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CAMERA launches 'This is Zionism' campaign to educate and counter antisemitism on college campuses

Campaign was initiated in light of the surge in pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping across US campuses

Illustrative - A pro-Israel supporter holds a sign during the "March for Israel" held on the National Mall on Nov. 14, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Michael Nigro/Sipa USA)

In the landscape of today’s college campuses, where protests against Israel and Zionism frequently escalate into heated debates and even violence, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) is taking definitive action.

CAMERA is a watchdog organization that has been closely monitoring worldwide media coverage of Israel since 1982. The organization not only identifies and challenges inaccuracies and misinformation concerning Israel but also corrects the media’s false narratives. Its role is more significant than ever since Oct. 7, when Israel launched a ground campaign into the Gaza Strip to eliminate Hamas, after the terror organization invaded Israel and brutally massacred 1,200, abducted more than 250 hostages into Gaza, and committed atrocities against men, women, children and the elderly.

In light of the surge in pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping across the U.S. campuses, CAMERA is about to launch a campaign to counter misinformation about Zionism, create awareness to counter antisemitism and promote meaningful dialogue.

Christian journalist Paul Calvert recently interviewed CAMERA's Content and Campaigns Manager Sasha Chernyak and Communications Associate at CAMERA UK Christina Jones.

The new campaign, “This is Zionism,” is part of a larger initiative that CAMERA has run throughout the course of the academic year,” Chernyak told Calvert. She said that "This is Zionism" is the last campaign that we do each year, and it is about explaining what Zionism means. It's about celebrating the uniqueness, the importance…the significance of Zionism as an indigenous people's movement: The return to our ancestral homeland.”

Chernyak explained that the program is more significant than ever given the current antisemitic climate on many college campuses.

“The amount of misinformation that we saw – even before the events of October 7th on U.S. campuses… on UK campuses – it's absolutely insane. The amount of lies, falsifications, misrepresentations of the realities.”

She defined what Zionism is and described how the concept has been degraded since the war began.

Zionism is a movement for “Jewish self-determination in our ancestral homeland, which is Israel,” she said. She noted that in her opinion, being a Zionist has turned “into something nefarious, to the point where being called a Zionist is like… the worst thing you could possibly be in the world. So, I think it is absolutely imperative that CAMERA continues its...existence on campuses and continues to help students navigate the atrocious reality on campus.”

The campaign, Chernyak explained, is both a social media campaign and will also feature on-campus elements, including speaker events on campuses.

“For example, right now, we have an amazing tour here in the U.S. with Yuval Klein, an IDF rescue officer who is going to different campuses, and he's telling the story about some of the rescue operations that he has been involved with including the Surfside, FL building collapse in 2021 and the 2023 Syria-Turkey Earthquake,” she told Calvert.

Jones, who is responsible for communications for CAMERA’s UK office noted that the "This is Zionism" campaign will engage audiences using digital platforms. She described an upcoming live session she is currently arranging with a partner organization to discuss the influential role of women in Zionism.

CAMERA will also partner with British officer, Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp, who has been a strong supporter of Israel during the current conflict. Following Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel earlier this month, the British Parliament held a special session to urge restraint on Israel’s part in its response, however, Kemp advocated that Israel be allowed to respond firmly.

“Colonel Kemp is an amazing figure and an amazing speaker, and he has so much experience,” Chernyak said. She identified various kinds of Zionism – from religious, activist, and cultural perspectives – but said that Kemp has a "logic-based" form of Zionism. Even though he is not Jewish, she explained, his vast military experience in the Middle East, has led him to understand Israel's position as “a legally established nation that has a right to defend itself against those that seek to destroy it.”

Both Jones and Chernyak explained that Jewish students are facing an increase in hostility and aggression from pro-Palestinian students. Jones recounted several incidents on British university campuses that underscored the reality.

In one case, at Exeter University, Jones explained, a group of students was manning a booth to campaign against misinformation and said the students faced verbal and physical abuse. Their promotional materials were destroyed by a mob of about 100 students and the Jewish students ultimately had to be escorted to safety. Similarly, at Leeds University, a student who was manning a stall to educate students on campus about the dangers of antisemitism and the war in Gaza was subjected to abuse and vandalism.

Jones noted that she has tremendous respect for Jewish students on campuses.

“I'm thankful that I am not a student on campus because I can't imagine what they are going through,” Jones added. “I'm living vicariously through their incidences and I'm traumatized for them. But I am so proud of these students that I work with on a day-to-day basis because they're so resilient, mature and, honestly, the tenacity that they have is something I can only applaud them for because I don't think I could have done it at their age.”

Chernyak agreed: “Students are being threatened actively, in some cases. They’re being harassed, they’re being assaulted. You know, there’s a very real effort to silence them and exclude them from spaces.”

She described how difficult it is to engage students in conversations about Palestinians and Israel, saying that, at times, dialogue is “impossible” because of the atmosphere at the rallies on college campuses, and chants to "globalize the Intifada."

Chernyak added that it is inspiring to see how the Jewish students continue to stand up for Israel in the face of the very "charged" and confrontational atmosphere. She said there is an effort to ostracize Jewish students, which she called a kind of "anti-normalization."

Jones added that while many of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the rallies represent a liberal perspective, she believes that "Jewish students and Zionist voices" are being silenced.

Chernyak described Zionism as “the self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.”

She explained that Theodor Herzl began the modern Zionist movement in response to rampant antisemitism in Europe. The movement aimed to provide Jews with a sanctuary where they could freely embrace their Jewish identity without fear of repercussions. Over time, she continued, the Hebrew language was re-established, which unified the Jewish community.

However, Chernyak noted persistent mischaracterizations of the Zionist movement as a kind of "Jewish supremacy." She said most of the misperceptions were first introduced in Soviet propaganda.

"What keeps happening – is there's this conflation of Zionism with things like White supremacy. Or they'll use Jewish supremacy..." she said. "And so, to see Zionism be targeted as this supremacist movement when it's not is really disheartening…."

Turning to a biblical perspective, Calvert asked Jones and Chernyak if they consider God to be a Zionist.

Jones believes the concept of Zionism is rooted in the Bible. She linked the Zionist movement to God's biblical promises, as seen in scripture, and said that God’s covenant with the Jewish people inherently supports Jewish claims to the land of Israel. For this reason, she said she believes that God is a Zionist.

Jones said she believes the Bible is 100% accurate and pointed to the verse in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse."

Addressing those who perceive Israel as a colonial or racist entity, Chernyak emphasized the fundamental connection of Jews to Israel, citing historical continuity and cultural ties that predate many modern nations.

“What is important to note is that Jews are indigenous to this land...If we're a colonialist entity, we wouldn't have those connections," Chernyak added, challenging the narrative that Israel is an oppressive force in the region.

Throughout history, she argued, the Jews "kept coming back and coming back because this is the land of our people, this is our home. There's no colonial authority that Israel reports to. It is its own unique, independent entity. So you cannot... I think any rational person that understands this history cannot possibly call Israel a colonial state."

Chernyak said her hope for the "This is Zionism" campaign is that "people will look past the vacuum of social media and will take the time to peruse our timeline and learn about the different types of Zionism and maybe gain some perspective."

She mentioned other U.S.-based partner programs, such as Club Z, which educates high school students. and Israel on Campus Coalition and said that the efforts to educate the public will hopefully "bridge the gap and maybe help us gain more friends and more allies."

Jones said she hopes the campaign will broaden the support base for Israel within the United Kingdom, even among non-Jews.

“Zionism is not just specifically to Jewish people...It comes from various, different means and ways in which people understand it and why they effectively support Israel and the Jewish state.”

Click here to learn more about the "This is Zionism" campaign, which includes a timeline of the history of Zionism and describes the different aspects of Zionism.

Click below to listen to the full interview.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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