Earlier this month, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) launched its inaugural Wiesenthal Campus Advocacy Fellowship program in Israel. Seven mostly non-Jewish Canadian university student leaders from diverse backgrounds participated in an eight-day educational tour to gain insight into the complex reality of life in the world’s only Jewish state.
The trip is part of a year-long program for students to develop knowledge and skills to combat antisemitism and advocate for human rights on their university campuses and beyond. It was created to address growing defamatory misinformation on campus about Jews and Israel and to advance allyship in the face of this scourge.
From visiting the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center and exploring the Old City of Jerusalem, to touring the ancient Jewish city of Tzfat and Arab city of Shfaram in the north, to visiting the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa and experiencing the hip metropolis of Tel Aviv, the jam-packed tour included visits to Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze communities across the country.
Participants took part in meetings with diverse locals who shared their personal experiences living in Israel, including in the Netiv Ha’Asara village near the Gaza border where a resident discussed contending with the constant threat of rockets fired by Palestinian terror groups; the Bedouin community of Rahat where an entrepreneur shared the obstacles and opportunities she's faced as a businesswoman in Israel; the Arab city of Shfaram where a Bedouin Muslim educator and leader and his family discussed Arab Israeli identities, challenges and points of light; and Beer Sheva where an Ethiopian-born Israeli community leader shared his fascinating experience as an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant.
Throughout the trip, participants reflected on their experiences and what they learned. Here are a few excerpts from what they shared with us.
"As a Jew, it was significant to witness how people in our group from other religions reacted affectionately after learning about the Holocaust and military casualties in Israel. It was surprising to see the emotional reactions of my fellow students, which was my favourite part because I learned people can feel compassion for my community. Genocides must be discussed so they can never happen again, and having allies react emotionally proves that Jews have allies from other communities willing to share their experiences to promote allyship with other communities."
“It was fascinating to learn about Netiv Ha’Asara, which shows how a community can react to hostility in different ways, and I was very glad to have heard from two successful Bedouin women and to hear their stories and views. Overall, I'm very happy with having been able to participate in the program. I'm left with a much more nuanced view of the issues here and with more questions than I had before coming. I look forward to learning more.”
“I learned what it means to be a Jew in Israel and how important the country is to them. There is diversity in Israel and among the Jewish people themselves – many people with different narratives and realities.”
“The most important thing is to meet people and hear their perspectives. All are trying to work toward peace, and people want to see this happen.”
FSWC's critical initiatives to combat antisemitism and hate, such as the Wiesenthal Campus Advocacy Fellowship, would not be possible without your generous support. Please consider making a donation today.