University of Maryland junior Keren Binyamin had had a lifetime of Israel advocacy experience. A dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, Binyamin, 20, has been the go-to among her peers for Israeli advocacy since Operation Protection Protective Edge in 2014, when she had to take shelter from a Hamas rocket attack.
While attending Athlothon High School in Columbia, she was awarded an internship with the nonprofit Stand with Us and was selected with the organization again in her sophomore year at the University of Maryland for the year-long Emerson Fellowship. In that position, she was entrusted as a campus ambassador to teach the university community about Israel.
What kind of Jewish environment did you grow up in?
I didn’t grow up in a very Jewish area. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of other Jews in my daily life until high school. The main source of my Jewish education was in the home and I went to a summer camp called Camp Shoresh.
In high school what were youknown for?
I was the Israel girl. I was the Jewish girl. If you ever wanted to know about Israel or Judaism, you came to me.
How did you get into Israel activism?
From a young age, I was always pretty passionate about Israel. What really opened my eyes to the political aspect was when I was there during Operation Protection Protective Edge in 2014 [as a 13 year old] and had to go to bomb shelters myself. I had peers [in the U.S.] ask me how I could ever support Israel. Meanwhile there were rockets flying over my head. It was kind of in that moment I realized a lot of people don’t know the truth about Israel and I’d like to help them get there.
Does your having opinions about Israel mean that the Palestinians on your campus are wrong? Is it a zero sum game? How do you navigate such a polarizing issue?
I’m a 20-year-old, I do not know the solution for the Palestinian conflict. Hundreds if not thousands of well-studied people have looked at this issue and have not come up with a solution, so I don’t have much faith in myself alone to come up with that.
One thing I do know is that I will always speak the truth about Israel and events that occur regarding her history and current events, and that genocidal calls for the destruction of the Jewish state will never sit OK with me.
Can your activism ever go side by side with the Palestinians on campus?
There were attempts to reach out [by Terps for Israel] to Students for Justice for Palestine, but those attempts were turned down, so akin to the Israel-Palestinian conflict the olive branch has been extended. That happened my sophomore year and maybe years previously but I can’t really speak to that.
Can you tell me about the Stand with Us Emerson Fellowship?
The point of the Emerson Fellowship is to bring Israel education to North America, so I was essentially the fellowship of this campus to educate the UMD population about Israel.
How would you describe the anti-Israel activism and have there been acts of antisemitism that you’ve witnessed personally?
I would say the University of Maryland follows the 80-10-10 rule pretty well. That’s 10 percent that’s really pro-Israel and 10 percent that’s really anti-Israel and the rest just don’t care. There is an anti-Zionist sentiment on campus. Students for Justice in Palestine has tried to pass BDS resolutions in the past, but they have been unsuccessful. There have been antisemitic incidents, the occasional swastika here and there and a few months ago, someone handed out flyers off campus with some Jewish conspiracy theory.
My freshman year of college, I experienced an antisemitic incident myself. I had a white board on my dorm room door and I left a marker and wrote prompts like “What are you most excited about this year?” and someone wrote “Free Palestine” and I didn’t think much of it. And then a couple weeks later, in the same handwriting, someone wrote “Israel is a terrorist state” and I reported it to my RA and the police got involved.
The article was changed to correct the spelling of Binyamin’s last name.