We would like to utilize this post to reflect on a disarming trend taking place on college campuses across the country: the alarming rise of Anti-Semitic, Anti-Normalization, BDS activity. It is impossible to address Anti-Semitism on campus without confronting the growing anti-Israel sentiment. Though veiled as political activism, BDS campaigns are in effect vehicles for Anti-Semitism, as they target the world’s only Jewish State, and lead to silencing and bullying of Jewish and pro-Israel students.

BDS and anti-Israel activism relies a false narrative which portrays Jews as white European colonialists who invaded a third-world country, displaced a significant portion of the indigenouspopulation, oppressed and segregated the remainder. As North America’s primary organization representing Jewish refugees from the Middle East & North Africa, JIMENA is uniquely positioned to refute these myths by empowering students with the personal narratives of former Jewish refugees indigenous to Arab countries and Iran. We teach students that:

“Jews and Israelis are not white colonists, we are indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. We speak Arabic. We have been made refugees from countries we lived in for over 2,500 year. In today’s value, we had $6billion confiscated when we fled.”

BDS messaging preys on college student’s ideologies of empathy and support for the “third-world victim” while singling out those with “white privilege” as the oppressors. This has had a catastrophic effect on Jewish students confidence, willingness, and ability to support Israel. This damaging BDS messaging has effectively served to isolate, unaffiliated, and disempower many of our Jewish students and potential student supporters of Israel. There is no better counter defense to this propaganda than the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. JIMENA is the only organization who can balance Palestinians exclusive monopoly on Middle Eastern refugee claims by exposing current and past ethnic cleansings and refugee crises in the region.

Contrary to the BDS narrative of Jews in Israel as European settler colonialists, Jewish communities lived and thrived throughout the Middle East & North Africa continuously for over 3,000 years – predating the Arab Islamic conquests by centuries. Only as recently as the 20th century, 850,000 Mizrahi & Sephardic Jews were forcibly displaced from Arab countries and Iran as a result of ethnic cleansing and brutal, systemic anti-Semitic violence. Of the suddenly stateless, penniless Mizrahi refugees, an overwhelming 60% sought refuge in one of the only countries in the world that would accept them: the State of Israel. Today, Mizrahi refugees and their descendants comprise over half of Israel’s Jewish population, and are intrinsic to the country’s society and cultural fabric.

Sharing the histories of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa is a potentially paradigm-shifting tool. Yet their stories remain largely unknown to students, Jewish communal staff and professors at universities across North America.

Facets of JIMENA’s established on-campus programming include:

JIMENA Student Internship: students develop and implement JIMENA-themed academic projects, engage their peers in on-campus JIMENA events, and expose their campus community to the personal and communal stories of former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa

Mizrahi & Sephardic Speakers Bureau: our 40-member Speakers Bureau, which has presented at over 100 campuses, serves as the North American voice of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The Bureau is composed of former refugees, experts and cultural ambassadors who have compelling first-hand stories and the knowledge to represent Jews from Arab countries.

Advocacy Training and Kit: a comprehensive guide for students & faculty to address the story of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. It includes 11 country-specific histories and statistics on Jewish population and migration within the last century; public speaking tips and debating best-practices; a comprehensive bibliography and list of resources for learning more; and ideas for events and possible programming on college campuses to stay involved.

-Collaborations:  JIMENA has worked with a diversity of campus student organizations, including Muslim and Christian groups. Numerous on-campus student organizations such as Stand With Us, CAMERA, Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows, Hillel  and numerous Jewish high schools continuously rely on JIMENA’s resources to educate and empower their students on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Our speaker’s presentations, film screenings, Sephardic cultural engagement programs, and advocacy trainings have been regularly utilized by all leading student organizations. JIMENA remains the central resource center on issues related to refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

Moving Forward. 

In these critical times, JIMENA seeks to expand our impact. Some of our campus programming goals include:

  • JIMENA’s goal is to become the central resource and distribution center for campus activities and resources promoting the history of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. We aim to strengthen our relationship with Jewish student organizations who have students on the ground and an expressed interest in JIMENA’s narrative.
  • Through our partnerships with on-campus organizations, we’d like to provide JIMENA produced, Mizrahi Refugee Advocacy Kits, Forgotten Refugees films, and JIMENA Speaker Presentations to Jewish student groups, interns and fellows, on every North American college campus. This will ensure that Jewish students have access to a plethora of information and speakers who can empower and teach them how to effectively incorporate the Mizrahi refugee narrative in their Israel advocacy.
  • Incorporating the Sephardic and Mizrahi refugee experience into Jewish Day School curriculum will strengthen students’ ability to properly advocate for Israel and will enrich their understanding of Jewish diversity, and Middle Eastern history and demography.  JIMENA “Journey to the Mizrah” initiative is producing Mizrahi and Sephardic content that incorporates issues of Jewish refugees, Jewish multiculturalism, current Jewish demographics, and Middle Eastern diversity, refugee, and humanitarian issues and to create incentivized teacher training blocks.
  • Provide JIMENA Speakers Bureau advocacy and cultural programming at campuses throughout North America. Ideally, we’d like to have a JIMENA speaker present at every major North American campus in 2015/16.

Articles written by JIMENA Student Interns

Remembering the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa. Ha’Am UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine

Keeping prejudice under control: The Jewish people deserve the security of a homeland. The Daily Californian

Visits to Stanford Exhibit Israeli Multiculturalism. Stanford Review

Summertime discovery about by Mizrahi heritage. J Weekly

UC Berkeley Student Leader Testimonial. Youtube

Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries on College Campuses

Shared history of persecution unites Mizrahi, Sephardic Jews. Jewish Journal

The Forgotten Refugees: CAMERA Fellows Event

Tent at Cal: No flaps, only civil discourse about Israel. Jweekly

Israel ‘apartheid’? Absurd BDS claim debunked at Cal. Jweekly

Jewish woman describes family’s flight from Tunisia, Virginia Commonwealth University

No Holds Barred: Bringing the fight to Students for Justice in Palestine. JPOST

JIMENA Against BDS at UC Berkeley

 

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