Israeli students take battle bus to war on campuses

By Marcus Dysch, March 18, 2011

The largest pro-active pro-Israel campus campaign in years has been launched by a group of young Israelis and the Union of Jewish Students.

A group of 25 Israeli students will spend the next week touring British universities on a "battle bus" after volunteering to lead the fight against anti-Israel activity at student unions.

The group, made up of Israelis unaffiliated with any organisation and representing a cross-section of society, came together after learning about the level of anti-Israel activity.

Each one has taken time off from their studies and is paying for their own flights.

UJS chair Alex Dwek said: "This is the most exciting project that UJS has run for years. It shows that Jewish students are no longer willing to allow campus dialogue on Israel to be distorted by the rhetoric of extremists. I hope this will mark the start of more engaging campaigns to expose the wider student body to the real Israel."

It is hoped the campaign – running under an Israel Awareness Week banner – will counter Israel Apartheid Week activities, taking place from Monday.

Apartheid Week promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Past events have included appearances by hate speakers and attempts to delegitimise Israel.

UJS hopes the pro-Israel project will increase communication with moderate British students by allowing them to learn more about their Israeli peers.

One of the volunteers, 28-year-old Alon Kimhi from Afula, said: "I had heard about Apartheid Week and wanted to do something. I was sceptical because there's a very bad reputation for Israelis coming to speak on British campuses.

"We told UJS we wanted to co-operate and show a different side of Israel. We are very serious about the project. Everyone in our group has different political views, but we want to break the lies, break the propaganda and stop the demonisation.

"It's not about converting people to love Israel, but to give them a chance to meet us and see the diversity among Israelis. We come to talk, not fight." Mr Kimhi said the group felt
united with Jewish students and wanted to "walk together" to defend Israel.

The bus will travel from campus to campus with the students building a marquee in which to meet.

The Israelis will host exhibitions, informal meetings and build wooden bridges, to encourage dialogue rather than divestment. UJS staff visited Israel to train the group and explain what they are likely to encounter on campuses.

Carly McKenzie, UJS campaigns director, said: "For too long an extreme and divisive narrative has dominated debate on the Middle East conflict on our campuses, illustrated most vividly by Israel Apartheid Weeks.

"Our grassroots initiative is an important step in challenging this in favour of peace and positive engagement."

She said the campaign would provide an alternative approach to that of traditional Israeli speaker appearances at universities, when former IDF generals or diplomats meet students.

Other activities will include visits to Purim party club nights and question and answer sessions with student newspapers.

The Israelis will also take part in Shabbaton weekends. They are due to meet Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and Westminster politicians during their stay.

Last updated: 10:02am, March 18 2011