AJN 3: StandWithUs and Interfaith Peace

Two articles caught our attention in this week’s AJN (May 28).

The first article, on page 6 of The AJN, details the virtues of one Michelle Rojas, emissary for StandWithUs, an organisation devoted to the rehabilitation of Israel’s image on campuses throughout the world. These folk are worth googling, because they run a plethora of websites, ostensibly devoted to different aspects of their activities. In reality, however, this abundance is more a sign of poor organisation and duplication than anything else.

SWU’s Rojas has been invited by the Zionist Councils of Victoria and NSW as their guest. SHe will speak at schools, synagogues, and at youth movements.

This has all the makings of a a public relations nightmare for anyone who identifies as a Zionist. Aggressive, confrontational, determined to paint Israel as victim and Palestinians as aggressors, SWU is losing the fight before they even set foot on a campus.

What eludes these people – who are obviously well-meaning and devoted Zionists – is that the university campus in the western world is not a place in which Zionism has a natural home. They seem to believe that if only the issues could be explained clearly – if only people knew how very beastly the Palestinians really were, then the natural order of things would be restored and everyone would love Israel.

One of their leaflets depicts a female Hamas supporter brandishing both a weapon and a child. It asks, “What did she teach her child today?”

Honestly! How is that going to do anything other than provoke a screaming match between pro-Palestinians, and Zionists? Can anyone here seriously imagine someone not already involved in the fight actually wishing to embroil him/herself in the melee, or even just take a flyer and have a good think about the issues?

Sure there are crazy Palestinian ladies out there. There are some frightening Israelis, too. How does playing show-and-tell with each other’s lunatics in any way advance our position?

The whole point of SWU is to demonstrate not just Israel’s virtue (without ever conceding that Israel may in any way be imperfect, thus completely demolishing their credibility in a campus environment), but also the sheer nastiness of the Palestinians. No one wants to hear that, except people who are already right-wing Zionists – not the pro-Palestinians, and not the poor bystanders who find their universities invaded by a conflict they feel has nothing to do with them.

This is not an interschool debate in which points are awarded for good manner, good research, and good rebuttal. This is far messier, far more subtle, and far more complicated.

The second article (also page 6), describes a statement of peace issued by the Jewish Christian Muslim Association (JCMA). It is both heartening and surprising, considering the animus between the Muslim and Jewish peak bodies recently.

What at first glance might seem like anodyne statements of the obvious, is actually a triumph of good sense. This was achieved through judicious avoidance of messy details regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the thoroughly sensible reversion to first principles: that civillian deaths areĀ  “acknowledged” (we assume they mean in a sombre manner), and that both Hamas and Israel should cease military action (it seems this statement may have taken quite a while to formulate).

Acknowledgement of the two state solution as the only path to peace – while eminently sensible, and perhaps, seemingly obvious – is nevertheless an important declaration in as much as it removes the one state idea (ie. the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state) from the discourse completely.

Still, we must ask, who exactly are these folk representing? They are not elected by their communities, nor are we aware of any other mechanism other than self-appointment, that endows them with the authority to speak on their communities’ behalf. The nice words are problematic in that we have no way of knowing what the true sentiments in any of the communities might be.

An unrepresentative Muslim leader may shake the hand of an unelected Jewish leader, but neither has a legitimate constituency, can this be anything more than a pleasant way to make a press release to the ethnic papers? One could argue that these men are leading by example; however, such an argument is impossible to substantiate in that, again, we have no way of knowing to what degree these men have actually influenced their communities.

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17 Responses to “AJN 3: StandWithUs and Interfaith Peace”

  1. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear SJ,

    StandWithUs, as I understand it, is an advocacy organisation squarely seeking to promote and enhance the breath and depth of oncampus, incommunity and inprofession support for Israel – as an entity, a nation state, a civic society and a community.

    It is neither debating society, non-partisan (both sides of the story) lobbyist, or unaligned interest group.

    What is so wrong with the four failings you perceive:

    1. Aggressive – yes, it is aggressive, but so is the playground of ideas, claims, counterclaims and outright venom that passes for some debate over the I/P conflict
    2. Confrontational – yes it is if you argue that telling your version of the truth will upset those that pose as the colonised victims of some great injustice
    3. Positioning Israel as (on balance) the victim of aggression, violence, urban terror and ideological slander – we will just have to accept that some will see Israel as the victim and others the activist military power
    4. The Palestinians (or should we say the palestinian political groups) as the aggressors – same as above.

    Does SJ stand with us or stand with them? In some conflicts, you just have to take sides. That does not take away you right to fully debate and assess the facts and fictions.

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  2. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear TSJ,

    What is your position re StandWithUs? Is it a self-defeating organisation or just one that is robust and reliably supportive of Israel the nation state, the multifaith community and the intellectual/economic entity?

    Looking forward to your assessment.

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  3. Blistering says:

    Hi Sensiblejew.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Rojas today and she’s a delightful person who was a New Yorker and has now made aliyah. She spoke of her experiences and her awakening to the Jewish cause and to Zionism. She was at school and close to Ground Zero on 9/11 and her description of the events of the day and of the rabidness of the anti-Semitic campaigns waged in certain sectors was mindboggling.

    May our campuses here in Australia never become what they have become in the USA, Canada and the U.K because if they do the only sensible thing for us to do would be to build ourselves shelters and hide away in them if you think some PR guru can save us from this and that the things that Standwithus does is not good for the Zionist cause.

    Perhaps it would be sensible for you to meet her and discern for yourself whether it’s you or she who is the sensible one.

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  4. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear Blistering,

    The news about StandWithUs appears good.

    I question whether Ms Rojas can be dismissed without meeting her, interviewing her or listening to her message.

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  5. Dani Klein says:

    Hi all writers & readers of this site,

    My name is Dani Klein, and I am the North American Campus Director for StandWithUs (working with campuses in the USA & Canada). I have had the pleasure of working with Michelle Rojas in NY, and she is nothing but amazing, and I am glad she continues to work for us in Israel.

    Now to your concerns about our organization. I understand you may not agree with our tactics, and that is OK. We understand that not every approach to Israel advocacy is for everyone, nor do we claim to be representative of all Israel supporters. But, we ARE filling a huge void when it comes to Israel EDUCATION. That is our core belief. One must be educated about Israel, her history, her achievements, her challenges, her geography, etc. in order to be a proper advocate. It is not merely pro-Israel PR. Students especially are ignorant to what Israel is all about. Numerous market research studies have been done across North America and it was concluded that most people’s knowledge of Israel is both very basic, and often grossly misinformed.

    You chose to focus on one of our flyers depicting Palestinian hate speech, something that the human rights community around the world is not making a big enough deal over, because the way that Palestinian society is being educated is deplorable. That is just one issue that we discuss on campus concerning the Palestinian / Israeli conflict.

    However, we do not solely focus on discussing the conflict. We fully recognize that we would be doing a disservice by ONLY discussing the conflict. We have created numerous materials discussing positive aspects of Israel including her commitment to Innovation, Medicine, the Environment, Diversity, Human Rights, etc. We discuss ways in which Israel affects all of our lives daily, Jew or non-Jew, Zionist or not.

    We believe that it is through this dual educational approach that students will be able to properly advocate for Israel, and educate their peers. We are fully committed to creating and enhancing student leaders all over the world. I know that SWU is also committed to working with the Australian Jewish community, with AUJS and other students groups, to facilitate the above stated goals. I, myself, have worked with and trained AUJS students at a PTS conference (Political Training Seminar) in Canberra in 2005.

    I do hope that you can look at everything that SWU is involved in as a whole (yes, even all of our websites), and base your judgment on the sum of our parts.

    If you do have suggestions for our organization, I invite you to please continue this discussion with us and help us improve, so we can improve knowledge about Israel and her image. you can email me at: dani@standwithus.com. We can also continue the discussion on Twitter: http://twitter.com/standwithus.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Dani Klein
    StandWithUs
    Campus Director, North America

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  6. [...] Israeli airline El-Al. Flyers were distributed celebrating kosher food, the hardline Zionist group Stand With Us and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Some marchers carried small signs with a picture of captured [...]

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  7. Blistering says:

    Bless you Dani Klein for mentioning the magic word “education”. It’s something that the Jewish and general student population and indeed the wider community needs plenty of in order to understand the complexities of the political situation between Israel and the Arabs.

    There are too many in our community who shrink away from the necessity of inculcating people with an understanding of the situation particularly faced with some of the venomous propaganda emanating from the anti-Zionist camp (and I include the play Seven Jewish Children in this category).

    And thank you Salute To Israel 2009. If Antony Loewenstein can describe SWU as “hardline Zionist” then I’m satisfied that they are, in fact, honourable, have integrity and credibility in my eyes.

    One final matter SJ. The heading of this topic is “StandWithUs and Interfaith Peace”. I don’t know what you’re getting at here. Aren’t you mixing politics and religion?

    I don’t think SWU is against promoting peace between religious groups. Rather, the problem we all have as Zionists is a political one in which our detractors are very good at propaganda and telling lies. The extent to which they have developed this is by the acceptance of many of the image of “the Zionist bully” which has mainly come about because of the anti-Zionist smear campaigns of groups such as Australians for Palestine. That is not to say that Israel is perfect – far from it – but what we don’t need is for people on our side to give them any credibility.

    OK so I’m rambling on a bit. The point is that these issues have nothing to do with interfaith. They are political.

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  8. TheSadducee says:

    Blistering

    I don’t like to answer on behalf of SJ but I would suspect the title refers to the fact that the comment piece discusses two different articles?

    Additionally, I’d like to take up something that you raise in your 2nd last para – what do you mean by we (Zionists presumably?) not needing people on our side to give them any credibility?

    I’d also like to throw out there the idea that the misrepresentation of Zionism has occured precisely because of the failure of our leading organisations to combat it successfully?

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  9. Blistering says:

    Sadducee – I agree and what I’m saying it was probably best that the two issues be kept separate.

    I mean that we Zionists don’t need to give credibility to AFP whose representatives openly oppose a 2 state solution, praise openly anti-Semitic websites and who advocate boycotts of Israeli goods and academics.

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  10. [...] Posted by sensiblejew on June 3, 2009 We’d like to thank Dani Klein of StandWithUs for writing in our comments section. His uninterrupted comment can be read here. [...]

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  11. Dr Paul Gardner says:

    The AJN item on the Jewish Christian Muslim Association statement, mentioned in your May 28 post, gave only brief coverage to the actual contents of the Melbourne Statement.

    If sensiblejew readers would like to read the full statement, it’s at
    http://www.jcma.org.au/MelbourneStatement.html

    JCMA is sponsored by the peak bodies of the three faiths: the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Victorian Council of Churches and the Islamic Council of Victoria.

    The writers of the statement are either themselves leading members of the peak bodies, or were in consultation with their leaders, before the statement was published.

    (Dr) Paul Gardner AM
    Member, JCMA Board

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  12. Blistering says:

    Hi Sensiblejew.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Rojas today and she's a delightful person who was a New Yorker and has now made aliyah. She spoke of her experiences and her awakening to the Jewish cause and to Zionism. She was at school and close to Ground Zero on 9/11 and her description of the events of the day and of the rabidness of the anti-Semitic campaigns waged in certain sectors was mindboggling.

    May our campuses here in Australia never become what they have become in the USA, Canada and the U.K because if they do the only sensible thing for us to do would be to build ourselves shelters and hide away in them if you think some PR guru can save us from this and that the things that Standwithus does is not good for the Zionist cause.

    Perhaps it would be sensible for you to meet her and discern for yourself whether it's you or she who is the sensible one.

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  13. sensiblejew says:

    Hi GH.
    We thought we made our position pretty clear: we think their tactics (as described online) will do more harm than good to the Zionist cause. We will post on our recommendations for effective campus PR soon.

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  14. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Blistering. We have no personal beef with Ms Rojas. Our post dealt with the policies and methods of StandWithUs which Ms. Rojas represents, and we stand by our arguments that what is detailed on the StandWithUs website is not a recipe for good PR from the Zionist perspective.

    And while some nasty things have happened on various campuses, it would be a grave mistake to extrapolate that the situation for Jews in the Western world is so dire that we need to “build ourselves shelters and hide away.” We are not entirely sure how you arrived at this conclusion. There are unpleasant people everywhere. Anti-Zionism finds fertile ground at universities. Our young people need to be equipped to deal with it in the best possible way, and we maintain that SWU simply does not provide that way. This has nothing to do with PR gurus. It has to do with intelligent engagement and careful planning, rather than ad-hoc measures which provide a temporary sense of empowerment for young Jews that in reality only alienates them further from broader campus life.

    As for whether she is sensible or whether we are sensible, it is possible that we are both quite sensible. We have no plans to meet Ms Rojas, and she may be the lovely girl you describe. This, however, has little to do with the soundness – or lack thereof – of her organisation’s tactics.

    GH, we neither dismiss nor embrace Ms. Rojas. She is simply a representative of a group that has quite sufficient online presence that we are all able to discern their tactics and policies. One needn’t meet Ms. Rojas to do this.

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  15. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Dani. Thank you for responding to some of our concerns. Later today, we will devote a post to your comment.

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  16. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Blistering. We’re going to write a post on the issue, and we don’t want to repeat ourselves too much; but basically, all the education in the world is useless without an audience. Who comprises SWU’s audience? How is their educational material geared to these audiences? We of course agree that misinformation is rampant and that education is crucial, but delivery of that education is the difference between success and abject failure.

    No one is shrinking away from anything. We simply advocate more intelligent and sophisticated methods of disseminating our message, because the old fashioned agit prop will not work.

    As for Loewenstein calling us the “Z” word – see? We are OK! Seriously, though we’re going to enjoy ourselves a bit with a response to his blog article. But we’ll only get to that after we answer Dani Klein’s (of SWU) thoughtful comments.

    As for mixing politics and religion – it’s too late: they’ve been mixed for a while. Perhaps counter-intuitively, religious groups can often be more moderate than secular political groups that they are aligned with. They can also have a moral gravitas that makes them very influential.

    You’re right, of course, that SWU is not intentionally fomenting discord between religious groups; however, their methods may very well have that consequence.

    And yes, some of the pro-Palestinian groups play dirty – the socialists in particular have always had a fraught relationship with reality on any number of issues. But they have traction on campus and it’s up to all of us to be smart and snatch that moral high ground right out from under them. And I don’t think anyone we’d consider sensible would want to give succor or credibility to AFP, the socialists or anyone of their ilk. Those groups are not interested in peace or constructive dialogue.

    Where interfaith really comes into it, is that it can provide a less fraught meeting ground for different groups. You can’t just throw a bunch of Zionists in with pro-Palestinians and ask them to fight about the issues and expect something constructive to emerge.

    But when a group of Muslims (probably pro-Palestinian) and a group of Jews (probably Zionists) are able to talk religion, they’ll find there’s a fair bit of common ground, relationships are forged, and when future dialogue on Israel/Palestine does take place, it has a chance of being conducted in good faith. We have a far better chance of our case being heard in such a context. Do not underestimate the moderating influence that such groups can have as well. They can very much exert their influence to help ensure that the campus environment does not become overly hostile to one group or another.

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  17. sensiblejew says:

    Thank you very much for that, Dr Gardner. We’ll have a look. And congratulations on the statement.

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