As the school year starts, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) director of Campus Initiatives, Naomi Mayor, has sent personalized invitations to elected members of student government inviting them to participate in an all-expenses paid trip to Israel. (You can read the e-mail below, at the end of this article.)
Called the “Campus Leaders Mission to Israel,” these trips are one of the ADL’s most important tactics in influencing campus political decisions. Rather than focus on convincing the general student body to continue supporting the occupation, this tactic focuses on influencing student decision-makers. By convincing them to adopt political positions that support the Israeli occupation, the ADL and other groups can create a bulwark between student popular opinion and the student government’s actual votes.
It is of course inevitable that trips like this will collide with the divestment movement on college campuses and raise issues of student government ethics in the process . Because the ADL actively petitions against divestment on college campuses, a member of UCLA’s student government who took the trip and later voted on divestment was accused of having a conflict of interest when he voted on the divestment question. The logic of the complaint was that by giving the student government leader a trip worth thousands of dollars, the ADL created a sense of obligation for the student to “repay” the favor by voting in the way that the ADL preferred when divestment came to the student government. Would students see their elected official opposing divestment because that position represented his or her constituents, or opposing divestment out of a sense of obligation to an organization which opposes divestment and has recently provided him or her with a lucrative financial benefit?
During the conflict of interest case at UCLA, the ADL was forced to publicly disclose the itinerary for its Summer 2013 trip, which gives outsiders a look into the trip and its political implications.
The trip features plenty of fun (shopping, rafting the Jordan river, swimming in the Galilee, floating in the Dead Sea, exploring the Israeli nightlife), a chance to meet with entrepreneurs (surely captivating for career minded students about to graduate), and some religious and historical content, including Holocaust education. But amongst it all is a heavy dose of pro-Israel propaganda, designed to show students a view of Israel’s politics curated by one of the groups that supports the state’s policies most fervently.
In just one week, students met with an IDF spokesperson, were briefed by IDF soldiers, and ate meals with IDF soldiers. For balance, they also met an Israeli policeman turned intelligence officer. The trip also included a tour of the illegally occupied Golan Heights as well as the massive separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that the International Court of Justice ruled was a violation of International Law in 2005.
Although it is becoming impossible to speak credibly about Israel without at least acknowledging the occupation, having the people and groups most responsible for managing it frame the discussion seems to be an effective way to make sure that the occupation is portrayed in the best possible light. For example, one of the main takeaways from a student participant on the 2013 trip was how impressive it was that the complex border apparatus designed to cage and restrict Palestinians could detect animals and birds and would not sound any alarms when they approached. In contrast, no serious discussion of the implications of the legal, humanitarian, and human rights implications of the wall or the occupation can be found in the blog posts of students who participated on the trip.
In addition to seeing the occupation from the IDF’s perspectives, students were also exposed to narratives that use tokenization to make the case for Israel. Students met with representatives of the non-Palestinian LGBT community in Tel Aviv, learning about the country’s role as a safe haven for LGBT individuals. Neither in the itinerary nor in the group’s blog is there a mention of the struggles of the Palestinian queer community, inside Israel or under occupation, who through their organizations and activism repeatedly call for ending the occupation and equal rights for all as a fundamental part of their liberation.
Similarly, students visited an immigrant assimilation center to learn about the state’s efforts to welcome Jewish immigrants from around the world, but again, the trip’s public documents make no mention of the experiences of African migrants and refugees being subjected to horrific racism, violence, repression, and expulsion at the same time as the delegation’s visit.
And finally, the trip included a meeting with a Palestinian journalist and three students, who criticized the occupation and praised the peace process. As described by the trip’s blog, their complaints about a lack of access to basic necessities such as water elicited some sympathy from trip participants, and complicated their views on the peace process. The fact that this was the only time on the schedule to hear Palestinian political voices belies the continued insistence of trip participants that they were learning how “complicated” and “complex” the “situation” is. The meeting with three Palestinian students took less time than the lunch trip that immediately followed it on that day’s schedule.
Privilege and Travel
It is hard to place an exact dollar value on these trips, which include international airfare, a week of accommodations and food, and access to glamorous sites and programs. But they are certainly out of reach for most students on American college campuses, and that leads to the other glaring issue that should stand out to any humane observer of the occupation – the enormous gulf of privilege between these handpicked American students and the millions of disenfranchised people living in their vacation spot.
For one entire week, a dozen American students, simply because they’re in a position of power on their college campuses, were able to float on the Dead Sea, visit the Golan, traipse through Tel Aviv, and relax in the Galilee. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are suffocated by the occupation, unable to move freely due to checkpoints, roadblocks, walls, and a brutal permit regime. In Israel, Palestinians are subject to at least 30 laws that replicate the separate and unequal circumstances of the American South. Palestinians in Gaza (whose families trace back to many present day Israeli towns) are trapped in what is now commonly referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison, unable to leave even when granted prestigious scholarships at European, British, and American universities. And Palestinian refugees in the diaspora are systematically barred from visiting their homelands, including the homes their families were violently expelled from because they were not Jewish.
While the ADL’s trip might have been a lot of fun, summer for Palestinian students is generally anything but. The Palestinian-American travel experience looks more like being denied entry like Yara Karmalawy, suffering violence including the brutal beating Florida teen Tariq Abu Khdeir endured while visiting his family in Occupied East Jerusalem, or dodging Israel’s bombs in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, the situation University of Texas at Dallas student Rawan Muhanna found herself in after travelling to Gaza this summer to attend a family wedding.
Appealing to Elites
Appealing to elites remains one area of lobbying that works well for groups like the ADL. While public opinion in the United States, among younger and diverse demographics, and certainly on college campuses, is moving in favor of Palestinian rights, elites and politicians in both parties remain beholden to the Israel lobby. No better proof exists in recent weeks than Elizabeth Warren, who despite being the country’s most progressive Senator, took a lobbying trip to Israel and later issued statements that parrot the Israeli government’s position on Gaza, despite that government’s documented hostility to sitting Democratic President Barack Obama. So it is no wonder that AIPAC officials such as Jonathan Kessler are so enthusiastic about applying the same model to American universities.
But as streets from Gaza to Shuafat continue to burn, perhaps the only surprising thing about the ADL’s trip is that they didn’t teach these student leaders how to play the fiddle.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Mayor, Naomi <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 7:08 AM
Subject: Campus Leaders Mission to Israel
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, US-Israel relations, Hamas, Gaza, and West Bank settlements make daily headlines and resonate on campuses across America. To learn about and assess these important issues firsthand, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is offering qualified campus leaders the opportunity to participate in a unique trip to Israel, at no cost.
ADL’s Campus Leaders Mission to Israel, scheduled to take place December 28, 2014 – January 7, 2015, provides a diverse group of student journalists and politically active student leaders with an up-close and personal perspective of Israel by learning about the strategic and social challenges facing Israel today. Mission participants will meet with key decision-makers, government and military officials, diplomats, journalists, students, and everyday Israelis – both Arab and Jewish – from diverse communities, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. Participants will visit sights of historic, religious, and contemporary interest. The Mission includes a two day orientation in New York, followed by a week traveling in Israel. The group will travel by private bus with a personal tour guide and an ADL staff leader.
Thanks to generous funding from the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation, Michelle Kahn, and the Samuel and Mildred Levine Institute, there will be no cost to selected participants. This includes a travel to and from Israel, accommodations, meals, and a stipend of up to $200 for travel to New York. Please refer to the Campus Leaders Mission application website for more detailed information. Students who will not be returning to campus following the mission or who have previously visited Israel are not eligible to apply. If you are not eligible to apply, please forward this information to other interested student leaders at your university.
To apply for the Campus Leaders Mission to Israel, please complete the online application at www.adl.org/campusleadersmission. The application deadline is October 15, 2014.
If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected] or 212-885-7836.
|Naomi Mayor| Director of Campus Initiatives and Education ProjectsAnti-Defamation League | 605 Third Ave | New York, NY 10158| Phone: 212-885-7836|
 In California, similar questions have arisen around free lobbying trips provided by Project Interchange to Connor Landgraf, ASUC president at UC Berkeley during its 2013 divestment resolution, Shaz Umer, who participated in the ADL’s 2013 trip to Israel and later tried to undermine a successful vote on divestment at UC Santa Cruz, and Lauren Rogers, a UCLA student government member who took a Project Interchange trip in the winter of 2013-2014.