Three Valley students are on a mission: to correct misinformation about Israel through educational initiatives.
The three will take part in programs run by StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that promotes education and understanding with the goal of bringing a secure future to Israel and her neighbors.
One of the programs is the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship, which creates a network of Israel advocates across university campuses. The other is the StandWithUs Evenhaim High School Interns, an Israel-oriented leadership program.
This year’s Emerson Fellow at Arizona State University is Mara Friedman, a junior journalism major, while the local StandWithUs Evenhaim High School Interns are Jessica Zucker of Pinnacle High School and Ilana Hoffer of Phoenix Country Day School.
All three Valley residents attended StandWithUs conferences in Southern California in August to prepare them for the year. Liz Brough, StandWithUs’ national associate director of high school affairs, said the high school conferences included lectures on Israeli history, practice fieldwork scenarios, professional development workshops and social media training.
Hoffer said the conference provided a trove of useful information.
“I learned so much about the history of Israel and the whole Middle East in general,” she said. “More importantly, I learned how to use the facts of Israel’s past and present to defend the truth about it.”
Zucker is excited about educating others about Israel’s technical innovations, like the driving system called Mobileye.
“It warns about a collision that could occur or pedestrians that are crossing the street,” Zucker said. Another invention she finds “important and fascinating,” she said, is Solaris Synergy. “It’s an environmentally friendly invention that allows solar panels to float on water instead of taking up land.”
Interns have monthly regional meetings via Google Hangouts, plus individual meetings with Brough. There are 89 high school interns across the country.
For her part, ASU’s Friedman plans to combat apathy among pro-Israel students on campus.
“I call myself the ‘Jew-cruiter’ because I try to engage new people to attend events or learn about things that they never realized are important to them,” Friedman said. “For example, my friend was not involved, so I would bring his dorm Rosh Hashanah dinner; I got him to rush AEPI (Alpha Epsilon Pi) and on Birthright, and now he loves Israel.”
At the conference, Friedman said, she learned about distinguishing anti-Semitism from legitimate criticism of Israel.
“I learned about Natan Sharansky’s ‘3D’ test for anti-Semitism: delegitimization, demonization and the final ‘D,’ which is applying a different set of principles for Israel and ignoring similar actions by other countries, i.e., the double standard,” Friedman said.
None of the three students have personally experienced anti-Semitism in school. But Brough, who is not Jewish, was surprised to discover anti-Israel biases when she started college. After graduating from high school, Brough visited Israel with a Jewish friend, then came home and started her freshman year at the University of California, Irvine. On campus, Brough could not reconcile the things she saw and heard about Israel with her own experience.
Brough transferred to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where she interned for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in addition to working on local, state and congressional campaigns. She hadn’t envisioned her activism continuing after college, but she changed her mind after her younger sister moved to Israel to attend university for four years.
“[My sister] dealt with terrorism, the threat of terrorism and several operations,” Brough said. “Her daily life was being interrupted by continued cycles of violence and rejection of the people of Israel’s right to really have a boring life. I wanted to be a part of enabling that for the Jewish people and also for the Palestinians through education.
“Hopefully, that will catalyze better discussions between the people of Israel and the Palestinians and that will lead to peace.” JN