StandWithUs: A Grassroots Advocacy Organization Also On Campus

, September 25, 2008

StandWithUs (SWU) is a registered nonprofit U.S. educational organization founded in 2001. It has a main office in Los Angeles and satellite offices in New York, Detroit, Michigan, and Jerusalem.[1]

SWU’s mission is to ensure balance and accuracy in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to combat the anti-Semitism that often flows from anti-Israeli presentations. SWU employs a staff to:

  • Create educational materials including pamphlets, email alerts, weekly online bulletins, and informational websites
  • Organize and host conferences and speakers at universities, high schools, libraries, churches, and communities
  • Provide support and assistance to pro-Israeli groups in communities and on campuses

SWU’s supporters all over the world receive regular email alerts and other online information about Israel from its global mailing list. Beyond the United States, the organization has created partnerships with pro-Israeli activists and Jewish student organizations at universities in the UK and other European countries, Canada, and Australia.

 

History of StandWithUs

The catalyst for establishing SWU was the 8 May 2001murder of two Israeli teens, Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran, by Palestinian terrorists. On 21 May, Jewish leaders met in Los Angeles to discuss their frustration over the local Jewish community’s failure to respond to the crisis in Israel and to anti-Israeli bias in the media. Religious and lay leaders from all Jewish denominations were invited. Attendees included community professionals, lay leaders, and representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Pacific Southwest regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, Jews for Judaism, the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and others.

There was wide-ranging debate at this initial meeting, but everyone strongly agreed on the need for a forceful Diaspora response against terrorism and in support of the people of Israel. Thus the idea of StandWithUs was born. Originally named the Israel Emergency Alliance, it started as a volunteer educational organization.

SWU immediately began using the Internet to create a network of people who wanted to help disseminate accurate information about Israel. The initial website at StandWithUs.com invited readers to sign up for weekly alerts and advocacy guidance.

Community leaders worldwide were encouraged to bring educational- speaker programs to their cities, and Los Angeles quickly became a role model. SWU encouraged people to correct media errors and bias through  letter-writing campaigns. Members wrote a detailed study documenting the pro-Palestinian slant in the Los Angeles Times, which it sent with a letter of protest to the paper’s editorial board. SWU sent out weekly news alerts advising people how they could actively support Israel and Israelis and make sure that Israel’s voice was represented in the media.

As SWU became better known, it began receiving a growing number of phone calls from Jewish university students concerned about anti-Israeli professors and radical student groups who were using the intifada as a springboard for one-sided attacks against Israel on campus. These students wanted help and guidance. SWU saw this as a priority and mobilized to respond. The organization developed a full array of educational materials, programs, and activist tools for campuses.

StandWithUs remained a volunteer organization until it received its federal U.S. tax-exempt status as a nonprofit educational organization in June 2002.

 

The Current Situation

Over the past few years, SWU has expanded its programs, activism, and outreach. Through weekly email alerts, SWU keeps its base of thousands abreast of developments in Israel and in the anti-Israeli campaigns. SWU often sends its “Action of the Week” dispatch to its members, which includes petitions and letter-writing campaigns.

All SWU’s efforts are dedicated to ensuring that Israel’s side of the story is heard and to countering misinformation and anti-Israeli defamation and propaganda. As part of its work the organization deconstructs accusations and documents the facts. Although SWU has been at the forefront in countering anti-Israeli bias and campaigns on college campuses, it has also intensified its efforts in the community, churches, libraries, and in elementary and high schools.

As a nonpartisan organization, SWU maintains relations with both Democrats and Republicans. It does not take a stand on Israeli politics or on solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its central messages explain the history of Zionism and Israel, and underscore that Israel is a democracy that has sought peace but needs to defend itself in an ongoing existential war with terrorists and historically hostile neighboring countries.

Ongoing funding has enabled the organization to hire graphic designers who develop printed materials, researchers who explore and write about current and historical facts, and a broad range of speakers who lecture at campuses in Europe and the United States. SWU speakers have included journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, author Michael Oren, former U.S. ambassador Alan Keyes, Egyptian American Nonie Darwish, Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, Middle East expert Yossi Olmert, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, investigative journalist Steve Emerson, journalist David Gilbert, Muslim journalist Tashbih Sayeed, and others.

Funding has also enabled SWU to host conferences, make documentaries, hire full-time professionals who network with and assist students on campus, and to develop a range of online websites and resources, including http://www.standwithus.com/, http://www.standwithuscampus.com/, http://www.stand4facts/, http://www.united4freedom.org/, and http://www.learnisrael.com/.

In the last five years, SWU has partnered with many organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, Campaign for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), AIPAC, ZOA, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and other cities. SWU has also collaborated with Hasbara Fellowships, Hillel, Eagle’s Wings, the David Project, Jewish Community Relations councils, Yavneh Olami, Natan Sharansky’s Back to the Campus program, the World Union of Jewish Students, the Israel Project, the Israel Christian Nexus, and Caravan for Democracy to bring educational programs to campuses and communities or to combat anti-Israeli rhetoric.

As it grew, SWU opened chapters in New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Jerusalem. The Jerusalem chapter has developed partnerships with organizations in Israel and pro-Israeli organizations across Europe, including Tribe in the UK, which deals with Jewish student life in British high schools and universities. These worldwide activities are coordinated with SWU’s director of Israel and European operations, who heads the Jerusalem office, in partnership with the SWU leadership in Los Angeles.

 

Publications and Printed Materials

SWU has produced a “black brochure,” which is a brief but comprehensive explanation of the prominent topics about Israel. Five hundred thousand brochures have been circulated and they are available in English, Hebrew, French, and Spanish. SWU will issue a new forty-page brochure that will address Israel’s founding and history up to the present, elaborating the black brochure. This new booklet, with pictures, maps, timelines, and questions and answers, is designed for high school teachers, college students, and community activists.

SWU also produces informational flyers and pamphlets that counter specific accusations that have been leveled against Israel, from the purported Jenin massacre to the security barrier and the false charge of apartheid to anti-Israeli activists’ efforts to turn Rachel Corrie into a martyr while ignoring all the Israeli victims of terrorist attacks.

The flyers and pamphlets, which can be downloaded and used by activists worldwide, address more general issues such as:

  • Israel’s record on human rights including how women are treated in Israel compared to Arab countries
  • General political and civil rights in Israel compared to rights of citizens of Arab countries
  • The protections and rights afforded Israeli gays and lesbians and Palestinian homosexuals who seek refuge in Israel from homophobic persecution in the Palestinian Authority
  • Maps comparing Israel’s sizewith therest of the Arab world to counter the effort to turn Israel into a Goliath
  • Israel’s global outreach and humanitarian impact through its biomedical and technological innovations
  • Photographs documenting incitement and indoctrination of Palestinian children, such as children dressed in military garb and in terrorist training camps
  • The Black September massacre at the 1972 Olympics to correct misconceptions spawned by Steven Spielberg’s Munich

 

Public Opinion on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The public relations campaign against Israel has taken many forms and erupted in many places. The divestment and boycott movements are especially troublesome because even when institutions do not accept divestment policy, the campaigns work to spread anti-Israeli defamations,  particularly that Israel is an “apartheid state.” SWU has actively countered these efforts to malign Israel.

SWU has addressed such campaigns in mainline Christian churches and in the American Library Association. It has countered the Campaign to Persuade Caterpillar to Boycott Israel. It has participated in the petition asking that the anti-Israeli film Paradise Now be removed from the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Film Category. It also took part in the demonstrations against the International Court of Justice and against terrorism near the Peace Palace in The Hague. In 2004, 2005, and 2006, SWU representatives attended the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s annual conferences and wrote detailed reports about the group’s agenda for the coming year and its extremism.

SWU formed a new department and program to counter this trend, http://www.learnisrael.org/, whose mission is to ensure that Israel’s viewpoint is represented fairly in U.S. libraries through books, periodicals, audiovisuals, and online resources. This new effort enhances library collections with moderate materials, and has distributed free pro-Israeli items to more than 1,500 U.S. libraries since January 2005. SWU has distributed DVDs and books such as Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, and the photo book Israel in the World. For children, SWU has disseminated free CDs of Israel 4 Kids, which offers a virtual tour of Israel with the popular Israeli cartoon character Srulik. Also available through Learn Israel are lesson plans developed by SWU for teachers (K-12) on Israel’s history and contributions to the world.

SWU also has a group of skilled writers who send letters to the media about misinformation or lack of balance in their coverage of Israel-related occurrences. Additionally, SWU has bilingual activists who monitor the Spanish-language press and write op-eds and letters to the editor.

 

Anti-Israeli Extremism at Universities

SWU has focused especially on university campuses where anti-Israeli extremism erupted in 2000 and intensified in the following years. Anti-Israeli groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, and the Muslim Student Union joined forces to invite anti-Israeli speakers, hold demonstrations, and plan anti-Israeli events at universities such as the University of California, where there was a program called “Holocaust in the Holy Land” in May 2006.

Anti-Israeli faculty are also an issue. Imbued with post-Zionist scholarship and Edward Said’s ideology, they spread anti-Israeli bias in the classroom and in their writings, leaving many Jewish students feeling intimidated. Often, university administrations remain silent and refuse to set standards about hate speech though doing so would not violate free-speech protections.

To combat these problems in the United States and abroad, SWU developed a multipronged approach.

  • Educational materials. The SWU literature, black brochure, pamphlets, and flyers give students facts and arguments to shore up their own understanding, educate their peers,and to distribute at anti-Israeli events. SWU also developed a password-protected website, http://www.stand4facts.org/, that profiles anti-Israeli speakers and professors, provides downloadable flyers, questions, and facts to counter their main points, and supplies materials exposing their extremism or falsehoods.
  • Pro-Israeli speakers and events. SWU started a speakers’ bureau, http://www.united4freedom.com/, and helps plan and fund speaking events where students learn facts and a more balanced approach to the conflict. SWU has brought over a hundred speakers to campuses in North America, and dozens of speaker programs to students from various countries in Israel and Europe.
  • Advocacy and leadership training. SWU holds annual and semiannual weekend conferences for students to learn writingand speaking skills and facts.Professional historians and experts lead the workshops. In the past few years, these conferences have attracted Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders from all over the United States, Canada, Australia, and Britain.
  • Writing to university administrators. SWU has never asked that anti-Israeli speakers not be allowed to lecture. However, it has appealed to administrators to condemn hate speech and toensure that moderatespeakers are also invited to campus who will present the other side of the issues.
  • Supporting pro-Israeli activists on campus. Through its campus professionals, SWU maintains communication with pro-Israeli students, offering advice, possible speaker events, general support, and educational materials.

 

Informing the Public

SWU turned to documentary filmmaking and produced Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus.  It showcases anti-Israeli speakers and their toxic language against Israel specifically and Jews worldwide. The documentary also includes comments from well-known Israeli American Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl who was murdered in Pakistan; author Michael Oren; investigative journalist Steve Emerson; and other professionals from organizations such as Hillel and ADL. The film premiered at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills in September 2005 and is regularly screened to student and community groups all over the United States and Israel.

SWU continues to document extensively, through video, audio, and photos, a range of anti-Israeli speakers who claim that Jews control the media, suggest that students purge themselves of the “Zionists” among their social and political group, and so on.

The organization has also sponsored events to remind the Jewish community and the public about terrorism and the campaign against Israel. In January 2005, SWU brought Bus 19-boarded by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in January 2004, killing eleven people-to various cities in California so that people could see its skeletal remains. The bus attracted attention-and also condemnation from anti-Israeli activists-when it was displayed at the University of California, Irvine. Bus 19 was also displayed outside the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in a joint program with the Simon Wiesenthal Center before a crowd of over a thousand, which included families of victims of terrorism as well as twenty-five diplomats representing countries all over the world.

SWU has also led annual trips to Israel where activists meet with top government officials, think tanks, journalists, and victims of terrorism.

 

Conclusion

Like all nations of the world, Israel can be legitimately criticized. Anti-Israeli propagandists, however, work constantly to misinform people who often are naive about Israel’s history and security requirements. When criticism of Israel becomes obsessive and toxic, it veers into anti-Semitism. Often issues such as divestment or anti-Zionism are cloaks for demonizing Israel and, in many cases, Jews in general.

SWU believes it is essential to educate people by correcting hateful exaggerations and half-truths advanced in communities, campuses, churches, and media. Education is the key to creating understanding, promoting peaceful solutions, and restoring balance and reason to discussions about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

 

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Notes

 

[1] For security reasons, office addresses are not listed publicly.

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Roz Rothstein serves as national director of StandWithUs and all its affiliated programs. She was born in Los Angeles, a child of Holocaust survivors. She worked for a decade with Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) as the supervisor of children’s programs at the Westside Jewish Community Center. She was a practicing family therapist for two decades before becoming one of the founders of StandWithUs.

 

Roz Rothstein

Roz Rothstein serves as national director of StandWithUs and all its affiliated programs. She was born in Los Angeles, a child of Holocaust survivors. She worked for a decade with Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) as the supervisor of children's programs at the Westside Jewish Community Center. She was a practicing family therapist for two decades before becoming one of the founders of StandWithUs.