Ex-para­trooper leading fight back on cam­puses

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY DANIEL SUGARMAN

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.”

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