Once upon a time, Roz Rothstein made a living as a family therapist. Today, she is more of a SWAT commando.
At least, that’s how it feels to her sometimes as executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel nonprofit that routinely is on the front lines when it comes to agitating for Israel on college campuses and elsewhere.
Occasionally, it’s behind the lines as well.
StandWithUs, which Rothstein co-founded 10 years ago, has grown into a formidable power in the realm of Israel education and advocacy. The organization staffs 12 field offices across the country and in Israel, with a $4 million annual budget.
San Francisco is home to one of those offices. With frequent anti-Israel demonstrations on local campuses, and Israel divestment resolutions pushed at universities and city councils, Rothstein realizes pro-Israel advocates here have their hands full.
Rothstein visited the Bay Area last week to meet with supporters and fill the coffers.
“Everywhere I go I’m either speaking or raising funds to support the work that we do,” says Rothstein, who lives in Los Angeles. “[Members] are terrific people who care so much. They feel everything is so skewed and Israel is misrepresented far too often.”
Much of the StandWithUs budget goes to writing, printing and distributing educational materials. They are typically packed with historical facts, illustrations and arguments countering claims of Israel’s harshest critics.
Those materials often wind up on campus display booths, at churches, synagogues or schools. The organization also stages conferences, sends speakers to forums and engages in other informational activities.
However, when a crisis erupts, the StandWithUs team goes into rapid response mode. For example, when Jewish Voice for Peace put up posters in BART stations late last year, StandWithUs countered with its own posters a few weeks later.
“We are very proactive,” Rothstein says. “We engage with [pro-Israel] students, support their efforts on campuses and make sure they know how to reach us if they have a problem.”
Jewish students at U.C. Berkeley had a big problem last year when an Israel divestment resolution passed in the student senate. StandWithUs was one of several entities that came in to help.
“The students were so disturbed,” recalls Rothstein, who personally met with many campus activists. “They had begun seeing swastikas. It became such a hostile campus, isolating Israel, and of course never addressing human rights issues anywhere else.”
The organization helped pay for an ad in the Daily Californian and provided other assistance. In the end, the divestment resolution was vetoed and an override defeated.
The reason StandWithUs devotes so much energy to college campuses is not that the protesters pose a danger to Israel. It’s because, Rothstein says, impressionable students who accept the anti-Israel ideology eventually become the voters and decision-makers of tomorrow.
“Students go to college without a lot of information,” she says. “They know nothing and are met with a propaganda machine. Muslim students associations across the country are working in tandem to paint Israel as the worst human rights abuser on the planet. Kids who don’t have a lot of information are prey.”
Rothstein never needed prodding to go into pro-Israel activism. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she has worked in the Jewish community much of her life, including a long stint at a Los Angeles–area Jewish community center.
The brutal murder of two Israeli teens in May 2001 prompted her to take action. She, her husband and a friend launched StandWithUs, mostly as a kind of truth squad to push back against misinformation about Israel.
Her face is too well known now, but for years, Rothstein would slip into gatherings of anti-Israel organizations, such as Sabeel, to study their tactics and messages. She says she is fine with criticism of Israeli policies, but she draws a line.
“Everybody should be talking about peaceful negotiations,” she says. “If they’re not, if they omit why there are checkpoints or a [separation barrier] and don’t give the context, if they hold up Israel to a mega-standard they don’t with anyone else, then we consider that anti-Semitism.”
Fighting that battle on multiple fronts can seem daunting, but Rothstein says she never loses hope the battle can be won.
“We can turn the tide,” she says. “I just need the resources.”