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Daniel Koren

Winnipeg Friends of Israel and Bridges for Peace Present “The Face of Antisemitism on Campus with Daniel Koren” at Temple Shalom, November 26, 2019

By Penny Jones Square, December 3, 2019

Winnipeg Friends of Israel (WFI) together with Bridges for Peace (BFP) sponsored “The Face of Antisemitism on Campus” with Daniel Koren, Executive Director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, on November 26 at Temple Shalom. It was an extraordinarily—and regrettably—timely and fitting event given the recent alarming explosion of antisemitic hatred at York University on November 20. The violent and hate-fueled anti-Israel protest against Herut Canada’s sanctioned presentation with Israeli Defense Force Reservists represented the culmination of the decades-long promotion of antisemitism on campuses across Canada, and world-wide, which was the subject of Koren’s presentation.

Yolanda Papini-Pollock, co-founder and director of WFI, delivered opening greetings on behalf of WFI and BFP, thanking Temple Shalom for hosting the event and attendees for their donations to WFI’s Double Mitzvah Project to help those less fortunate while fighting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign by buying Israeli food products. Papini-Pollock invited Miriam Kohn, board member of WFI, to read the introduction to Koren, which highlighted his pro-Israel advocacy through Hasbara Fellowships, Canada’s largest organization dedicated to training students to stand up for Israel on university campuses.

Koren began with a description of Hasbara’s mandate which is to educate and empower student leaders to combat the prevalent antisemitic animus flourishing there. Its aim is implicit in its name—hasbara meaning “explanation” or “explaining”—as this is precisely what Hasbara’s fellows are tasked to do in advocating for Israel: to explain the truth about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to dispel the false and distorted views that are being promulgated on campus by various groups to delegitimize Israel, present it as morally corrupt, and to create a climate of fear for Jewish students. To this end Hasbara provides a 16-day program for students in Israel during which they tour strategic points in Israel, such as the Syrian and Gaza borders, key Jerusalem landmarks, and Palestinian towns, with the opportunity to meet with Palestinians who are not sympathetic to Jews and hear their perspective.

Hasbara trains its student leaders to engage non-Jewish students in constructive dialogue, to be “positive and objective." As Koren asserted, “For advocacy and education, yelling does not work.” To combat ignorance, apathy, and indifference about campaigns like BDS and Israeli Apartheid Week (IAP), “anger, antagonism, and aggression” are not effective; according to Koren, “students do not respond to negativity.” Therefore, Hasbara fellows aim “to start a conversation,” for example, by asking, “Do you know what the founders of BDS really want?”

Koren went on to enumerate a number of the antisemitic incidents that have occurred on campuses in recent years, beginning with the recent November 20 Vari Hall incident at York University during which Jewish students and IDF Reservists were subjected to protesters using exterminationist rhetoric, chanting “Viva viva intifada” and “Intifada, intifada, go back to the ovens” (as reported in the Jerusalem Post). Koren stated there is no blurring of lines here between hate speech and freedom of speech: “the call for intifada is a call for hatred and death to the Jews, and the public needs to know this.” Clearly, the relevance of Hasbara to meet the critical need for pro-Israel activism is undeniable.

Koren cited other cases at the University of Manitoba, McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of Windsor, demonstrating how anti-Israel activism has become “more insidious, more behind-the-scenes, and more malicious” as it “usurps the language of human rights and social justice to promote bigotry and discrimination.”

He identified where the greatest threats are emanating from: student unions and associations; student groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), and Students against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA); campus media, which routinely publishes anti-Israel articles; social media; anti-Israel speakers; and most difficult to combat, leftist professors who are disseminating negatively biased views of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (representing Israel as the evil oppressor and Palestinians as the innocent victims) and even, in some cases, promoting Holocaust denial.

Koren stressed the importance of not relenting in this fight and urged the audience to “be vocal,” to get involved in grassroots communities (he praised the grassroots efforts of Ron East as an example of effective advocacy being done in Winnipeg), to write letters and publish articles and rebuttals to counter ongoing anti-Israel media coverage, to sign and circulate petitions, and to demand university administrations “ensure that professors are objective and unbiased and that student groups are reprimanded for reprehensible behaviour,” using the threat of withholding donations as leverage. Koren believes the best way is to train advocates, and since “94 percent of Hasbara fellows have reported feeling more confident in their ability to advocate following their seventy hours of training,” he called on the audience to “tell [their] children about Hasbara Fellowships.”

According to Koren, the most effective strategy for extending the reach of pro-Israel advocacy on campus would be for university administrators to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism (which the Government of Canada did on June 25 this year). This definition makes clear the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and campaigns that seek to isolate, demonize, and delegitimize it. The IHRA definition—“a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”—elaborates a number of manifestations of this hatred, including “[t]argeting the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” “[a]pplying double standards by requiring of it behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” “[c]alling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion,” amongst many others. Its clarification of the true nature of this oldest hatred would make it more difficult for administrators to turn a blind eye to such manifestations, for professors to promulgate biased views and deny or obfuscate the Holocaust, and for campaigns like BDS and IAW to promote hatred of Jews under the false guise of legitimate criticism of Israel.

Peter Fast, National Director of BFP, delivered closing comments, describing the work BFP is doing in 9 countries, including Israel, educating the church, standing with Israel, and combatting antisemitism. Fast stated BFP’s interfaith education aligns well with the education of Hasbara Fellowships, each aiming to promote truth and understanding.

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