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Middle East conflict comes to campus

TEANECK, N.J., July 9 (JTA) — Posted on “Any organizations that believe divestment from Israeli apartheid is a necessary and worthwhile strategy, that stand for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and homeland, and full equality under law and the abolition of Israeli apartheid; and that reject racism and all forms of oppression are welcome to be part of the organizing process for the Third Conference!” That’s the Web site of New Jersey Solidarity, which plans to host the National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus in October. As a start, the group would like the university to divest from the all investments in Israel (a country that its Web site insists must be called Palestine). About 600 Jewish students from Bergen County are enrolled at Rutgers, according to Andrew Getraer, executive director of Hillel there. New Jersey Solidarity, “is located in New Brunswick, but it’s not strictly speaking a student organization,” said Getraer. “Last March, they founded a student organization, and I’m guessing they have about 15 members. It’s not a large student effort.” Its leader, Charlotte Kates, a Douglass College graduate, is now a student at Rutger’s law school in Newark. The group may not be large, but is active. “They’ve done a number of different Palestinian events over the past two years,” Getraer said. “They’re very good at publicity and fliering. They haven’t had any success in their larger agenda, having the university divest from Israel, but they’re very good at creating an atmosphere of intimidation on campus.” New Jersey Solidarity’s tactics were on display on a Thursday night during the spring semester, according to Getraer. On Thursdays, Hillel invites a guest teacher. “Usually it’s text-based, for students of traditional background,” he said. “We had a rabbi, Yehoshua Kahan, coming in from Bat Ayin, which is just outside Jerusalem in the disputed territories. He was coming not to speak of anything at all political, or even about Israel. It was a philosophical lecture,” billed as “Kafka and Kabbalah.” “One of the members of New Jersey Solidarity, who is Jewish, heard that the speaker was coming from Bat Ayin, looked him up, got his picture off a Web site, and put hundreds of fliers up all over campus, saying he is a terrorist. They had a whole four-paragraph screed about how he comes from a settlement and is involved in ethnic cleansing, oppressing and terrorizing Palestinians.” In upper-case letters, the flier demands that readers “SAY NO TO RACISM!” by rallying outside Hillel’s building during the teaching session. “Within a day, we organized 50 to 100 students,” said Getraer. “We had to work very quickly. We got non-Jewish students and clergy to come; there were students from the Catholic center, the Methodist minister, people from some of the more evangelical Protestant groups, and from the Hindu student group. We were able to use it as an opportunity, because it was clearly an attack on anything related to Israel or Judaism. The man himself and what he was here to speak about had nothing to do with anything political, and they were using it as a vehicle to attack Hillel, attack Israel, and disrupt Jewish learning. “Because we had this big crowd, the New Jersey Solidarity people drove by and didn’t do anything until later. They were planning on doing a series of checkpoints, but they couldn’t do it until the lecture started. There were only a handful of them — six or seven, so it was ineffective.” Anti-Israel groups have been using mock checkpoints on campuses across the country. Getraer said that they are dramatizations meant to show Palestinian suffering. Some participants dress up as Arabs, others as IDF officers. “They have little props, and they block entrances to places so people have to experience the humiliation Palestinians experience.” Usually Thursday night talks attract about 30 students; that week 50 packed the room. “They don’t have the numbers of the organization to have an effective event, but they do have a very good publicity machine,” Getraer said. “So for the 99.9 percent of students who aren’t present for the event, it appears that they’re very active, and the anti-Israel message is widespread. That’s difficult for us. They’re not dumb. They’re smart and they’re strategic.” They are also extreme. Charlotte Kates was quoted in Wednesday’s New York Post, in response to a question about whether Israel has a right to exist, as saying, “Israel is an apartheid colonial settler state. I do not believe apartheid colonial settler states have a right to exist.” When asked if she supports homicide bombers, she said, “I personally support Palestinian resistance in all its forms, from armed struggle to mass protest.” “The university is in all likelihood compelled under the first amendment to allow the conference to occur,” said Shai Goldstein, New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. He’s not asking the school not to allow the meeting. But, he said, his group is asking “that the university condemn any anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist statements that are made by any group on campus as a manifestation of racism and bigotry. Rutgers must disassociate itself from the rhetoric and indicate they’re allowing the conference only because they feel compelled by the First Amendment. They must not stand silent in the face of the anti-Semitic rhetoric.” He also hopes that the university will provide adequate security, but, he said, “in the past Rutgers has done a stellar job ensuring that protests are peaceful.” So far, the university is reporting that it has received more than 230 letters asking it not to allow the conference, as a result of what appears to be a spontaneous letter-writing campaign. Getraer said that anti-Israel feeling is strong among those students in New Jersey Solidarity because “they know nothing other than the propaganda that comes out of the Arab world, and they believe it 100 percent. And they believe every lie about Israel that is told by Israel’s opponents, about Israel’s atrocities, about how Jews don’t have any connection to the land of Israel. We Jews are aware of this propaganda, but this is an example of what happens when propaganda is allowed to go unchecked. “They believe that they are operating from a sense of justice, but you know how warped it is when they say that homicide bombing is a legitimate means of protest. This is the mind set that we have to be aware of, in the United States and in the world. “Our mission at Hillel is to provide the truth about Israel, about what a free and open society it is. We especially want Jewish students to be able to feel confident about their support of Israel, connected to the State of Israel and to their fellow Jews.” What will Hillel do during the conference, and throughout the upcoming school year? “We have a lot of plans under way,” Getraer said. “Stay tuned for further developments. There will be ways for the community to respond.”