Israeli Soldiers Speak Out on US Tour

Israeli Soldiers Speak Out on US Tour

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DEARBORN, Mich--With the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel gaining momentum nationwide, especially on campuses, it’s no surprise that some corporations and pro-Israeli groups are concerned about the growing pro-Palestinian movements.

In an effort to combat these movements and polish the tarnished image of the Israeli army in light of numerous allegations of war crimes by UN reports, a group named StandWithUs is sponsoring a tour during which six Israeli army soldiers will speak about their experiences.

UN reports including the Goldstone Report about the January 2009 siege on Gaza by Israel that was released in September 2009 and a UN report released this month examining Israel's attacks on an aid flotilla in international waters against activists in May both alleged numerous war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army also upholds a blockade and occupation against the Gaza Strip that British Prime Minister David Cameron called a "prison camp." 

The Israeli soldiers started visiting college campuses and community centers on the West Coast on October 3rd, continuing through the 17th, on the East Coast October 5th through the 18th, and the Mid West, October 8th through the 21st. The Michigan tour stops will feature speeches by two soldiers named Omer and Shai. They will visit Michigan State University in Lansing on October 19th and The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor on October 20th.

Many in the Arab American and pro-Palestinian communities are concerned that the tour is not about imparting knowledge, but is instead a glorified PR campaign in response to the BDS movement and an attempt to gain sympathy for Israel at a time when sentiments are turning against them on college campuses in concert with international movements.

“Such a tour is intended to undermine the growing BDS efforts on American campuses. As you know, the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-D) Student Government passed yet another divestment resolution last year, and will likely approve one this year as well,” said Dr. David Skrbina, professor of Philosophy at UM-D.

Michigan-Dearborn was one of numerous universities that have passed resolutions in support of boycotting companies that allegedly support Israel's military.

“The Israeli army has not been facing good press within the media regarding the flotilla attacks and with how they treat the Palestinians in occupied Palestine,” said Mahde Abdallah, a senator in the UM-D Student Government. “Them coming to polish their image is just showing that they're worried about the pro-Palestinian movements on campuses in the US.”

StandWithUs contends they're simply wishing to impart knowledge, using both this tour and their website Soldiers Speak Out about misconceptions.

“We created this website because a few isolated allegations from ‘anti-war’ Israeli soldiers are being used to defame the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF),” said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of Stand WithUs. “Yet the IDF has over 700,000 citizen soldiers and reservists who try to live up to its high ethical standards. The IDF impartially judges all alleged violations, and punishes offenders.”

StandWithUs reports that the two soldiers who are visiting the campuses have received honors in the military and have upheld all the moral codes of the Israeli Army.

Skrbina doesn’t think this tour will help the image of the Israeli army much, however, as evidence continues to mount against their declarations of upholding a high moral standard.

“They have an uphill battle, thanks to Israel's war crimes in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and at sea,“ he said. "They are sponsoring this 'tour' by two IDF soldiers to argue that Israel is only 'defending itself'… and to show that the soldiers are really 'nice guys'. Any soldiers who are involved with enforcing an illegal occupation are clearly not 'nice guys'.”

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