CIJA, alongside community colleagues at Calgary Jewish Federation and Federation CJA in Montreal, facilitated a student support group last week in the wake of escalating violence and conflict in Israel and Gaza. On less than 24-hours notice, this group convened 120 high school and university students across the country, including Ottawans, who reported experiencing increased bullying, harassment, and antisemitism in relation to the crisis.
The students were provided with practical tools and resources to counter the harassment and rhetoric, as well as the opportunity to express their concerns and feelings in terms of the discrimination they’re facing.
In an era of global connectivity, exacerbated by the pandemic, many students find themselves online and engaged on digital platforms more often, and are experiencing online hate, harassment, and bullying. Overwhelmingly, students who participated in the workshop said they felt overwhelmed, scared, stressed, unsafe and isolated as the conflict continued.
The student support group’s main mantra was that “You are not alone,” no matter how disconnected and dispersed everyone might be during the pandemic. Organized by Danielle Braitman and Jessica Itzcovitch, the support group emphasized their own personal experiences of being bullied and harassed for their Jewish or Israeli identity.
“We are stronger together and it is our sincere hope that we can support and empower you in the face of polarizing, hateful messaging and one-sided, biased information,” the pair said in their communications.
The support group also made it clear that it’s not any student’s responsibility to be an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor is it their responsibility to comment or debate on the conflict. They provided some one-liners to use in conversation to help set boundaries:
- I don’t feel that I have enough information to comment on this situation.
- I have friends and family in Israel, and my biggest concern right now is their safety and well being. This is not a theoretical situation for me, but incredibly personal and close to home, with grave consequences. I don’t have the emotional capacity to engage in dialogue right now. [Addition: I can recommend these resources: _____________.]
- Each Jewish individual has a unique and diverse relationship with Israel, and I cannot speak for all Jewish people.
- I would like to have a dialogue about this topic in the future, but at the moment, my emotions are too heightened to have a conversation about the conflict, as this affects me on a deeply personal level. Could I reach out to you when I feel more at ease? I am glad you feel I am someone you can talk to.
They also provided one-liners to help facilitate open conversations:
- I would be interested in having a discussion if you are committed to seeing and hearing my perspective, but I am not interested in having a conversation with someone who is committed to misunderstanding/dismissing my point of view or identity.
- I love that you are fighting for a social justice cause, however some of the posts you shared contain information that is incorrect and if shared could be harmful, both in terms of further stigmatizing Jewish/Israeli identity as well leading to real life violence. From what I know, I think that you’re a person committed to sharing helpful and honest information. Do you have a moment to speak?
- I feel that this information is purely one-sided, has many historical inaccuracies, and does not reflect the truth of the situation, nor any nuance. Infographics can be really challenging, because several thousand years of history, attachment to the land, and religious, ethnic, cultural and traditional identity cannot be supported in 15 lines or less.
- Bridging the peace gap requires demonstrating that most Jewish people around the world are committed to maintaining a Jewish, democratic homeland in Israel and are deeply committed to human rights, freedoms and equity for all. The majority of Israelis and Jews in diaspora are in favour of a two-state solution, are in favour of peace, and believe Palestinians should have the right to self determination. Like myself, the majority of Israelis and Jews in diaspora are in favour of a two-state solution, actively work towards peace, and believe Palestinians should have the right to self determination. I do not accept that Palestinian self determination should have to come at the expense of Israeli self-determination. Human rights should be available to all. Do you agree?
I appreciate that you are sharing information on this critical topic. Whenever I share information, I ask myself the following questions (1) could this be harmful to a group and am I contributing to a dangerous situation for anybody? (2) am I sure that this information is correct and have I checked that the information cited is accurate before amplifying? (3) what vested interest do I have in sharing only one side of a conflict?
Are you directly impacted by the conflict or are you a Western, Canadian person who is not impacted and will face no consequences based on these actions? If the latter, what is your intention when sharing this info and why would you choose to share a side that uplifts and supports one group over the other?
Another session is planned for Thursday, May 20. Any students who would like to participate should email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.