As clouds of smoke billowed over the Gaza strip during the Gaza-Israel conflict in the summer of 2014, confusion and misinformation clouded pro-Israel sentiments across the rest of the globe.
However, a non-profit student organization at Arizona State University called Sun Devils for Israel has continued towards its goal of building a diverse, pro-Israel community.
Sun Devils for Israel was created in 2009, and having maintained a strong presence on ASU’s Tempe campus, is in the process of branching onto the other four campuses. Anybody is welcome to join the organization, which has three tiers of public outreach, according to the group’s president, Jared Hirschl.
“We have three different categories of events,” Hirschl said. “One is purely social, just getting kids to join us for dodge-ball, laser-tag, that sort of thing. The second is speeches or educational presentations, when we bring speakers from the outside to talk about current affairs. And we also do some philanthropic work to raise money for organizations with similar values.”
Hirschl explained that while his involvement was largely spurred by a trip to Israel during his freshman year of college, students with a myriad of backgrounds have joined the club. From those with Jewish heritage, to individuals solely curious about the Middle East, Sun Devils for Israel encompasses all sorts of members.
“I think that there are a lot of people out there who have become more interested in Israel on their own and seek out Sun Devils for Israel to learn more,” said Debbie Yunker Kail, adviser to Sun Devils for Israel. “We’re trying to help people realize that the best thing they can do for themselves is get information from a lot of different sources so they can form their own conclusions.”
Both Hirschl and Yunker Kail agree that having a pro-Israel voice at a largely populated university like ASU is important, especially when having conversations about the media’s angle on the conflict between Israel and Gaza-based militant terrorist group, Hamas.
The ongoing clash began on June 10, 2014, when three Israeli students were murdered. This spiraled into an incessant exchange of rocket fire and the first Israeli ground invasion of Gaza since 2009, which occurred in order to eradicate Hamas’ underground tunnels into Israel. However, another factor of the conflict was mass media’s portrayal of Israel, with a clear division in the news between organizations that supported the country or vilified its actions.
“Here at ASU, we don’t see many kids asking about what happened this summer, but the ones who do are just more confused than anything because the media put such a huge bias on it,” Hirschl said. “I think we take the role of trying to counterbalance what they heard.”
“We don’t pick a side,” Hirschl explained further. “Being pro-Israel doesn’t make us anti-Palestinian, we’re pro-peace. When you have groups that are one or the other, I don’t think they’re looking at the conflict in the right way. It’s not black and white; it’s a very colorful conflict that needs to be looked at and discussed from a plethora of angles and I think we can help our students do that.”
Expanding the conversation has been made easier by the group’s physical expansion to the Downtown Phoenix campus, according to Sam Levine, vice president of finance for Sun Devils for Israel. Levine said that in his opinion, it is the smartest move the club has made.
“The future of media is downtown,” Levine said earnestly. “What with the Cronkite school, we need to be advocating and developing friendships because you’re so much more likely to listen if someone is your friend and you can have a real discussion with someone you trust. I truly believe peace in the Middle East is possible. That’s why I volunteer for Sun Devils for Israel, because I do want to help make that difference in the world.”