Do some statements about Israel cross the line? Is there media bias that, in turn, causes people to make incorrect assumptions? Does the nature of social media make it worse? These are questions that Jewish college students will need to ask in order to educate themselves to dispute myths about Israel.
Knowledge for College (K4C), a program that attempts to educate, prepare and empower teens to handle the challenges of being a Jewish student on a college campus, kicked off its student program with an interactive session presented by the Center for Israel Education and Institute for the Study of Modern Israel (CIE) at Emory University. The session, held at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin on January 13, also enabled the students to mingle with Israeli teens from a program through the Jewish Agency called Shinshinim during dinner. Ice breaker activities during dinner helped to promote conversation between the K4C teens and the Israeli teens, to enable them to see their similarities and differences.
Two CIE educators—Rich Walter, associate director of Israel education, and Eli Sperling, Israel specialist, described the challenges and opportunities of encounters about Israel on campus, discussed skills for cultivating critical thinking of Israel in the media, explored multiple Views of Israel’s creation using primary sources, explored Israeli society through Hebrew Hip-Hop and engaged students in experiential games and activities for Israel learning. Walter explained that CIE helps people to find answers to questions but is not an advocacy organization. It believes that all Jews should know Israel as they know the Four Questions.
“Most encounters are in the form of verbal or written opinions about Israel,” he explained. “Jewish students need to know what crosses the line. Two problems are the BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) situation and intersectionality, in which strange alliances form among groups who feel that other people are discriminating against them.”
Walter encouraged students to speak out when they disagree with what is being said about Israel but to do it from a position of knowledge. He quoted Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about deciding whether a statement is correct, in context and constructive and then told students to figure out for themselves how to respond.
Sperling’s session about media bias toward Israel related that coverage of Israel is disproportionate, relative to coverage of events elsewhere in the world. Because Israel is a democracy, journalists have open access to the country and have been known to sensationalize stories to sell papers and get clicks on websites. Danger is blown out of proportion, although Jerusalem is safer than many U.S. cities.
“In social media, there is no accountability for anything posted, so you really have to question the sources,” Sperling said. “To avoid getting false information, you need to understand where the media are getting their information and what their agendas are and then look at both sides to determine what might be credible. Know the biases.”
In exploring how Israel was created, Walter focused on the impact of the partition on the creation of the Jewish state and the viewpoints on the refugees, both Jewish and Arab. Both sides rejected the original partition and fought many battles over it. Just as Jewish refugees from Arabic countries settled in Israel, Israel wanted other countries to be responsible for Arab refugees. Just as mythology has developed around Columbus in the U.S., there is mythology about Israel’s founding.
According to Walter, “When mythology and reality come into conflict, you have to learn how to focus.”
Sperling presented a session in which, through the lens of Israeli hip hop, students looked at how Israeli culture, society and politics have evolved. Further, they discovered how contemporary political and social struggles in Israel, much like the U.S., are actively represented by hip hop music.
Walter wrapped up with a number interactive games adapted from reality television to help students gain a better understanding about Israel while having fun doing so. Games included Picture Purrfect (featuring photos of cats in Israel); Chopped Hummus; and a new escape room style game based on the life of David Ben-Gurion.
Summarizing the evening, Walter said, “You have to challenge everything by digging deeper.”
ILENE SCHNEIDER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.