By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — An “action lab” at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth, conducted for the purpose of teaching high school and college-age students how to fight the efforts of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement to delegitimize Israel on their respective campuses, attracted mixed reviews.
Max Chamovitz, deputy director of the Israel Action Network, provided an audience of about 20 with much information and various BDS scenarios at the Jan. 20 event. The presentation, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, also included a spaghetti dinner for guests.
The IAN was created to educate, organize and mobilize the organized North American Jewish community to develop strategic approaches to countering these assaults and develop innovative efforts to change the conversation about Israel and achieving peace and security for two states for two peoples.
Many of the students there, like Rachel Rudberg, a 20-year-old junior nursing student who is president of TCU Hillel, described the presentation as very informative — especially when learning about the tactics of those who would twist history around for political purposes.
In the words of CAS Rabbi Andrew Bloom, BDS is one of the great challenges that face all pro-Israel individuals and groups at this time — especially college-age students who are being met with anti-Zionist rhetoric and hate on college campuses.
Rudberg said learning what she did at the meeting made her want to learn as much as she can so she can communicate with people about it more.
“I found it very helpful, the way they approached it at the meeting,” she said. “It made me want to learn as much as I can about it and communicate with people about it more.”
However, Ilana Levy Knust, an educator at the nearby Congregation Beth-El, said she didn’t quite get from the presentation what she was expecting — such as a specific list of the BDS questions students will be asked to confront in colleges.
So Knust said she is distributing a 70-80-page booklet for the students at her school to help them deal with important statements they will hear in colleges; it will allow them to provide answers about the Middle East situation. The booklet contains a list of false BDS statements and short, to-the-point, answers.
“It will prepare them to walk to class and hear somebody say something like, ‘Oh, you stole our land,’” she said. “Or maybe one of their best friends is going to go to an anti-Israeli protest. This could help them expect what to hear. When they hear someone say, ‘Palestine has always been an Arab country,’ it prepares them what to say.”
Stephanie Corso Zavala, also in attendance, said she also felt a disconnect between what she expected and what she actually heard during the presentation. She also was expecting a laundry list or checklist of responses for young people who needed training on dealing with BDS.
“Everyone in the room pretty much has an emotional connection to the situation and I felt he was talking to the people on the fence,” she said. “… Everyone wasn’t on the same page.”
Rudberg said as far as she was concerned, any new information is appreciated.
“I’m not a big fan of confrontations and if I ran into somebody in a situation like that, I am not sure how I would respond,” she said. “But now that I’m giving it more thought I think that will help me deal with the situation. At the very least, I can make sure others are informed about the issue. I’d really like to communicate with people about it more.”
Rabbi Bloom said presentations like the one at his synagogue go a long way in preparing college-bound students as well as interested adults in how to defend themselves and explain the truths about Israel when being attacked by the proponents of the BDS movement.
“The education and training needs to be ongoing and this program was a great beginning,” Rabbi Bloom said.
Bob Goldberg, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said it is essential that teenagers be provided with the means to combat anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic situations that they may confront on college campuses.
“In order to do this, the students need to be engaged and informed about Israel and the Middle East,” he said.