A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Student groups counter Iranian nuclear program

 Lauren Mangurten 
By Lauren Mangurten

As the threat of a nuclear Iran comes to the forefront for Israel advocacy groups, students across the nation join the movement to halt Iran’s progress.

Steven Dishler, director of Israel and International Affairs at JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) explained that Iran wants hegemony over the Persian Gulf region, and a nuclear program could give Iran that power. Israel advocacy groups at colleges and at large see this as a substantial threat, and many group leaders are working to spread awareness and lobby their congressional representatives to implement effective policies.

Dishler said Iran has already threatened to destroy Israel.

“Every country is concerned that gaining nuclear capacity is not only a threat to Israel but is a destabilizing factor in the region,” he said

Pro-Israel students meet with Congressman Mark Kirk in Washington.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) states that any state that signed it has a right to develop civil nuclear energy, but the industry and plants need to be transparent, Dishler said. Iran has been hiding part of their nuclear program for the past 22 years, he added.

“The fact that they are hiding part of their program, there’s a reason for it,” Dishler said.

He said Iran has been a long-time supporter of Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Nuclear power in the hands of the Iranian regime is especially dangerous because we cannot rely on religious fanatics to act responsibly, he said.

The human rights violations in Iran are some of the worst, Dishler said. Amnesty International has reported Iran’s abuse of children. Iran is one of the few countries with capital punishment for children. Iran is also one of the worst abusers of women and other minorities, he said.

Dishler said the JCRC is calling for stronger economic measures to be taken against Iran’s nuclear program. He said the JCRC worked with state legislators to pass a bill that called for direct divestment from companies doing business with the weapons industries in Iran.

“Student groups can also come out in favor of economic sanctions against Iran so other actions don’t have to be taken,” he said.

Some Israel advocacy groups on college campuses have taken measures to lobby their congressional representatives, as well as other measures to spread awareness.

Asher Tanenbaum, a senior at Brandeis and president of the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC) said 50 Brandeis students went to Washington D.C. to lobby their congressmen. He said the group thinks that going to D.C. is more effective than holding protests.

Sam Kleiner, a junior at Northwestern University and former co-president of Students for Israel, said Students for Israel has also done some congressional lobbying and that it is the most important thing people can do to help.

“It’s not just to lobby these members of congress once, but to create a continuous relationship with these congressmen to ensure that this issue stays at the forefront of congressional agenda,” Kleiner said.

The Pro-Israel Terrapin Alliance (PITA) at the University of Maryland (U of M) has also been active in lobbying, said Omri Arens, a junior at U of M and president of the PITA. This was one activity of many during the “Iran Awareness Week” the group held.

He said the group planned the week to spread awareness about the Iran nuclear program. The week also included cultural events through discussions and films.

The group asked for the input of the Iranian Students’ Foundation on campus, Arens said.

“We felt it was important to make sure we had their support before going ahead with some kind of political agenda,” he said.

Arens said PITA wanted to emphasize that they were not anti-Iran but instead against the current Iranian regime.

“It was very important for us to make sure we had their consent,” he said. “We didn’t want to offend them. We didn’t want them to take it the wrong way what we were doing … they were willing to work with us.”

Arens and Kleiner both said the groups on their campuses brought in professors and speakers with political ties to lecture on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Lectures are important when they operate in a larger framework for Israel advocacy on campus,” Kleiner said.

Lectures are a way to reach a large group of students and to help them conceptualize Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, he said.

Kleiner described the effect of a lecture as a ripple effect. He said a couple of students became involved in Israel advocacy after attending one of the lectures, and for every student who gets involved, another 100 or 200 have a conversation about the event with their parents.

Kleiner emphasized the need to spread awareness and involve as many people as possible in the Israel advocacy movement.

Not all of the members of Students for Israel at Northwestern are Jewish, he said. In fact, key leaders in the group are not Jewish. He added that this is the case for Israel advocacy groups at other colleges as well.

“We think it is important to engage student leaders about the U.S.-Israel relationship because in thirty or forty years those will be the leaders deciding the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Kleiner said.

Arens said that planning the “Israel Awareness Week” at U of M in coordination with the Iranian Students’ Foundation made the event significant. Other students see the views of PITA in more of an unbiased way when they see Jewish and Iranian students working together.

“We took advantage of our diverse campus and made the most of it,” Arens said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to different groups and work it out with them, as well.”

Posted: 10/22/2007 08:54:02 AM

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