Hillels not ruffled by Israel Apartheid Week


By Max Moline

For Alana Herbst, president of American University Students for Israel, despite Israel Apartheid Week running at her campus and at universities worldwide, things are business as usual.

“We normally have events throughout the year that are positive and proactive” for Israel, she said. Those events are continuing unchanged, despite Apartheid Week activities on her campus “to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign,” as apartheidweek.org describes them.

The largest clusters of Apartheid Week activities are in England, South Africa, and Toronto, where the event originated. Washington-area campuses are also hosting events, and like at American University, their Hillels are responding – by not responding. At U.Md., one event, “The Wall Must Fall,” which the Apartheid Week website referred to as “the West Bank apartheid wall,” was not countered by Hillel.


“We’ve been training our student leaders” for IAW, explained Maryland Hillel director Ari Israel, who felt not much can be gained by “rolling around in the mud with the pigs.” Rather, “those types of events only serve to give the anti-Israel voice, which is typically very small, more favor,” he said.

Israel wants his students not to focus on responding negatively to IAW. “Our approach,” he said, “is a very positive one.”

Despite not having any events that directly protest IAW programming, Israel said that his Hillel will continue to have a plethora of positive, pro-Israel events.

Ross Diamond, the executive director of George Mason Hillel, calls Apartheid Week “Hate Week.” He said his organization does not need to respond directly.

“We’ve decided that taking a positive approach, that is, talking to the students, is more important than responding to a hateful and propagandistic campaign,” he explained. “Our response is having our own proactive kind of programming,” like bringing an Israeli environmental activist to campus this week to speak about water sustainability.

AU Hillel’s executive director, Jason Benkendorf, advocates a similar plan of action.

“We’re not doing much of anything in response,” he said. “We’re just continuing with all of the positive pro-Israel programming that we do all year.”

AU Hillel is, however, providing an environment for those who feel affected by the various events.

“[We are] going out of our way to allow Jewish and pro-Israel students to voice their feelings and opinions in a safe space,” said Benkendorf.

Still, Benkendorf said Apartheid Week has little effect on AU students: “This anti-Israel programming has a very modest effect on campus. Most students go about their daily lives.”

At George Washington University, Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth said his Hillel should have a more important goal than responding to individual events. “I’m about building bridges of understanding,” he said.

When events on campus include protests and conflict, that is what ends up being reported, rather than the event itself, explained Kaiser-Blueth. He called his approach to those who confront him a “calm, level-headed” one. “I try to engage them in a conversation,” he said, “try to build a relationship, try to find a common ground.”

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