A delegation of Israeli Arabs who are fighting the delegitimization of the Jewish state on college campuses remain committed to sharing their message in the United States, despite facing threats back home and unexpected obstacles from allies abroad.
The team — made up of Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bedouin and Palestinian volunteers — came on behalf of the advocacy group Reservists on Duty, and braved intense pressure to defend Israel publicly, RoD chief Amit Deri told The Algemeiner.
Dema Taya, a 25-year-old Israeli-Arab Muslim, said she received a barrage of abusive comments after her views on her country and plans to join the RoD tour were shared on Arab media.
“I received a lot of messages on Facebook threatening me and attacking me,” Taya recounted in an interview with The Algemeiner. “It was emotionally very difficult for me, because they wrote very harsh comments and insulted me personally, just because I am saying the truth … it was really painful.”
Taya added that some Arab outlets falsely reported that the RoD trip — organized in coordination with Students Supporting Israel — was actually planned by the Israeli government.
“Arab media just brainwashes the minds of young people,” she said. “There are more minorities, Muslim women and men, who think like me but they are afraid to talk because not everyone can stand in front of these attacks.”
She pointed to support she received from other Israeli Arabs, including one Muslim woman, who told her in a private message, “I am with you, I think like you, but I will not write this in the comments because they will attack me.”
While Taya’s family also supports her — her husband served in the Israeli military — she observed that her opponents would have been willing to forcefully silence her, if given the chance.
If Israel did not have “laws protecting me from [attacks], I would not be here today,” she said. “They would take me down, they would erase me from society … I would not be here and I would not exist.”
“But we have laws, we have courts, thank God, Israel is a country of laws and they are going to protect me,” she added.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared one of Taya’s interviews on Arab media, calling it “brave and powerful.” To date, the video has been seen over 240,000 times.
Taya believes his message — a sign that she has the government’s attention — will deter some from threatening her in the future. She also received a lot of support from Jews and some Arabs who saw the clip, and “this helped me because, emotionally, I was really destroyed.” Taya and the rest of the RoD delegation have also largely received a positive response on the college campuses they visited during their ongoing, two-week tour, including San Jose State University, Stanford University and University of California-Berkeley. Some 50 people attended each event, Deri said, with students asking the speakers questions on Israel and their experiences living as minorities in a Jewish-majority country.
Not all their planned appearances passed without incident, however.
Some 12 hours before the group was set to kick off their tour at Stanford on Monday, they were notified that the school’s Hillel — along with its pro-Israel student group Stanford Israel Association (SIA) — withdrew support for the program. While Stanford Chabad swiftly stepped in, ensuring the RoD delegation could still speak off campus, Deri indicated that the incident hurt the team’s morale. “As a Jew who leads the organization, I felt ashamed,” he said. “I didn’t know what to tell the delegation. They’re Arabs, they came all the way from Israel to the United States, and that’s the welcome they get? They were very, very offended by the decision.”
SIA said in an online statement that the event was suspended “due to a combination of procedural issues and concerns raised by the University regarding past behavior by the organization due to speak.”
While inquiries sent to Stanford were unanswered by press time, Deri suggested that the objections may have stemmed from a panel RoD held at the University of California-Irvine on May 10. Members of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter interrupted the event with incendiary chants and blocked the main exit in the room where it was being held, ultimately forcing the RoD members to leave with police protection.
The UC-Irvine administrators concluded after an investigation that SJP violated its student code of conduct during the incident, and placed the group on probation until June 16, 2019.
Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, executive director of Hillel at Stanford, told The Algemeiner that university officials “raised potential public safety concerns” at the last minute, as well as concerns “that the students had not followed appropriate University procedure for registering their event or the University audio/visual recording policy.” Hillel acknowledged in a statement that the cancellation was a “mistake” and apologized “for any confusion or inconvenience.” The group encouraged students to attend the event at Chabad along with Kirschner, who took the opportunity to express her regret to Jonathan Nizar Elkhoury — the head of the RoD delegation — for the mishap.
“I applaud the work they are doing highlighting positive Israeli voices who are not often heard outside Israel,” Kirschner said, indicating that Hillel “would very much like to host” RoD at Stanford if it came for another tour. Deri, for his part, seemed committed to continuing to help Israeli soldiers and minorities stand in support of the Jewish state. “We are strong,” he said, “and nobody can prevent us from exposing the truth.”