by Judy Zelikovitz
As a parent of university graduates, I know the myriad of challenges facing students today. Virtually every Canadian who pursues higher education will experience, at some point during their studies, academic, social, or financial difficulties. For many Jewish students, added to the list is the challenge of anti-Israel activism on their campus, be it boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) resolutions at student council, anti-Israel materials in shared student spaces, or anti-Zionist commentary in student newspapers.
No one can guarantee easy grades or a problem-free campus experience. To the contrary, developing greater independence and learning to overcome challenges are integral parts of earning a degree. However, we can and must guarantee the academic and free speech rights of every student. Jewish students have every right to express solidarity with Israelis, love the Jewish state, and champion Israel’s contributions to the world – and to do so with pride.
As we send our students off to campus knowing that they will inevitably encounter malicious views about Israel, we must provide them with support, knowledge, advocacy tools, and our assurance that they are not alone in this cause.
As the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) works with Hillel, students, faculty, and administrations on more than 25 campuses across the country, including the University of Alberta. Our national campus team is engaged year-round in building relationships with campus leaders, whether through in-person briefings or through fact-finding trips to Israel (CIJA hosts more than 50 students and university officials on such trips annually). CIJA’s staff work with Hillels across the country, providing training, financial resources, materials, and rapid response support to defeat anti-Israel initiatives.
While this includes a broad range of projects, it is worth highlighting the grants CIJA offers to Hillels and grassroots students who create their own innovative advocacy projects, a program that has achieved exciting results. For example, Hillel at Queen’s University hosted a successful Tel Aviv-themed party last year that enabled more than 700 students – the vast majority non-Jewish – to experience Israel as a beacon of culture, technology, and human rights. While this is a model for how we can attract non-Jewish students to learn more about Israel, it’s only the first step in building alliances on campus. The vibrant events we sponsor open the door for deeper conversations about the threats and challenges facing Israel, and likewise enable Hillel to build relationships that can prove crucial in fighting anti-Israel trends.
As Jewish students immerse themselves in the fall term, I would offer the following thoughts to those who are concerned about anti-Israel activism.
First, don’t be silent. Speak up, ask questions, and find out what CIJA and our Hillel partners can do to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you or someone you know experiences a challenging situation on campus.
Second, get involved. The best way for Jewish students to make a difference is to become active in student government, campus newspapers, and various groups and associations at their school. Get involved in Hillel, but also reach out to student leaders in other faith communities. If you are interested in human rights, social justice, or a particular professional field, seek out and join the groups on your campus that focus on these issues. For Jewish students to be heard, they need to be active participants across campus society, fostering relationships that will ultimately prove vital in the fight against BDS and other anti-Israel initiatives.
Third, be creative and confident. Remember that the other side has rhetoric, but we have truth and we have results. Not a single university administration in Canada has endorsed BDS. Canada-Israel relations and trade are at an all-time high. Israel is thriving economically and culturally, and continues to amaze the world with its technological achievements. And despite the persistence of antisemitism and threats to the Jewish state, the Jewish people enjoy greater security in Israel and most of Diaspora than perhaps at any time in history. Amid challenges, we must remain grateful and optimistic.
And don’t forget to be proud of who you are and to have fun, which will send a strong message to anti-Israel activists that you will not be brow-beaten and bullied. In addition to earning a degree and overcoming challenges, university is a time to build memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life. My hope is that this will include memories of the many times you stood up for your beliefs on campus.
Judy Zelikovitz is Vice President, University and Local Partner Services, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)