinians into non-existence.” The statement also accused Deek of being a “colonial collaborator” for essentially using his “Palestinian identity” to further Israeli interests. 

Let’s deconstruct this a bit to better understand the protesters’ angst.  First, they correctly identify Israel as a liberal and democratic society.  All Israelis, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, are entitled to the right to vote in a secret ballot for the parties of their choice, petition their government, hold peaceful demonstrations, run for elected office, and to freedoms of religion, expression, association, assembly, press.  They are also entitled, by right, to their own personal identity.

All citizens enjoy these rights. This includes the one-in-five Israelis who are Arabs.  According to a 2015 sociological study about one-third of Israeli Arabs identify as “Israeli,” one-third as “Palestinian,” and the other third as somewhere in between. The study observes that this “suggests a complex, multi-faceted divided identity with many nuances and sub-identities.”  In another study, fully 75% of Israeli Arabs stated that Israel has a right to exist as an independent state, and 48% that they could support its existence as a democratic, Jewish state.

Most people possess complex and nuanced identities.  George Deek does and clearly so do many of his fellow Israeli Arabs, many of whom – like Deek – have excelled.  Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Beduoin, is also an Israeli diplomat and, like many other Bedouin, he was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.  Major General Hussain Fares, a Druze, commands Israel’s Border Police, and Major Alaa Waheeb is the highest ranking Arab Muslim IDF soldier who is operations officer at a ground forces training base.  Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, sits on Israel’s Supreme Court.  Dr. Aziz Darawshe, a Muslim Arab, is Director of Emergency Medicine at Israel’s premier Hadassah University Medical Center.  Lucy Aharish, a Muslim Arab, is an anchor on Israeli Hebrew-language television.  Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest, leads a growing movement that redefines Arab Christians as “Arabic-speaking Arameans.”  As such, Naddaf is urging Christian Arabs to integrate more into mainstream Israeli society, including volunteering for the IDF.  Two years ago, Israel officially recognized the Aramean identity on a par with other communities. 

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs actively integrating into Israeli society and claiming full ownership of an Israeli identity undermines the UC Davis protestors’ radical ultra-nationalist dogma that delegitimizes Israel’s existence.  The reality of George Deek does not compute with their closed ideology, and competes with their monochromatic narrative they are promoting on campus.

In other words, the disrupters’ nationalist narrative is disrupted by Deek’s personal narrative.  This is what disturbs them.  Their rigid and intolerant worldview prevents them from processing the fact that modern human identities are multi-faceted and nuanced.  The only way they can understand Deek is by reducing him to a one dimensional caricature carrying the label “colonial collaborator.” 

This is why they focus their ire onto Israel’s open liberal-democratic society, which creates opportunities for Israeli Arabs to express and define freely their complex, nuanced multi-faceted identities beyond the predetermined, imposed and politicized identity dictated by Arab nationalist ideology. 

George Deek seeks peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  He came to UC Davis to discuss the issues and open paths to dialogue.  But these “hear no evil” demonstrators wanted nothing of the sort.  Their approach is polarizing, hate-filled and a certain formula for perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades more.  Deek and others like him are attempting to show us a different way toward peace.  We’d be foolish not to follow it. 

Roz Rothstein is CEO and Yitzhak Santis is Senior Writer and Analyst for StandWithUs

Let my people go? Some say yes, some say no

The war over Israel’s image continues to play out in Los Angeles media. 

A StandWithUs (SWU) advertisement that appears in the March 11-18 edition of the Hollywood Reporter reads, “Isn’t it Time to Go to Israel?” Its publication comes on the heels of a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) ad that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 24, calling Israel an apartheid state and encouraging Academy Award nominees, who’d been offered a free trip to Israel as part of a gift bag prior to this past Sunday’s Academy Awards, to “#SKIPTHETRIP.”

“We wanted to make sure the message is, ‘People need to go and see for themselves and visit Israel,’ ” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s the single-most powerful way to formulate their opinions about Israel, to go visit the country. They’re saying ‘skip the trip’ and all that stuff, calling Israel names, and we’re encouraging people to take the trip, go to Israel, and experience the over 3,000-year-old Jewish connection in just one visit.”

The full-page, pro-Israel SWU advertisement appears on page 83 of THR’s ninth issue of the year, currently on newsstands, according to a SWU spokesperson. The cover story of the issue, which features coverage of the Oscars, is “Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Movie Lines.” 

SWU works to galvanize support for Israel among college students, high school students and others. It condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, among other things. JVP, meanwhile, supports the BDS movement.

Berkeley commission rejects Israel divestment resolution

A Berkeley, California, commission rejected a resolution to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The Berkeley City Human Welfare and Community Action Commission voted 5-2 against the resolution, with one abstention, on Wednesday night.

City Attorney Zach Cowan said the issue was not within the purview of the commission, which generally addresses issues of local poverty, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

In September, Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore removed commissioner Cheryl Davila, who he appointed, from her position over the divestment proposal. Davila was removed just before the panel took up the issue at its Sept. 16 meeting.

Moore reportedly said he asked his commissioners to discuss with him any controversial issues they were working on. Davila worked on the resolution for nearly a year without discussing it with Moore, the Mercury News said.

Yitzhak Santis, the chief programs officer at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute that monitored the resolution’s progress, called the defeat “a major failure for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and a testament to the herculean efforts of Israel’s friends in the Bay Area.”

Johanna Wilder of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group, spoke at the commission meeting.

“BDS activists attempted to hijack the commission to further their narrow, political, extremist agenda, but the commissioners refused to succumb to this pressure and defeated the resolution,” said Wilder, associate director of the group’s Northern California region.

Organizations that appeared at the meeting in support of the resolution included Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

The Jewish Community Relations Commission of San Francisco was among the organizations that mobilized against the resolution.


Berkeley students chant for intifada [video]

A video of UC Berkeley students chanting in support of an intifada “just hours…after the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus” was shared on the Facebook page of pro-Israel group StandWithUs on Wednesday.

“Shocking: right now on the campus of UC Berkeley, students participate in a ‘day of action’ and explicitly chant ‘we support the intifada,’ just hours after this ‘intifada’ resulted in the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus,” according to the Facebook page of StandWithUs, which combats anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.

“Where is their moral compass!?” the StandWithUs Facebook page adds, in reference to the UC Berkeley students depicted in the video, which you can view below.

Deadly incidents, many of them stabbings, have been taking place on an almost daily basis in Israel this past month, prompting observers to predict that an intifada—a Palestinian uprising—is imminent. If an intifada were to occur, it would be the third intifada since Israel’s founding in 1948. 




Shocking: right now on the campus of UC Berkeley, students participate in a “day of action” and explicitly chant “we support the intifada,” just hours after this “intifada” resulted in the stabbing of a 72 year old Jewish civilian on a bus. Days ago, this “intifada” led to the stabbing of a 13-year-old Israeli child in the streets of Jerusalem…and last week, the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of 4 of their children. Where is their moral compass!?#StopIncitement

Posted by StandWithUs on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

J Street: Sometimes fans do more harm than good

This essay is part of a continuing dialogue on the nature of pro-Israel activism. 

The disagreement between J Street and other pro-Israel groups continues. 

In a recent op-ed, J Street’s Alan Eisner contended that Israel needs “fans, not cheerleaders,” arguing that American pro-Israel groups mindlessly root for Israel while fans would be more judicious, criticizing it for the occupation and the settlements.

That is the rub. J Street is fixated on blaming Israel for failed peace efforts and wants the United States to pressure the Jewish state to unilaterally bring about the two-state solution. But that view ignores dangerous realities.

It is not cheerleading to respect Israel’s right to require that a two-state solution does not turn into a repeat of the Gaza withdrawal, with Hamas taking over and escalating attacks against Jewish civilians, and that Israel’s ability to protect its citizens from terrorism is ensured.

It is not mindless cheerleading to point out that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement pervades Palestinian society. Terrorists are glorified, town squares are named in their honor and the Palestinian Authority continues to reward with handsome salaries Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have been convicted of terrorism. The greater the crime, the higher the salary.

It is not mindless cheerleading to emphasize that Israel offered precisely the two-state solution that J Street advocates but that Palestinian leaders rejected in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Those who do not hold the Palestinian leadership accountable are infantilizing them and perpetuating obstacles to peace.

It is not blind cheerleading to stress that Israel has reason to be cautious in an increasingly unstable and threatening region. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is spreading — recent reports indicate that it has followers in the West Bank and Gaza. Hezbollah is staking out positions in the Syrian Golan and openly threatens Israel. Hamas is repairing relations with Iran, remains pledged to the murder of Jews everywhere and the obliteration of Israel, and has resumed building cross-border terror attack tunnels. Islamist extremists are gaining footholds from Yemen to Libya. And Iran continues its genocidal rhetoric against the Jewish state, even as the outcome of negotiations about ending its nuclear weapons capability remains uncertain.

It is not cheerleading to counter the dangerous anti-Israel propaganda of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) that seeks to defame and delegitimize Israel. Although J Street opposes BDS, it prioritizes criticizing Israel and highlighting its shortcomings, which adds to the chorus of condemnation.

Eisner and J Street ignore these realities more than do pro-Israel groups who bring the issues to public attention.  

J Street’s mission contradicts the decades-old policy of a bilateral, negotiated solution to the conflict. J Street hopes to marshal popular and official American support for the U.S. to impose a specific solution. J Street disparages existing pro-Israel groups, charging that they have worked against American and Israeli interests and against peace, earning the praise of Stephen Walt, co-author of the discredited and frequently anti-Semitic “The Israel Lobby.”

J Street drew a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel during the 2008-9 war, and a prominent J Street member attempted to facilitate Judge Richard Goldstone meeting with congressional leaders about the discredited Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes — before Goldstone himself recanted. During last summer’s Hamas-Israel war, as Hamas barraged Israel with more than 4,000 rockets and Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels were exposed, J Street refused to participate in a Boston solidarity rally for Israel.

J Street opposes bipartisan legislation for renewed sanctions against Iran, demanding that Congress wait for the outcome of negotiations, even though many argue that this legislation would help the negotiations, and Israel views Iranian nuclear weapons capability as an existential threat and supports such a measure. And why would J Street have endorsed many 2014 congressional candidates known for their anti-Israel views?

J Street and Eisner feel it is important to criticize Israel’s policies but they don’t seem to feel the same need to criticize the Palestinian leadership, which has refused to make peace, continue negotiations, do the hard work of state building or denounce terrorism. One-sided criticism of Israel will not build up the Palestinians or bring us closer to peace.

It is not cheerleading to highlight Israel’s extraordinary accomplishments in re-establishing the Jewish state as a robust, pluralistic, progressive democracy, and in turning a third-world economy into a first-world economy on the cutting edge of innovations that benefits the world. That does not mean agreeing with all of Israel’s policies, but it does mean countering the anti-peace extremism and factual distortions that are now invading mainstream discourse. The Jewish state deserves no less as it navigates how to survive and thrive in a very dangerous neighborhood. 

Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid, Ph.D., is the education and research director of StandWithUs. 

J Street, StandWithUs debate best way to support Israel

Representatives of StandWithUs (SWU) and J Street — two Jewish organizations with very different takes on Israel — faced off Jan. 13 in a debate on why their respective group is a better friend to the Jewish state.

The free event, at Temple Judea in Tarzana, featured attorney, writer and UCLA graduate student Philippe Assouline in support of SWU, and J Street Vice President for Communications Alan Elsner. Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson served as moderator for the hour-long debate, which attracted more than 400 attendees. 

The two organizations are often pitted against each other. SWU is a pro-Israel education-and-advocacy organization that concentrates resources on bolstering Israel’s image on college campuses, which are becoming increasingly anti-Israel. J Street is a progressive organization that supports a two-state solution, often criticizes the Israeli government and lobbies United States congressional leaders on legislation related to Israel.

Aaronson began the night by asking the debaters to discuss public perceptions about their respective organizations and to comment on why those perceptions even exist. Assouline blamed J Street, along with pro-Palestinian organizations, for marginalizing SWU to the extent that it is seen as little more than a mouthpiece of the Israeli government.  

“Those two things combined have given StandWithUs a completely undeserved right-wing reputation. If I had to put a label on the people I work with, it would be center-left,” he said. “There is not one person I work with who is against Palestinian self-determination and who has come out vocally against a two state-solution,”

As for J Street, which is generally seen as more of a left-wing group, any misperceptions about it come from a different place, Elsner said.

“Since J Street’s inception, there have been people in the Jewish-American establishment who felt threatened by our organization, and have tried very, very hard to spread falsehoods and dishonesty and basically blackmail the organization,” he said, “and I find it bizarre.”
Each speaker was not afraid to throw darts at the other’s organization. Assouline called J Street a lobbying organization — and not in a good way — saying, “J Street doesn’t merely try to inject new voices into the discussion; it is a lobbying group that tries to influence American policy, to change Israeli policy over and against the wishes of the Israeli electorate, sometimes.”

After the debate, Elsner described SWU to the Journal as “just a classic hasbarah cheerleading group that pushes the case of the Israeli government. That’s perfectly legitimate, but let’s not call them what they’re not.”

Another source of tension between the two groups is the documentary “The J Street Challenge,” which takes a critical view of J Street. Attorney and author Alan Dershowitz is among those who speak negatively about the progressive group in the film.

SWU did not finance “The J Street Challenge,” but it has organized screenings of it in Los Angeles and elsewhere. During last week’s debate, Elsner criticized the journalistic integrity of the film, indicating that J Street leaders did not have a real opportunity to participate in it.

Aaronson repeatedly asked the audience to withhold its applause for both debaters, but people applauded anyway, including for SWU’s Assouline’s comment about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses: “This is a campaign to kosherize killing Jews, to kosherize terrorism and to make the eliminationist rhetoric of the Palestinians noble. It is an abuse of compassion to disguise hatred as concern, and it is not about 1967, to my distress; it is about 1948.” 

When an audience member asked if the two speakers could envision their respective organizations ever working together, Assouline said he believes middle ground lies in combating the BDS movement, which has made the climate on college campuses so hostile toward Israel that supporting the country has become an act of courage. Still, Elsner said, combating BDS requires a broad appeal beyond pro-Israel groups, which SWU lacks.

In an interview following the debate, Ilanit Maghen, 31, a Santa Monica-based architect who attended the event, expressed frustration with both sides.

“It just doesn’t make sense that within ourselves as Jews — American Jews, Israeli Jews, whatever you call it — that there is such a split in belief. This is what doesn’t work in my opinion about the peace process,” she said. “I don’t support anything. I support peace. I support people who support peace.”