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Conference brings pro-Israel advocates to OSU

Elad Strohmayer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic region, addresses attendees of the Young Ambassador Workshop on Feb. 6 at the Hillel Wexner Jewish Student Center. Credit: Yann Schreiber / Lantern reporter

Elad Strohmayer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic region, addresses attendees of the Young Ambassador Workshop on Feb. 6 at the Hillel Wexner Jewish Student Center. Credit: Yann Schreiber / Lantern reporter

Chatter in a variety of languages filled the air at the Young Ambassador Workshop organized by the Israeli Consulate for the Mid-Atlantic Region this weekend.

Shaanan Street, an Israeli recording artist of the hip-hop-funk band Hadag Nahash, gave an interview at the workshop Friday, sometime about 10 p.m., as Dan Lammendola, a first-year master student in Arabic translation at Kent State University, walked up and thanked Street for his talk earlier.

They started speaking in Hebrew, but later switched to Arabic.

Street, who performs in Hebrew, and who is critical of the current Israeli government for what he called “human rights violations” and a deteriorating democratic situation, takes Arabic classes twice a week. His children go to a bilingual school in Israel.

Street was one of the speakers at a two-day workshop, which was presented in cooperation with the organization “Buckeyes for Israel,” Friday and Saturday at the Hillel Wexner Jewish Student Center.

“I don’t think there (are) two types of human rights, there is only one human rights,” Street said in an interview in The Lantern, adding: “The majority of Palestinians have nothing to do with terror.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely over land and religions and has been fought over for generations. Israel, Gaza and the West Bank were once called Palestine, but after a war in 1948, Palestine was divided and Jewish Israelis claimed some land for religious reasons.

The two-day workshop, packed with speakers and group discussions, brought together Jewish students and pro-Israel activists from Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kent.

“You are ambassadors for the Ohio-Israel relationship, and, as a result for that, of the USA-Israel relationship,” Elad Strohmayer, deputy consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, said in a Q&A session with the students. But he added: “Being a pro-Israel activist on campus these days — it’s not easy.”

Ohio State has a Jewish community of about 2,500 to 3,000, said Felicia Lilien, OSU director of Jewish Student Life. About 1,000 to 1,500 of them come to the Hillel center at least once a year. Approximately 40 students attended the conference.

“I came because I’m just always looking for ways to learn how to be a better advocate for Israel,” said Naomi Benatar, a first-year in Hebrew and pre-med at OSU. “It’s a really fragile situation to talk to people who don’t support Israel.”

But Cruz Bonlarron Martinez, publicity director at the OSU Committee for Justice in Palestine, sees things differently.

“We think that the Israeli occupation is unjust and has resulted in many Palestinians being pushed off their land and not being able to return home,” he said.

In an interview with The Lantern, Strohmayer, of the Mid-Atlantic region, said, “Historically, the settlements (in the West Bank) are ours,” but added that Israel would be willing to make concessions.

“Some people disagree with the settlements, and it’s fine,” Strohmayer said. “But taking it from there to saying ‘Israel doesn’t have the right to exist’ or ‘just because of the settlement there is no peace’ is just wrong.”

The CJP recently launched the “OSU Divest” campaign, which aims at pushing the university to “divest from companies that are complicit in the occupation,” Bonlarron Martinez said.

“I’d put human rights before the wellbeing of corporations,” he added.

Dylan Morpurgo, a campus coordinator for The David Project, a Boston-based Israel-advocacy organization working with students, told students attending the workshop that the project encourages its ambassadors to forge personal relationships.

“We don’t focus our efforts on those who are the detractors of Israel, we focus our efforts on those who otherwise might not have an opinion on Israel or people who can be engaged when it comes to Israel,” Morpurgo said.

In general, students at the workshop said they believe relations between Israelis and Palestinians are not bad on campus.

“I think that there is a united community on both sides and that’s wonderful,” Robyn Frum, a third-year in microbiology at OSU who helped organize the event, said.

“It’s not a hostile relationship at all. The leaders of Buckeyes for Israel have met with the leaders of Students for Justice in Palestine,” Frum said.

Though Bonlarron Martinez said, “As a group, we try not to participate in joint events with pro-Israel groups that do not acknowledge the occupation and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

“The differentiation of power has to be acknowledged, and I don’t really see the pro-Israel groups on campus acknowledging the differentiation,” he added.

He said there were contacts between individual members, “but as an organization we try not to do that.”

In an interview with The Lantern, Street said, “If Israel decided to live in the Middle East, it has to be a part of the Middle East. We can’t go and on suspecting Arabs for centuries and centuries.”

“I’m Israeli, so I come to my government for solutions,” he said, “I’m not Palestinian… Everybody has to work. It’s in everybody’s best interest.”


  1. The Yazidi in Iraq and the Christian Copts in Egypt are not “settlers” and “occupiers;” neither are the Jews in Israel. They are victims of a common enemy that seems to want a Middle East free of non-Muslims.

  2. Modern Muslims have religious conflict with: Hindus in Kashmir; Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, and Bosnia; atheists in Chechnya; Baha’is in Iran; Animists in Darfur; Buddhists in Thailand; each other in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen; Jews in Israel; Why is Islam involved in more sectarian and religious conflicts than any other religion today? In fact, why is Islam the only religion in conflict with every single one of today’s major world religions?
    But you think belligerent pugnacious Islam has legitimate grievances in this constant conflict, and that, for example in Palestine, Islam is just defending its own reasonable interests?
    No, not at bottom. At bottom what we have in Islam is a violent, expansionist totalitarianism. That’s why Islam is in conflict all over the world with every other religion.

  3. Despite its precedents in the Nazis’ kauf nicht bei Juden campaign begun in 1933 and the expulsion of Jews from German universities by “Hitler’s Professors,” and the Arab economic boycott of Israel now over 66 years old, the BDS movement may fairly be called, despite local variations, “Jews Against Themselves.” It was begun in England in April 2002 by the Jewish academic Steven Rose and his wife. Espousal of the boycott of Israel, especially its academic institutions, soon became the identifying mark of “progressive” English Jews, so much so that Howard Jacobson devoted a whole satirical novel (The Finkler Question, 2010) to “the Jews of shame,” people who were ashamed of Israel’s very existence, though not of their own illiteracy, cowardice, and treachery.

  4. ‘Open Hillel’ Legitimizes Anti-Semitism
    By Zach Stern
    Published Oct. 14, 2014

    Some Jews fought with the Greeks and Romans against their fellow Jews. Some sympathized with the crusades and the pogroms. Some Jews even supported the Nazis leading up to World War II.

    The story is no different today. There is still a very small – but vocal – minority of Jews who sympathize with those who want to kill us. There is still a fringe sect of Jewish society that finds it necessary to love those who seek to kill us and blame us for our enemies’ baseless hatred.

    These views include comparing the Jewish state to the Nazis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination.

    Enter ‘Open Hillel’, a fringe group of Jewish students and young professionals who seek to legitimize the world’s worst anti-Semites and invite anti-Semitism into the Jewish community. From welcoming supporters of genocidal terrorist organizations (BDS advocates and other ‘Open Hillel’ conference speakers – see below) to partnering with those who seek to wipe Israel off the map (for example, Students for Justice in Palestine), ‘Open Hillel’ is the newest version of Jewish legitimization of anti-Semitism.

    ‘Open Hillel’ seeks to change the Hillel guidelines regarding Israel programming on campuses to include those who seek the boycott and demonization of Israel and the destruction of the Jewish people and Jewish state. Hillel, according to its guidelines, is already open to all views on Israel, unless those views include a) the boycott of Israel, b) the demonization of Israel, or c) the destruction of Israel. So, by default, all ‘Open Hillel’ advocates for is the inclusion of Israel-hating views in mainstream Jewish society.

    These views include comparing the Jewish state to the Nazis, calling for the isolation of the only Jewish state and holding it to an impossible standard, and calling for the annihilation of Jewish self-determination. The US State Department considers these views anti-Semitic, and most Jews also consider these views hateful and anti-Jewish.

    ‘Open Hillel’ seeks to invite those who support Hamas (an internationally-recognized terrorist group that openly calls for the genocide of the Jewish people) into Hillels on college campuses. It seeks to invite with open arms those who call for intifadas (terrorism against Jewish civilians). These views should be included and imposed upon college students as legitimate ideas, according to ‘Open Hillel’.

    ‘Open Hillel’ recently held its first conference, where it invited guests such as Rashid Khalidi, who gave a keynote address, and Judith Butler, who spoke about anti-Semitism. Khalidi acted as a spokesperson for the PLO while the PLO was an internationally-recognized terrorist organization. He also still calls for the extermination of the Jewish state. Butler refers to Hamas and Hezbollah (both of which call for the killing of Jewish civilians worldwide) as “social movements that are progressive”; she refers to the genocide of the Jewish people as a social and progressive movement. Again, she spoke about anti-Semitism.

    By advocating for the inclusion of this baseless hatred, ‘Open Hillel’ is legitimizing anti-Semitism and inviting this age-old disease onto college campuses.

    ‘Open Hillel’ members continuously claim that they are simply trying to allow criticism of Israel under the Hillel tent. But they fail to realize that criticism of Israel is already welcome under Hillel’s tent. What they do not realize is that a line exists between legitimate criticism of Israel and calling for its demonization, isolation, or annihilation, all of which are anti-Semitic, even according to the US government.

    Would the NAACP invite the KKK to campus to preach racism? Should the Jewish community invite anti-Semites to campus to spread hate speech and call for an end to Jewish self-determination?

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