June 11, 2024
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From Congress to Knesset, Jewish Students Seek Help On Campus Antisemitism

Students from college campuses across the U.S. and Canada participated in the Olami Student Leader Mission to Israel, a landmark advocacy trip to Israel that culminated in student testimony of campus antisemitism in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Student leaders have been battling on their campuses bravely during the last academic year. They are fatigued and outnumbered. The Olami mission served as an important update for members of Knesset about the challenges that Jews on campus face and the important role Israel needs to play in countering campus antisemitism. The group called for a new activism program anchored by relationships and shared experiences between young North Americans and Israelis to help address the Jewish students being outnumbered on campus by well organized and funded anti-Israel activists.

In addition to meetings with Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and other Knesset members, the group traveled to sites in the Gaza envelope bearing witness to the sites of the October 7 massacre including the Nova Music Festival, Ofakim and Kfar Aza. Students also heard-heart wrenching tales from family members of those murdered.

Student leaders from Columbia, Harvard, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Michigan, Rutgers, Tulane, MIT, University of Arizona and other North American universities spent time with peers from Hebrew University who participate in Nefesh Yehudi, Olami’s Israel student program.

Each participating student had the opportunity to share a bit about the antisemitism they have seen firsthand on campus with the prime minister.

Eli Gelb, a student at Columbia University, told the room: “In April, Columbia allowed an angry mob of 500 pro-Hamas protesters wrapped in keffiyehs to gather on campus. Some friends and I began rallying for peace while holding American and Israeli flags. We were told that we were Al-Qasam’s next targets, to go back to Poland, and we were physically chased off campus with our rabbi. There was no security protecting us. I’m here now to say that next year it’s only going to get worse.”

One student said that she was “too scared to tell my peers that I was coming to Israel because of an earlier incident where I met up with a girl and told her I was Jewish. She said, ‘With everything going on, let’s forget you said that.’”

Ellie Cohen of UCLA was on her first trip to Israel and shared that “protesters who set up an encampment on my campus, set up barricades outside the library with wristband entrance, banning Zionists from entering the library.”

Talia Kahn, an MIT doctoral student and daughter of a Jewish mother and Afghan father, detailed for Netanyahu how she is currently immersed in an intolerable and extremely toxic environment at MIT created by terrorist sympathizers and Jew-hating organizations who vow to spread Hamas terror to her doorstep. Kahn has testified twice before Congress, demanding more be done to protect Jewish students. “I’m not only concerned about Jewish MIT students but about America as a whole, democracy, and the future of Western values in the U.S.”

“As a woman of Afghan descent, I understand the importance of Western values and fighting the forces that are trying to set us back. And as a patriotic American, it’s obvious that U.S. interests are best served by providing our best and loyal ally Israel with the tools it needs to continue being a beacon of light and democracy.

“I ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, to help us become better partners in this war on terror. We all in this room, and many others that couldn’t make it on this trip, we’re all ready to dedicate our lives to protecting democracy, Western values and Israel and America.”

Yasmeen Ohebsion, a first-generation Iranian American and recent graduate of Tulane University, said that she had met with campus administrators more than three dozen times after being repeatedly threatened and intimidated.

Ohebsion shared her experiences with Herzog at the house of the president. “At Tulane we collected data from over 300 Jewish students. Before October 7, only 15% had experienced or witnessed antisemitism on campus, and after October 7 that number rose to 86%.” Ohebsion pledged to the president that she will continue advocating for Israel “I will show up when people call for our extermination and remind them that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that we have an obligation to defend ourselves,” she said. “We ask for your help in strengthening us by bridging the gap between Israel and America.”

Olami is present on more than 100 U.S. college campuses to impact and strengthen Jewish life. The student delegation is part of Olami’s #ZeroTolerance campaign, which aims to establish a zero-tolerance culture for antisemitism on campuses. It follows a March mission to Congress, where students advocated for greater transparency and accountability in reporting antisemitic incidents.

“More than 3,000 anti-Israel supporters attended a conference in Michigan just a few weeks ago and told us they plan to ramp up their siege on campus in the fall,” said Rabbi David Markowitz, executive vice president and managing director of Vision and Partnerships. “The wait-and-see approach has surprised us several times and student safety can’t afford to be surprised again.

“Our students are outnumbered and the best way to get them help is to engage and educate more Jewish students to empower them to stand up to hate through firsthand experience in Israel and with Israelis. The mission and the programs we are putting in place will activate thousands of additional student leaders.”

To learn more, visit https://olami.org.

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