StandWithUs in the Southwest

Pictured above: SWU Southwest Campus Director Sgula Dershowitz, left, with SWU ASU Emerson Fellow Mara Friedman.

Since StandWithUs was founded 16 years ago, half a million college students have participated in SWU campus programs. The Israel education nonprofit has distributed tens of millions of copies of the user-friendly educational materials it developed. Hundreds of millions of people have watched and shared SWU educational videos, and more than a billion interactions have occurred on SWU social media platforms.

Although there has not been a Divestment campaign at Arizona State University, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) promoted an event at ASU Barrett, the Honors College with Dr. Sarah Graff (Barrett) and Kathleen E. Brody of ACLU Arizona on Feb. 15 addressing its challenge to the anti-BDS bill passed in Arizona on March 14, 2016.

The The Arizona legislation (HB-2617) prohibits the investment of state funds in companies that boycott Israel; and requires parties contracting with the state government to certify that they do not participate in boycotts against Israel.

HB-2617 exercises the state’s own right to choose the companies in which it will invest and with whom it will contract. Exercising such discretion with taxpayer funds is an important part of reinforcing economic interests, public policy and the basic ethical standards of government.

StandWithUs applauded the Arizona legislature for overwhelmingly passing the anti-boycott legislation in both houses and especially commended David M. Gowan, Sr. Majority Leader, who introduced the legislation and carried it forward.

Liz Brough, associate director of high school affairs; Sgula Dershowitz, Southwest campus director and Mara Friedman, SWU ASU Emerson Fellow answered the following questions about SWU and the Southwest.

Does the Southwest face any region-specific challenges or advantages in terms of supporting Israel?

The Southwest is really a “mixed bag” when it comes to Israel activism. The advantages are that the Jewish community is very well-organized, so Jewish students have many opportunities to engage with their Jewish identity as it pertains to Israel. Jewish students are really passionate about growing their Israel knowledge and sharing it with their peers. While there is some latent anti-Semitism throughout the region – which does motivate students to action – the greatest overall challenge is apathy in the public school and university settings. Jewish students are working to make the pro-Israel community more diverse in terms of ethnic and religious membership, but it takes time to build these relationships. With student turn-over every couple years, working consistently to foster a pro-Israel environment is crucial.

How would you characterize the feedback that Liz Brough is receiving regarding high schools in Arizona?

Liz Brough, associate director of high school affairs, frequently comes to Arizona to speak at programs hosted by partner organizations, such as the Bureau for Jewish Education, BBYO or JSU, which has allowed her to engage with many high school students. Over the years, Liz has also spoken at quite a few pubic and private high schools in Phoenix, where students are always impressed by Israel’s powerful story of overcoming incredible odds, which they find inspiring as they pursue their own personal goals. While the overall response to Israel education is mostly encouraging, every now and then Liz will meet a skeptical or critical student. Liz hopes to always be an educator that listens to difficult questions and who responds with historical context and equips students with the tools to be well-rounded, deep thinkers.

What are some of the achievements happening on the campus of Arizona State University?

Arizona State University is a BICEP school. BICEP is a partnership between StandWithUs, the existing university organization (in this case, ASU Hillel) and Birthright to create programming that enhance the Birthright experience with follow-up programming on campus organized by two outstanding participants from each trip. Mara Friedman, SWU ASU Emerson Fellow has already been to Israel on Birthright, so she did not go this year. She works closely with ASU Hillel to create these programs. Upon the return of this year’s Birthright bus, for example, student leaders hosted various programming including a 4-week training for students covering various aspects of Israel. They displayed pictures they took in Israel around the campus for a week and held a contest for the favorite one. They also held an Israel Celebration on March 15, bringing in Artists 4 Israel and will host a big Israel Independence Day event this month.  They are also showing A4I’s “Healing Ink” movie.

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