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Ashley Faintuch



 
ASHLEY FAINTUCH : WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY DISCUSSIONS RE ISRAEL ON CAMPUS

by Ashley Faintuch, May 10, 2011

On March 7-14 University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg were subjected to the hateful and fallacious rhetoric of Israeli Apartheid Week. This same week, I led a coalition of students, known as Campus Democracy, in Israel Peace Week (IPW) at the University of Winnipeg, with the intent of educating the general campus community about Israel’s vibrant democracy and multiple attempts to reach peace.  The coalition I led was comprised of students of various ages, religion and ethnicity and was sponsored and supported by Hasbara Fellowships and StandWithUs.
 
To begin, I would like to clarify that I believe it is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian at the same time. I believe in Israel’s right to defend itself and it’s citizens, and maintain safe and secure borders. One day I hope to see a democratic and safe Israel next to a democratic and safe Palestine, with no terror or threat of terror and peaceful borders. This vision of two states for two peoples—a Jewish state of Israel next to a Palestinian Arab state is one that is shared by many, but has proven to be elusive. 

Unfortunately, many people I encountered on campus chose to demonize Israel and disregard the fact that Palestinian leaders, who have made maximalist claims, without being prepared to make the necessary compromises for peace, have contributed to the stalemate in the peace process. These same people are also unwilling to notice the corrupt “leadership” the Palestinians have had for many decades, a leadership which has focused on lining its own pockets, at the expense of bettering the lot or plight of the Palestinians.

While I enjoyed tabling for Israel and engaging in some wonderful discussions, I was very troubled to discover that many people on campus were willing to make statements and claims that do not stand up to scrutiny, and often were utterly false. Even more worrisome to me was the amount of Hamas supporters I encountered on campus, notwithstanding Hamas’s unabashed support of terror. My experience on these campuses makes me worry about the future of public opinion regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the direction students and universities are following on this.

Since Universities have become a common battleground, I feel it is important to share my experiences and the realities on campus with the rest of the Jewish community, in hopes of gaining community support on the issues and trends at hand as well as issues arising in the very near future.

On the University of Winnipeg Campus in particular, I was quite hocked to see how many University of Winnipeg students support Hamas, while refusing to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. This sentiment emerged all week while tabling; however, the brunt of it occurred when the table theme was Hamas: An Obstacle for Peace. I asked every Hamas supporter I encountered why he or she supported Hamas, a recognized terror organization by countless western governments, which has oppressed Gazans, and put them on a collision course with the Western  world.  The result has been only enhanced suffering of the people of Gaza, and a lack of personal security, and unemployment.  Hamas’s relentless terror attacks on Israel resulted in Operation Cast Lead—and did nothing top enhance the quality of life of Gazans.

Pro-Hamas supporters said they supported Hamas because ‘they are a democratically elected government”, and the people of Gaza obviously want them in power, or they would not have voted, and this terror I speak of is necessary, because Hamas is the freedom fighter and voice of Gazans who will end oppression and occupation.

These students also took issue with our display, which highlighted excerpts from the Hamas Charter, showing they do not want peace, and wish to see Israel destroyed; one statement being “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it”. This statement does not sound peaceful, and leaves no room for misinterpretation. Hamas’ intent is clear, and numerous students fail to accept this.

During Israel Peace Week, many anti-Israel supporters tried to intimidate my volunteers and tried to discourage or pressure them  against  handing out information to passer-bys. These scare tactics were unnecessary, uncalled for, and ineffective. We also were witness to another forms of intimidation, when some students yelled statements directed towards us in the vicinity of our table, including the escalators beside us. Multiple times, we heard shouts of  “ZIONISM IS THE OBSTACLE TO PEACE”. Similar terms such as ‘apartheid”, “murderers”, “Israeli terrorists”, killers of Palestinians (or women and children), were directed toward us. These words are all incorrect terms to use when describing Israel, yet seemed to be the common belief of a large part of the University of Winnipeg community. Unfortunately, this trend is not just in Winnipeg, but seems to be the common trend across North America.  

Other worrisome acts we encountered were individuals coming to us making false claims or asking if we had pamphlets on certain topics (e.g white phosphorus). They would then refuse to engage in discussion about these topics, notwithstanding all volunteers offered to discuss the issues. How can we have dialogue on campus, when one side believes they know everything, make false claims and outright refuses to discuss their claims?

It is not just students who believe Israel is in the wrong, but professors too. In the past, I have had professors who do not support Israel, and some have made insinuations in class. During Israel Peace Week we had a number of professors stop by our table-- some tried to debate the issue (while refusing to accept the information we gave them), some showed support, and some listened and left with a new perspective. One example was a professor who stopped by the table with a student. I could hear her telling the student inaccurate information, such as the mistaken narrative that Jews only came to Israel because of the Holocaust. I stood around listening and waiting until the right time to speak up. After talking with myself and the other volunteers, the professor and student read every single piece of literature we offered, analyzed all displays and asked questions, only to leave enlightened on Israeli’s diversity, and acceptance and attempts for peace. The same professor stopped by throughout the week, and even told her classes to stop by.

Fighting anti-Israel sentiment is an uphill battle. In addition to these on campus events and activity, there are a number of speakers and groups off campus. One global trend that we will see in Manitoba in the coming months is the BDS Movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions). The BDS Movement is an approach that is not related to peace and creates a divisive environment that prevents dialogue. It is a tool of partisanship rather than reconciliation. However, there are groups already meeting in Winnipeg to strategically plan their Winnipeg actions and discuss their target businesses to boycott.

Israel Peace Week is an international initiative whose mission is to spread awareness about Israel and her pursuit for peace. Since the conception of the modern state, Israel has continuously sought peace. IPW’s goal is to educate students about the true nature of Israel: a democratic peace-seeking nation attempting to coexist with neighbours of all religions, ethnicities and political aff

 
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