Campaign to counter Israel Apartheid Week set for local campuses

From Feb. 20 through March 9, as anti-Israel students stage the event known as “Israel Apartheid Week” on college campuses around the globe, students in North America who want to speak up for the Jewish state will gather to spread a message of their own: Israel wants peace.

Pro-Israel students at roughly 75 universities across the United States and Canada will take part in the third annual Israel Peace Week, a student-run initiative designed to counter anti-Israel propaganda.

At San Jose State University, IPW is part of a month-long series of talks, films and other events that showcase diversity in Israel. At U.C. Berkeley, one of the first campuses to organize for IPW, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will speak Thursday, Feb. 23 to leaders from more than 10 different campus political groups, including the College Democrats and the College Republicans.

Israel Peace Week supporters stand in U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. photo/courtesy of hasbara fellowships

Israel Peace Week was designed by four student leaders who took part in the 2010 Hasbara Fellowships program, which trains students to educate others and advocate on Israel’s behalf.

“I decided to get involved because I saw a lot of anti-Israel sentiment that wasn’t based on any facts,” said Sandra Cohen, 22, a senior at U.C. Berkeley and a campus coordinator there for this year’s IPW. “This was my way of speaking up, helping to shift the conversation, helping to get a message out there that isn’t often heard.”

Misconceptions about Israel abound among college students, Cohen said.

“People will say, ‘Oh, I heard Israel commits war crimes,’ or ‘I heard Israel commits human rights violations.’ Those are people who don’t know about the Oslo Accords, or the Camp David Accords. They don’t know how many times Israel has offered peace.”

Dana Margittai, 20, another Hasbara Fellow, is spearheading IPW events on campus at San Jose State University. She’ll be on hand during discussions and rallies to answer questions and pass out cards with little-known facts about Israel.

“It’s tough because this is a commuter school, so it’s sometimes hard to get people really engaged and involved,” said Margittai, the president of Spartans for Israel, SJSU’s pro-Israel student organization. “But people have responded really well to this in years past, especially when we talk about things that Israel has done that aren’t [Israeli Palestinian conflict-]related.”

“When we tell them about the amazing things Israel has done in technology, with philanthropy projects, people are usually surprised,” she added. “They just haven’t been informed.”

Israel Apartheid Week, according to its website, is set to run Feb. 26 to March 3 on campuses in the United States, and March 5 to 9 on campuses in Canada, but will begin Monday, Feb. 20 in Europe. In last year’s seventh annual Israel Apartheid Week, 97 cities participated, according to the website.