Ex-paratrooper leading fight back on campuses
IT WILL not come as a surprise to JC readers that supporters of Israel have a hard time on British university campuses.
But Tamir Oren understands the problem better than most.
The first event the new director of StandWithUs UK, the pro-Israel educational group, attended was a talk at University College London last October which made national headlines after it was disrupted by anti-Israel activists.
“My time here in the UK began with that,” Mr Oren says. “One of my campus directors was physically assaulted and I found myself in a hospital with her, filing a police report.”
His decision to become a professional Israel advocate stems from his time serving in the Israeli army as an officer in the paratroopers, he says.
“In 2008 I led soldiers into battle as part of Operation
Cast Lead. My first mission was to go and neutralise a building where missiles were fired
— that building was a school.
Tamir Oren “Back then, when I saw how Hamas used those children as human shields, and taught hate instead of educating about the future and the hope of the Palestinians, I decided to share my story and join StandWithUs”.
He describes his main mission as being “to strengthen students on campus — Jewish and non-Jewish. I want them to feel proud, to feel confident, to stand up for Israel and to educate about Israel in a more professional way”. StandWithUs UK has three permanent members of staff in addition to Mr Oren — a director of operations and two campus directors. But he is eager to expand the organisation with an extra campus director, in Liverpool, and a community director.
“My aim is to open a leadership chapter up north and be able to train between 80-100 students per year. I really want to be active on campuses that are not Londonbased, for example Warwick, York, Liverpool and Manchester.”
He also wants to expand into more schools, to help prepare sixth formers for the transition to university life.
Mr Oren says he has been contacted by people across Europe who are keen to defend Israel and want help from StandWithUs.
“People are starting to hear about us and they need those practical tools,” he says. “We’re not just about talking, we’re about actually doing. And people want to be a part of it.”
Pro-Israel students evidently need the help of Mr Oren and his group.
After the events at UCL, Mr Oren says, “students came to us, crying, saying ‘we need help, we need support, we need someone who can give us the practical tools to deal with these things on the ground’.
“So we started a UK-Israel leadership programme aimed at students from around the UK, to train them to be better educators for Israel.”
The pilot programme had 80 applicants, from which a team of 35 were chosen.
The training for these students was not just about absorbing knowledge, but also about encouraging them to make tangible efforts.
“We’re interested in leaders and StandWithUS UK supporters bring their message to University College London
doers. People who are doing practical stuff on campus,” explains Mr Oren.
“Each student leader has their own project on campus. For example, at Exeter a Jewish student rebranded Israel Apartheid Week as Israel Peace Week and discussed co-existence. We have one student from Imperial College who decided to send 40 students from Imperial, young entrepreneurs, to Israel, for a week-long trip.
“During Israel Apartheid Week we had students all around London in different closed Facebook and Whatsapp groups reporting to one another when, for example, an ‘apartheid’ wall appeared on campus.
“Then they came to help and support each other with Israel flags, with stalls. We had a campaign which we called ‘falafel for facts’, where students around the UK ordered falafels in a stand, gave falafel to the students and talk to them.”
Mr Oren is keen to stress that the organisation receives no funding from the Israeli government or any Israeli political parties.
“We’re a registered charity in the UK, and we’re funded by the community here,” he says.
“In order to expand and in order to work in a community, we need the community to fund us, invest in us and help us to expand.”