Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Beyond BDS: College activist has passionate plea for pro-Israel adults


Hayley (right) on her campus.
By Hayley Nagelberg, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign class of 2019

I have always cared about Israel, and I have spent the past four years actively advocating for Israel through political means and campus-based activism. I have learned an incredible amount about the Middle East, and I have been trained to present myself professionally and speak in front of crowds large and small. I now know more legal terminology and persuasive rhetoric than I thought possible. I can make my points eloquently and with impact. 

And yet, while I consider myself to be an effective and passionate advocate for Israel, I'm convinced something has been getting lost in translation between pro-Israel college students and the pro-Israel adult world.
Pro-Israel college students are put on pedestals when they defeat BDS or speak out against anti-Semitism. But the pro-Israel adult world also needs to recognize and actively support the other work we do -- making genuine connections with faculty and fellow students that actually move the needle in creating positive associations with Israel.

I will defend Israel with every ounce of my being, but that is just one dimension of who I am. Being responsive to anti-Israel activity is just one small part of being a Zionist.

I was recently asked to share with a congregation in Chicago a video of myself speaking in front of the University of Illinois' board of trustees about anti-Semitism on campus. I was told this congregation wanted to share the video with their high school students to prepare them for what to expect when they get to campus.

This is not the only message to teach these students. To all adults who love Israel, I have the following request:

Hayley at the Western Wall.
Teach young people to follow the lead of the students sticking up for themselves at Columbia and at the University of Michigan and on countless other campuses, and make sure to explain that these are examples of proactive, confident Jews setting the narrative.

Teach them about Netta Barzilai’s recent Eurovision victory, and the fact that an Israeli performed on a world stage, smashing stereotypes about body image and sharing a powerful message about the #MeToo movement that moved thousands of viewers.

Teach them to love Israel in their core, and teach them to fight for an Israel that aligns with their personal values. Teach them to question the status quo, but teach them not to overlook the gift we have to live in a time when the Jewish state exists for us to call home.
Israel's story has and will forever speak for itself. Let each student, and each person, find his or her own connection to this wonderful nation. Teach love and not hate, faith and not fear, progress and not pessimism.

Teach us about the world around us and how it got to where it is today, but recognize that we will be the ones to chart a new course. Teach us the skills to make that happen, but do not reprimand us for not doing things as you might do them yourself.

Israel is the foundational stone holding the Middle East together. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require ingenuity and creativity and bold leadership. It will require positivity. And it will stand the best chance of success if our words and our efforts are not lost in translation. I have faith that, together with your help, my generation will envision and implement new approaches and shape a new future for our world.

To learn more about Jewish National Fund's work with Zionist education and advocacy on campuses, click here.

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