Hillel President Wayne Firestone called on the Jewish community to be “pro-active” in its approach to combatting anti-Israel activity on campus in a panel at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Joining Firestone on the panel was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and the session was moderated by Fordham University Law School lecturer and writer Thane Rosenbaum.
The session explored the question of anti-Semitism on campus and the increase in anti-Israel sentiment.
Simply being defensive when anti-Israel activists have demonstrations, allows these groups to pick the time, place and venue for the confrontation, Firestone says. He believes that Hillel must work proactively to position the Jewish community and Israel in a way that is positive, constructive and enlightening.
Firestone added that universities need to be safe places for all students to express their beliefs. Pro-Israel students should not feel threatened or inhibited in the classroom. Hillel must work with university administrators in an intensive and prolonged manner to make campuses a welcoming place for Jewish students.
Teaching students to be positive campus role models must begin by helping them to internalize and owning their Jewish story. “Our focus needs to be on helping place them in time and space by understanding the story and values of the Jewish people,” he said.
Firestone acknowledged the remarkable contribution that Taglit-Birthright Israel has made in helping students develop their own narratives about Israel. Being able to share these personal stories and experiences has had a marked effect on their Jewish identities and on the position of Israel on campus.