It’s Israel Apartheid Week and the Israeli veterans and student activists of Reservists on Duty are reporting to campuses across America. Their mission is fighting back against the lies and the hate.
The annual anti-Israel campus events have become notorious for anti-Semitism and assaults on Jewish students. Posterboard walls rise on quads depicting Israel as a racist apartheid state. Fake checkpoints manned by anti-Israel activists dressed in the uniforms of Israeli soldiers pop up around the country.
Meanwhile Jewish students tuck their Stars of David into their shirts. Distinctive Jewish clothing is put away. Most Jewish students just try to keep their heads down until the ugliness of the week passes.
It’s a tough time to be pro-Israel. But the Shillman Fellows of Reservists on Duty are used to challenges.
Reservists on Duty was co-founded by Amit Deri. A major in the Israeli Defense Forces, Deri hadn’t paid much attention to politics during his decade in the military. While in the IDF, he didn’t know “what was happening outside the military”. And once he did, he was determined to fight back with the truth.
Deri had lost one of his best friends in the fight against terrorism. And he and other IDF vets founded and staffed Reservists on Duty to ensure that those sacrifices in the War on Terror would not be in vain.
On American college campuses, Deri saw for the first time just how ugly the lies were.
At the University of Houston, a school that Deri describes as one of the worst, alongside UC-Berkeley and UC-Irvine, a girl told him, “You’re taking organs from Palestinians and putting them into Israelis”.
Like American soldiers during the Vietnam War, Israeli soldiers are demonized and spat on. There is no bizarre atrocity and no impossible horror, too implausible or unlikely to attribute to the men in green.
Reservists on Duty challenges the prejudices and lies by bringing actual Israeli veterans to campus.
Every Israeli Apartheid Week, they call up the ‘reservists’ who jump into action.
“We’re sending our guys there during Apartheid Week to engage with students exposed to these carnivals of hate,” Deri says.
In 3 weeks, they’ve hit over 30 campuses. The University of San Diego is one of them.
The University of San Diego isn’t holding an Apartheid Week, but Jonathan Elkhoury showed up anyway to tell his story. The Arab Christian refugee was only nine years old when he came to Israel. Like many of Israel’s Jewish refugees, his family came to Israel fleeing Islamic violence and built a new life in Israel.
Now, while working on his degree, Jonathan Elkhoury is challenging lies and preconceptions by telling his story. On campuses where no ugly smear or conspiracy theory about Israel is too extreme, he brings his own experience of both sides to bridge the gap and tell the truth about Israel and its people.
It’s not easy.
He’s been called an Uncle Tom and was spat on at George Mason University for waving an Israeli flag.
At UC Irvine, he was told that Haifa is an apartheid city with a separate transportation system for Jews and Arabs. Elkhoury, who had lived in Haifa laughed and replied that it was the most diverse city in Israel. As a child, he had grown up attending a school with students of different of religions and backgrounds. He knows better than anyone else that the apartheid myth is really a big lie.
And now, at the University of San Diego, Elkhoury had achieved a breakthrough.
It was an “amazing moment,” Elkhoury told me. Usually the anti-Israel activists heckle, yell and refuse to participate. But this time, he had convinced a Muslim student from the West Bank to hold a dialogue. As their conversation evolved, the student agreed that the ‘Palestinian’ leadership was the problem.
The amazing moment was just another day for an amazing organization and its Shillman Fellows.
Deri, along with Elkhoury, had been spat on at George Mason University. Elkhoury has been at UC Berkeley. At UC Irvine, one of the women with Reservists on Duty was pushed and another spat on.
But some of the activists have seen worse in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. It’ll take a lot more than spitting and shoving to stop them. Instead, the members of Reservists on Duty go on the offensive.
When anti-Israel activists hold a ‘die-in’ at Berkeley to protest Israel, Reservists on Duty show up in IDF medic shirts with medical equipment, and announce, “We are IDF medics, there’s been a Hamas terror attack, and we are here to treat wounded regardless of their race or religion.”
The creative disruption is part of what Deri calls a ‘chutzpah’ strategy.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei speaks following his election victory. Photo: Reuters/Jose Cabezas.
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The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
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A food market in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher vis Wikimedia Commons.
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This week my family and I have the privilege of celebrating two significant and interrelated milestones. We celebrate the 15th anniversary of our arrival in Israel, taking on citizenship and planting our roots firmly in our historic homeland. And we celebrate (yes, celebrate) the induction into the IDF of our oldest son.
When our youngest son was born in Jerusalem, we knew that he would serve in the army, an obligation and privilege as an Israeli Jew, pretty much as genetic as his actual DNA. But when our oldest son was born in N.J., we didn’t know this would be his destiny.