The 2017-2018 academic year began on a high note, when Israel Education Center (IEC) intern Yogev Ben-Yitschak presented a curriculum on modern manifestations of anti-Semitism, including anti-Zionism, to 7,000 freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the university's diversity and inclusion training. The module was developed by IEC.
"The work IEC interns are doing on campus has never been more important," said Emily Briskman, IEC's executive director. "As anti-Semitic incidents on campus continue to rise, students are finding new ways to reach out to their greater campus community and engage in critical dialogue about anti-Semitism, as well as anti-Zionism's impact on the Jewish community."
During the academic year, Hillel and IEC engaged more than 8,500 students on 16 campuses with Israel through student leadership missions, events, and other educational initiatives.
More than 50 non-Jewish leaders in student government, ethnic and religious groups, and Greek life traveled to Israel with Jewish peers to experience Israeli culture and learn about the contemporary Jewish state first-hand.
22 IEC interns on 16 campuses engaged students of diverse backgrounds with Israel through programming, dialogue, and coalition-building with student organizations. Interns and other student leaders organized Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations that reached hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish students on seven campuses.
While Hillel and IEC engaged a record number of students with Israel, free speech continued to be challenged through an anti-fascism rally, a BDS campaign, and other anti-Israel events and anti-Jewish incidents. Free speech is a core value for university life and when it is threatened we must speak up not only for Jewish students but for everyone.
"When anti-Semitic rhetoric and symbols appear on campus, it's important for colleges and universities to call it out for what it is and respond swiftly and publicly," Briskman said. "The safety of Jewish students on campus is an important conversation that we are deeply invested in."
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert J. Jones released a statement following a rally organized by the university's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. The rally, called "Smashing Fascism: Radical Resistance Against White Supremacy," conflated Zionism with fascism as participants chanted, "No Zionists, no KKK, resisting fascists all the way." Swastikas appeared on campus following the event.
"Painted swastikas, chalked epithets on side-walks, KKK costumes and anti-Semitic attacks hidden under the guise of anti-Zionist rhetoric are all too common," Jones said. "Members of our Jewish, African American, Latino/a and many other residents of our diverse community find themselves asking whether they are welcome and safe here. The answer to that - whether in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, or any place in this country - must be a clear and resounding: 'Yes, you are.'"
This year, Illinois campuses only witnessed one BDS campaign, when UIUC's SJP chapter created a referendum urging the university to divest from 16 companies that do business in Israel. 1,700 students voted for the referendum, while 3,133 voted no - a decisive 2:1 victory.
When anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric appeared on campus, Hillel, IEC, and other organizations worked together to counter the misinformation and demonization that frequently accompany anti-Israel activity. IEC staff was on-the-ground and available around-the-clock during the rally and throughout the divestment campaign to support students.
IEC and Hillel are constantly developing new strategies and resources to support students and Hillel staff to make campus an inclusive and welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds. IEC's impact will continue to grow next year as a new cohort of interns, Israel Fellows, and Hillel professionals are welcomed.