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Campus Wars

May 9, 2009 | by Jenny Hazan

Netanyahu's "soldiers of truth."

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

Jan. 1, 2003 -- Since Concordia University's cancellation of Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech in Montreal in September, some of the Jewish students who protested the school's cancellation of the former prime minister's appearance finally got to hear him speak at the Foreign Ministry Wednesday evening.

They were part of a group of 105 university students brought to Israel on Aish HaTorah's Hasbara Fellowships program, a two-week educational mission on how to combat anti-Semitism on campus.

"I think of each of you as soldiers of truth," said Netanyahu to the roomful of eager student activists from across North America. "I want to congratulate each and every one of you for standing up for truth. If you don't stand up for the truth, then evil people will win the day," he said.

Netanyahu inspired the crowd to cheers with a lecture that focused on several aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, from the Palestinian distortion of history to the illegitimacy of terrorist means.

For students desperate to combat anti-Semitic incidents on campus with a recent history highlighted by divestment campaigns, the appearance of anti-Israel speakers, anti-Israel rallies dressed as anti-war rallies, and even the recent revocation of funding and status for the Hillel chapter at Concordia University in Montreal Netanyahu's lecture was music to their ears.

Hasbara Fellowships's answer lies first and foremost in providing education.

"We're here because there is a crisis going on college campuses," said Elliot Mathias, director of Hasbara Fellowships, a program sponsored by Aish HaTorah that since last winter has brought approximately 200 students from 60 North American campuses on two-week educational missions. "Jewish students are under attack for supporting Israel and for wanting to be Jewish. There are lies and propaganda being spread all over campuses about Israel, and Jewish students don't know how to answer it."

Hasbara Fellowships's answer lies first and foremost in providing education. "We try to give the students a crash course on Jewish history and on the history and politics of Israel, since we don't believe that what's going on today is a product of the last 50 years. Rather, we occupy a place in Jewish history," said Mathias.

"We try to deal with the current claims against Israel, including occupation, settlement, the use of excessive force in the army, apartheid, and the treatment of Arabs. We try to equip them with answers to such allegations by offering an educated perspective."

Their second line of defense lies in the encouragement of a proactive stance. "We spend a lot of time on activism, because they can learn the information, but then they need to know what they can go back and do with it," said Mathias. "It's about being proactive, not just defensive. We're not trying to make advocates for Israel, who fight on behalf of a cause. We want activists; people who fight for their own cause, and who realize that Israel is their own cause. Every single person on this program has committed to go back to their campus and to be an activist for Israel," he said.

Hasbara provides the students with the tools they require to get the job done. In addition to offering campus organizations financial support, literature, network assistance, and practical training on how to educate others about the Middle East and how to respond to media bias, Hasbara is the only activist training program of its kind that is actually bringing students to Israel this winter.

"We feel that it is extremely important to come to Israel. We have to bridge the gap between Israelis and Jews outside of Israel. Because, if you're going to fight for Israel, you've got to feel that Israel is your country," said Mathias.

The proof is in the pudding. "I have been active on my campus since I first came on Hasbara last winter," said Rachel Glaser, international relations student at Boston University and Hasbara trip leader.

"The trip really opened up my eyes to how important it is that there is activism in America and that there is a strong pro-Israel voice that's heard on campus. We need to speak up and be active."

For more information about Hasbara Fellowships, go to:

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