Ariel and Israel Advocacy
Ariel is a native Californian. He considers himself moderately religious, though he possesses a strong Jewish identity due to his family’s affiliation with “modern Orthodox” synagogues and his own trip to Israel in 2004.
His experience with anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, compelled him to Israel advocacy. But no organization he looked into on campus was equipped to compete with the well-organized, effective Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a far-reaching arm of the Muslim network.
One day he responded to an invitation to the Israel Action Committee sponsored by Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Excited about the prospect of taking action to counter the lies he had heard, he attended a meeting. What he found were students who were more interested in eating pizza paid for by Hillel than in advocating for Israel. While SJP was working feverishly to spread lies, this group was watching movies and hanging out, he said.
So in 2007, while a junior at Berkeley, Ariel Kaplan helped start the pro-Israel advocacy group he was looking for—Tikvah: Students for Israel (SFI). Tikvah is Hebrew for “hope.” Its website, tikvahsfi.berkeley.edu, explains that Tikvah “is a group of students at UC Berkeley dedicated to advocating for Zionism—the national movement of the Jewish people for self-determination in their homeland, Israel.”
Finding professors interested in helping Tikvah is difficult, however. While most pro-Israel professors are unwilling to express their views publicly, pro-Palestinian professors are vocal and plentiful, Ariel said. With such an imbalance, many pro-Israel people keep silent out of fear.
Even Ariel’s Jewish studies class had a pro-Palestinian instructor who taught that Jewish people living in Arab countries in the 1940s and 1950s “left on their own.” In a telephone interview, Ariel told us his classmate challenged the instructor, explaining they were forced to leave. The professor dismissed the objection, calling it a “typical Zionist response.” Yet the man knew firsthand what he was talking about: He is of Iranian-Jewish descent, and his family was among the thousands of Jewish people forced to flee the Middle East due to extreme anti-Semitic persecution.
Ariel is also up against people like Rutie Adler, an Israeli Jewess who has been teaching Hebrew at Berkeley since 1986 and is an outspoken supporter of International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent, pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel group.
In 2011 she was one of 30 UC Jewish Studies professors defending radical Muslim students. The professors were asking the Orange County district attorney to drop all charges against members of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) extremist Muslim Students Union who conspired to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren when he spoke at the invitation of UCI’s School of Law and Department of Political Science in 2010.1
Although a minority of students belong to SJP, Ariel said, many are almost “professional students” (graduate students on campus for years). “You find cases of 35-year-old graduate students who seem to spend more time doing anti-Israel advocacy on campus” than studying, he said.
To Ariel, it seems like he’s a soldier in a war, fighting for the minds of students. His goal is to make people aware of the anti-Israel bias permeating college campuses and to exhort Americans to stay informed, correct misinformation when they see it in the news media by contacting the editors, and write their congressmen.
- “UC Faculty: Jewish Studies Faculty at the University of California Ask D.A. to Drop Charges,” Stand with the Eleven, March 3, 2011 <tinyurl.com/927jord>.