By David Brinn
Are 20,000 Jewish students taking their lives in their hands by making a pro-Israel statement on campus? The reality is considerably more docile.
If Toronto is generally a bastion of goodwill for all – including Israel – the one crack in the surface where anti-Israel sentiments regularly seep through is on college campuses.
Events like the annual Israel Apartheid Week on the campuses of the University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University, and a widely covered riot last year at York in which 100 anti-Israel activists surrounded a campus building belonging to the university’s Hillel chapter, forcing students to barricade themselves inside, are the manifestations of an organized campaign on the campuses targeting Israel.
While they may lead one to believe that the 20,000 Jewish students at the three universities are taking their lives in their hands by making a pro-Israel statement on campus, the reality is considerably more docile, and according to campus representatives and community professionals who gathered at a roundtable discussion at the Hillel of Greater Toronto headquarters at Wolfond Center for Jewish Campus Life, the changing attitudes on Toronto campuses is due in part to the outrage caused by the York incident.
For Ryan Luckner, who was the vice president of York’s Hillel and one of the students who had run into the Hillel building to avoid the mob, the incident was the culmination of a growing anti-Israel sentiment he’s felt during his three years at the school.
“At York, there’s a strong anti-Israel overtone and ideal. The York Federation of Students put a motion forward saying it supports the people of Gaza and the people of Palestine and condemns the idea of Israeli apartheid as part of its mandate. That’s something we have to challenge every day,” he said.
According to Hillel of Greater Toronto director Zac Kaye, the York incident has forced administration officials at all three universities to reassess their roles in curbing the anti-Israel vitriol on campus.
“What happened at York sent shock waves. It caused everybody in the Jewish community, and more importantly at the university, to say ‘no more.’ It crossed a red line; it has caused the universities to respond in extremely positive ways. Jewish students, just like all students, have a right to feel safe when they enter the campus,” said Kaye, adding that a fairer environment on campus has ensued.
All the universities have resisted banning anti-Israel events over the issue of free discourse, but they now certainly try to marginalize the impact of those events. They send out very strong messages, meet with the groups in question, saying we respect the freedom of speech but we expect civil discourse, and this should be the context.
“The administration now has no problem saying, ‘You’re making Jewish students feel very uncomfortable on campus and that shouldn’t be where it’s at.’ There are red lines, and what the universities didn’t do in the early years the anti-Israel campus movement was emerging was to enforce those red lines,” Kaye said.
Jordan Kerbel, the national director of public affairs of the Canadian Jewish Congress, stressed that the troublemakers on campus were “small, fringe groups.” “It’s important to remember that the vast majority of students could care less. We’re talking about maybe 200, 300 students out of the 50,000 who attend York,” he said.
WITH PRO-ISRAEL students often grasping for direction in ways to defend Israel, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto-funded organizations like Hillel, the CJC and the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) abet the students in finding ways to go on the offensive – like this year’s “Size Doesn’t Matter” campaign, timed to coincide with Israel Apartheid Week.
Students from 23 universities across Canada participated in promoting a multimedia campaign that received tons of coverage due to a viral video which touted Israel’s achievements in a PG-13 way that some people criticized as lewd, but many saw as innovative.
“We’re investing huge amounts of money on student activism on Israel’s behalf,” said Howard English, the federation’s director of strategic communications. “The Size Doesn’t Matter campaign, despite the controversy, certainly struck a chord with students who would otherwise not show any interest in Israel. It showed them aspects of Israel they had never thought of before.”
The students, too, were overjoyed at the success of the campaign, especially the YouTube video featuring a strategically placed map of Israel and a young, attractive couple.
“We weren’t promoting a negative message. It wasn’t, ‘We’re right and they’re wrong.’ It was a ‘this is what Israel has to offer,’” said York’s Luckner.
“It got the message out to people, and everyone was talking about it. They saw the positive messaging from it,” added Beca Bookman, a first-year University of Toronto student.
“The video that circulated has something like a million hits worldwide,” said Jay Solomon, the advocacy manager of CIJA. “And the Web site during Apartheid Week had 75,000 hits, many of them going to information about Israel pages or to our events page. So it was a positive engagement tool that not only brought people to the site but brought them to see Israel in a positive light because of the information and events that were contained there.”
According to Hillel director Kaye, the scope and flavor of the campaign proved that the pro-Israel students can take back the agenda.
“We’ve always taken the position of being proactive. The problem was that the Israel Apartheid Week was strong and created such a roar it placed us in a reactive mode rather than a proactive one,” he said. “So, for a few years, yes, we were on the defensive, but when we pushed back, as we did this year, it showed the strength of Toronto’s Jewish students.”
“One-hundred percent of the credit has to go to the students,” added the CJC’s Kerbel. “They’re incredibly committed. We’ve recognized that the anti-Israel environment is doing nothing but creating an extreme way of thinking – there is not intellectual discourse involved – there’s just tit for tat going back and forth, and there is no appetite on campus for this anymore. I think they present a shining example of what other pro-Israel students on campuses across North America and the world can do.”
Ynet selects hottest events in city’s annual nocturnal celebration to be held on July 1
Since being declared the White City by UNESCO in July 2003, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality has been marking the honor in an annual one-night fest offering a slew of special events for the benefit of the residents and visitors of Tel Aviv.
Ynet has selected the hottest events to be held in 2010′s White Night on July 1 including the best the city has to offer in music, food, arts and fashion. Most of the events are free of charge and open for the general public and the rest offer special discounts.
Jazz at the Station
Enjoy Jazz concerts in the newly restored Manshia Train Station, adjacent to the Neve Tzedek neighborhood and explore the many shops and special ambiance the area is becoming known for. Free admission
Manshia Train Station, near Neve Tzedek, 10 pm
Tour of Rothschild Boulevard
Walk through the beautiful boulevard as 50 of its buildings will be specially lit and enjoy various musical and theatre street shows. The boulevard has been one of the White Night’s main attractions over the years.
Rothschild Boulevard, Bialik street. All night long
Gidi Gov sunrise concert
Gidi Gov, one of Israel’s most recognizable and prominent artists, will be holding a special open-air nocturnal concert offering authentic Israeli music. Free admission
Northern Tzuk Beach, 1 am
Parties around the clock
All parties free of charge
A night at the opera
If you’re an opera fan, you can get a chance to enjoy an evening of the best of the Israeli Opera’s repertoire. The three-hour concert will include operas, operettas, musical numbers and Israeli songs in special arrangements. Paid admission
The Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, 12:30 am
De La Guarda performance
The Israeli multicultural troupe Mayumana will hold a special De La Guarda-style show in the Tel Aviv Port. The show incorporates acrobatics, wall-climbing and breathtaking special effects. Free admission
Tel Aviv Port, 8 pm
The White Night is a great chance to visit a real Israeli market. Jaffa’s flee market offers special stores, arts and crafts stalls, street theatre performances, music, exhibitions, galleries and more. Free admission
Flee market, Jaffa
Fire at Azrieli Towers
Israeli magician Hezi Din will suspend himself between the three Azrieli Towers using ropes at 330 feet high. The ropes will be set on fire and Din will try to unleash the ties and reach the security rope from which he will perform a bungee jump. Free admission
Azrieli Towers, 10 pm
Cult film in Cinematheque
If you’re in a mood for a film, you’re invited to watch the rock cult classic Spinal Tap. Rob Reiner’s mockumentary film follows a ridiculous British rock band during its tour of the United States. Free admission
Tel Aviv Cinematheque, midnight
The city’s variety of excellent restaurants will offer special deals during the White Night. The following restaurants offer single meals at NIS 88 (roughly $23) and meals for two at NIS 158 (roughly $41): Avantgarde, River Noodle Bar, Frida Kalo, Super Sushi, Vitosha, Mike’s Place, Betty Ford, Max Brenner, Yaffa Cafe, Olive Leaf, Gueta, Ilan’s Cafe, Primavera Tel Aviv, Honey Beach.
A sneak peak from last year’s event
Author Avi Rubinstein designs special puzzle written in Braille, which allows blind people to solve game independently. ‘If I wanted to solve a crossword puzzle in the past, I had to have someone read it to me,’ says 26-year-old Yisrael Sofer
Up until recently, the blind population in Israel was unable to enjoy crossword puzzles. Avi Rubinstein, a known puzzle inventor and book author decided to fill in the void.
Rubinstein approached Director of The Central Library for the Blind Uri Cohen and asked him to consider a revolutionary idea – a special crossword puzzle for blind people.
“I thought it was another one of those weird ideas that we get,” admitted Cohen, “I knew that in order to solve a crossword puzzle you needed a pen.”
But Rubinstein, who thoroughly researched the subject, came up with a surprising solution – he created a special puzzle that is written in Braille and enables blind people to solve them independently.
Immediately after publishing the first booklet of puzzles, Rubinstein was flooded with letters and compliments from blind crossword-solvers who were entertained for hours by his invention.
“If I wanted to solve a crossword puzzle in the past, I had to have someone read it to me,” said Yisrael Sofer, 26, “Now that it’s in Braille it is so much more enjoyable,” he added.
Rubinstein is about to publish a unique educational series featuring puzzles that correspond with the Ministry of Education’s textbooks. In addition, he voluntarily composes crossword puzzles that he developed for people with special needs as well as for a women’s prison magazine.
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – A concert by Elton John has given Israelis a boost after a string of cancellations by other world-famous artists.
The British rocker performed late Thursday in front of a screaming crowd of nearly 50,000 fans at a Tel Aviv stadium.
John, who wore blue-tinted sunglasses, told the audience those cancellations “ain’t gonna stop me from playing here, baby.”
Recent cancellations by the Pixies and Elvis Costello, who cited Israeli government policies, have added to Israel’s growing sense of isolation.
John swiped at those artists, saying, “We do not cherry-pick our consciences,” before hitting the opening chords of his 1972 hit “Crocodile Rock.”