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Members of Winnipeg Friends of Israel executive (l-r): Yolanda Papini-Pollock, Zehava Yehuda, Myron Love, Miriam Glogowski, Miriam Kohen, guest speaker Daniel Koren of Hasbara Canada, Rev. John Howson, Rev. Don James, Victoria James, Rev. Peter Fast

By MYRON LOVE
Although there is no doubt that anti-Israel activists took an early lead in spreading falsehoods against the Jewish State on North American university campuses, a growing number of Jewish groups in recent years have joined the fight to set the record straight. One such group in Canada is StandWithUsCanada, one of whose programs is the subject of another story in this edition of this news paper.
Another organization fighting back against the calumnies being spread on campuses about Israel is Hasbara Canada.

 

 

 

On Tuesday, November 26, Daniel Koren, the executive director of Hasbara Canada, was in Winnipeg for the first time – under the auspices of Winnipeg Friends of Israel and Bridges for Peace – to discuss the alarming growth of anti-Semitism – in the guise of anti-Zionism – on Canadian university campuses and Hasbara Canada’s efforts to counter the world’s oldest hatred and coach Jewish students on campus in how to fight back.


Hasbara Fellowships is a leading pro-Israel campus activism organization working with over 80 universities across North America. Hasbara Fellowships, a program spearheaded by Aish HaTorah since 2001, brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter, giving them the information and tools to return to their campuses as educators about Israel. So far, Hasbara Fellowships has educated over 3,000 students on over 250 campuses. Upon returning from the program, the Hasbara Fellows receive support from Hasbara staff, as well as access to various campaigns, programs, speakers and other materials and tools. Hasbara Fellowships focuses on college campuses, but the information and tools offered are applicable for other forums as well.


In introducing the evening’s subject matter, Yolanda Papini Pollock, co-founder of WFI, cited a Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre as singling out McGill in Montreal, McMaster University in Hamilton and York University and Ryerson in Toronto as the Canadian universities that have stood out for anti-Semitic incidents.
Daniel Koren noted that Hasbara Canada is the largest organization in Canada dedicated to fighting against anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism on university campuses. “Our mandate,” he said, “is to develop and educate student leaders to fight for Israel and the Jewish people on campus.
The training, he explained, includes a 17-day advocacy program in Israel that exposes students to hotspots such as Sderot as well as Palestinians in order to provide the students with a broader perspective and prepare them for what they will encounter from anti-Israel activists on campus.


Koren noted that while the interest in the detestable “Israel Apartheid Week” is dwindling and BDS efforts on campuses have invariably failed, almost half of Jewish university students have experienced blowback from defending Israel. As a result, many Jewish students are afraid to talk about Israel on campus and try to keep their heads down. He noted that Jewish students who have received coaching as a result of Hasbara Fellowships gain the confidence to take action – sometime with positive results.
“Almost all of our Fellowship students feel more confident about standing up for themselves and Israel after our training program,” he reported. As an example, he cited the case of one Jewish student at Scarborough College in Toronto who, after Hasbara training, got up the courage to join the college student council and managed to persuade the Pakistani-born president of the student college and the College Provost to pass a motion to remove a large Free Palestinian banner in the college foyer.
“On encouraging aspect of the struggle against anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism on campus,” Koren noted, “is that most students know little about the conflict and aren’t much interested. There is opportunity to introduce them to Israel in a positive way.”


Koren cited a number of anti-Semitic (under the guise of anti-Zionism) incidents in recent months at York, McGill, the University of Windsor and the University of Toronto.
He noted that there are several ways that anti-Semitism is being transmitted on campuses. BDS is one of them. “The ultimate goal of BDS is to flood Israel with millions of Palestinian refugees and in essence eliminate the State of Israel,” he pointed out. “BDS efforts on campuses include harassment of Jewish students and make them feel unsafe.”
Other sources of anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism on campus, Koren noted, include university media such as student newspapers – he cited a recent editorial in the Manitoban – and student radio, certain university clubs such as “Students for Justice in Palestine” and “Students Against Israeli Apartheid”, social media and many professors who promote anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism in their classrooms.


And while pro-Israel student activists can respond with some success against BDS and biased editorials and become involved in student governance, there is not a lot to be done about biased tenured professors. He illustrated the difficulty in sanctioning or removing biased professors by recounting the case of one Anthony Hall.
Unlike most professors who promote an anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist agenda from the left wing, Hall, a University of Lethbridge professor, is a full-blown Holocaust denier – the kind of open anti-Semite everyone would agree to condemn. It still took a full three years for the university to persuade Hall to retire.


He also spoke of the extreme difficulty in having known Palestinian and other terrorists removed from Canada. He gave the example of a character by the name of Issam an-Yamani, a former member of the extremist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He came to Canada in 1985 under false pretences. He has been designated a threat to Canada and his deportation was approved in 2005. Almost 15 years later, he is still here and was recently invited to be a guest speaker at a “Students Against Israeli Apartheid” program at the University of Toronto. While the U. of T. administration bowed to public pressure and cancelled the booking, the notoriously anti-Israel Canadian Union of Public Employees was only too happy to lend its premises to the presentation.


So what is to be done about the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses? Koren suggested among other actions attempting to persuade university administrators to adopt the new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which includes several examples relating to Israel, including: comparing Israel to Nazi Germany; applying standards to Israel that are not applied to any other country; applying standard anti-Semitic stereotypes to Israel; questioning Israel’s right to exist; holding all Jews responsible for Israel’s actions; and accusing Jews in the Diaspora who support Israel of dual loyalty.
The IHRA definition has been adopted thus far by 33 countries, including Canada, Koren reported.
Other actions include having Jewish donors pull funding from universities that tolerate anti-Semitic/anti-Zionist incidents; bringing complaints to Hasbara Canada (which has a number of lawyers available who will take on such cases pro-bono; and having grassroots Jewish groups (such as Winnipeg Friends of Israel) reaching out to other faith and ethnic communities to educate them about Israel.
“At Hasbara Canada, we believe that if you can change even one person’s mind about Israel, it is a victory,” Koren said.

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