An offensive battle on the part of anti-Israel ideologues and a defensive battle on the part of Zionists will usually end in the Zionists losing.
I had heard of BDS nightmares and SJP hijackings of intellectual thought on college campuses. I had seen pictures of so-called apartheid walls and mock check points, donning the sidewalks in places like Berkley, intended to make students, especially Jewish students, feel uncomfortable on their commute to class. I had seen radical speakers given public space and put on pedestals at universities, allowed to call for the wholesale slaughter of a nation; no indignant outrage came from school authorities, no, instead, they endorsed such repugnant activities in the name of intellectual conversation.
This had become a huge problem in certain pockets of the country and I wondered what, if anything, could be done to rectify the situation. Soon after these anti-Israel events took place, many Jewish student groups held week long events at their schools which celebrated Israeli culture, the birth of the nation, and the triumph of its people. Yet the clamor was louder on the other side, the passion more vigorous, and the ideals expressed, although absolutely appalling, seemed appealing to the masses.
This dichotomy that I witnessed taught me a lesson. An offensive battle on the part of anti-Israel ideologues and a defensive battle on the part of Zionists will usually end in the Zionists losing. Why? Because we define our battles and our events within the context of our opponents, and within the prisms of their arguments. To win battles, I began to understand that we had to change our game plans.
It was out of this thought process that the first annual pro-Israel rally in New Orleans, Louisiana, was born. On January 28, 2013, “Declare Your Freedom” (DYF) took place at the University of New Orleans (UNO). I along with my good friend Maor Shapira, sought to change the typical Arab-Israeli narrative by introducing the Zionist creed first into the campus setting.
UNO had previously no anti-Israel events on campus, but at the same time, it had no pro-Israel events on campus either. Declare Your Freedom changed that by declaring publicly that we fellow students on campus were Zionists and proud.
The theme was, “Reclaim The Zionist Dream.” Dr. Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum was our keynote speaker. We also had Heritage Foundation speaker Evan Sayet and other speakers as well. We even had a famous New Orleans musician, Kermit Ruffins, come out and play the national anthem! It was a huge success.
110 people were in attendance, including many leaders in the Jewish community. DYF was especially successful because it proclaimed with no stipulations that the BDS movement and “Israel-Apartheid Week” were wholly and utterly anti-Semitic, mendacious, and wrong, and that it would not be allowed to stand if we had anything to say about it. (Keep in mind that IAW and BDS have never been on UNO’s campus.) DYF’s also addressed the issue of the rise of global anti-Semitism, and stated unequivocally that we as citizens of these free states had a duty to speak out against it.
The event was a huge success and created a precedent for New Orleans as well as a map for us to use to duplicate it in the future. It was later also reported on by the Jewish Press, the Jerusalem Post, and the Algemeiner, just to name a few. Next year’s theme is Zionism-A Triumph of a People.
And so DYF 2.0 is currently being planned and will be bigger than ever. Moved to spring 2014, DYF’s team is hoping to bring Israeli musicians, speakers, and more, which will draw bigger crowds than the first installment. We are currently raising funds online for the project.
Citizens of the State of Israel can rest a little easier with the assurance that there are students back in the states fighting on its behalf to reclaim the narrative and proudly assert that they are Zionists and they are free, and no amount of pseudo-intellectual exercises on the part of faculty or group think among students will ever disenfranchise students who are proud to advocate for the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
We are here, and we are not going anywhere.