Yale pro-Israel group navigates choppy political waters
By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – It’s unusual to hear about a hassle-free, pro-Israel organization on a North American college campus these days. In the current climate, Jewish students not only have to deal with the usual adjustment to college life, but many must also make their way through a politically charged environment – sometimes literally. There are mock military checkpoints and demonstrations set up by pro-Palestinian student groups. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is spreading; the annual Israeli Apartheid Week is taking hold at more universities. Protestors disrupt Israel speakers; even Sabra hummus has been a target of protests in some campus dining halls.
As a result, many Jewish campus organizations have made Israel more of a priority, and national Israel advocacy groups like CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), StandWithUs, and The David Project have increased their presence at many schools, to help educate and arm Jewish students with coping tools.
Among the exceptions is Yale Friends of Israel (YFI), an undergraduate organization of Yale College. The student-run group serves as the non-partisan, pro-Israel umbrella organization on campus; its mission is to support Israel as a Jewish democratic state secure in its borders, and to promote an appreciation of Israel on the Yale campus.
To that end, says YFI president Danielle Ellison, the organization seeks to bring Israeli culture, society, and politics to campus. Activities range from movie screenings and holiday parties to weekly discussion dinners, political and cultural speakers, and other events that provide students with a taste of Israeli society.
As president, Ellison is in charge of devising, planning, and coordinating campus social, cultural, and political events related to Israel. She works together with fellow Yale Friends of Israel board members Danny Avraham, David Lilienfeld, Shira Telushkin, and Ali Viterbi; Jonathan Silverstone, the Hillel Student Board Israel chair; as well as various faculty members and other involved students. YFI works closely with Amri Sagron, the Jewish Agency Campus Israel Fellow at Hillel.
“I accepted the position because I highly value bringing Israel-related programming to the Yale campus, and found helping to do so last year very enjoyable and rewarding,” Ellison says. “I have grown up with a strong sense of Jewish and Israeli identity.” A graduate of Solomon Schechter School of Westchester and the daughter of an Israeli mother, Ellison speaks fluent Hebrew and has been to Israel many times.
While some U.S. college campuses have seen an increase in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment, Ellison says that the tone at Yale is different. “We are very lucky in that, unlike many other college campuses, Yale is virtually devoid of serious anti-Israel rhetoric or activity,” she says. “There are occasionally some small things organized by Students for Justice in Palestine or by an academic department, but YFI has been fortunate not to have to deal with much antisemitism or anti-Israel activity on campus.”
YFI draws prominent speakers from Jewish and Israeli spheres – past guests have included authors Alan Dershowitz, Peter Beinart, and Etgar Keret, Knesset members, Israeli Supreme Court justices, government officials, journalists, and former Israeli Defense Forces commanders. There are cultural events featuring Israeli musicians and artists, and joint events with other student organizations addressing political and cultural events in the Middle East.
This month, YFI hosted an Israel Fest and Knesset Member Dr. Einat Wilf, who discussed “Israel, the Arab Spring, and the Future of the Middle East.” While most events are geared toward the Yale community, larger-scale programs are open to the larger community.
For more information: www.yale.edu/yfi
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