IN CANADA, TEACHING ZIONISM, ONE STUDENT AT A TIME
Israel Campus Beat, February 11, 2013
Five years ago, Concordia University professor Frederick Krantz noticed a lack of preparedness among Jewish students when faced with the growing anti-Zionist fervor he witnessed on his campus. “Zionism was becoming a negative term and we at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) wanted to do something about it,” he said, “so we started the Student Israel Advocacy Program (SIAP), a year-long seminar with college faculty for the public, to give them facts and data about Jewish and Zionist history, the Arab-Israel conflict and the rise in propaganda.”
Krantz, a professor of liberal arts and humanities who completed his PhD at Yeshiva University on the history of anti-Semitism, is the director of CIJR, a 25-year-old organization that is connected with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The SIAP is one of its many outreach projects.
“Frequently, Jewish students, even those who went to Jewish schools, don’t know much history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, so when they are confronted with highly propagandistic Arab students, professors and speakers, they are not prepared,” Krantz noted. SIAP aims to change that by building upon participants’ knowledge of Jewish and Middle East history, their rhetorical skills and their ability to debate and organize on campus, through seminars and workshops. The program stresses the importance of mutual support among Israel supporters.
“Our overarching goal is to provide students with the truth about the history of the conflict, facts that allow them to dispute the assertions which are made on campus,” Krantz said, adding, “we try to not only teach these skills, but provide participants with the psychological confidence to put them to good use.”
Faculty from three of Montreal’s four universities work together to lead seven workshops each year. Enrolment in the program largely consists of college and university students, but a small contingent of older participants also enrols each year. Generally, 15-20 people complete the program annually. Krantz estimated that approximately 40% of program participants are non-Jewish: “Some of these non-Jewish kids become the most sincerely committed Zionists in the groups we have educated over the years, which has been very satisfying for us,” he said.
Laura Ariza Pena Corea, 24, who studies public policy at Concordia University and is not Jewish, completed the program two years ago. She hails from Colombia, a predominantly Catholic country with a small Jewish population. “When I came here, I made some Jewish friends and expressed an interest in learning more about the history and culture, so I was referred to the program,” she explained.
Krantz emphasized that the program aims to impart facts rather than opinions, giving participants enough background and history to make informed decisions as to their views on issues related to the conflict. Ariza agreed, saying, “I’m more informed, so when I hear people talk about it, I know the two sides of the coin.”
Several participants have gone on to be successful pro-Israel advocates. Hillel Neuer, who heads UNWatch in Geneva, is an alumnus. The program’s remarkable success has pushed it to think bigger. “We’re being imitated now,” Krantz said with satisfaction. “People want to do something similar in Toronto at York University and in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba.”
In the meantime, graduates of the program continue to make positive change in their communities, armed with a new determination to combat ignorance. “A lot of people are brainwashed for such a long time,” Ariza said. “They don’t really know the story…. This program exposed me to a whole new perspective.”
(Please Note: Professor Krantz obtained his Ph.D. from Cornell University and did his post-graduate work at Yeshiva University – Ed.)