‘Israel girl’ rallying support for land she loves at George Washington
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“That Israel girl” is the way people who know her refer to 18-year-old Ilana Levinson. And with good reason.
A Cherry Hill resident and current freshman at George Washington University, Levinson says that she spends most of her time involved in Israel-related activities and keeping up with the latest news from Israel. She also spent her recent winter break in Israel on a two-week Hasbara Fellowship designed to help college students combat anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
“We learned the common accusations and the tools to respond to them,” said Levinson, who is double majoring in international affairs and Middle Eastern studies at GWU. As an example, Levinson said that sometimes Israel is accused of being “an apartheid state,” the term used by South Africa to refer to its denial of equality to black people.
Levinson said that when people try to apply the apartheid label to Israel, she educates people with the facts. Namely, that Israel is a full democracy in which all citizens have equal rights, and that there are Arab members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Levinson said that unlike many college campuses, George Washington has a large Jewish population and a largely pro-Israel community. “Our biggest problem is apathy, getting people to care,” she said about Israel-related activities on campus. She is doing her part by serving on the board of SAFI (Student Alliance For Israel). SAFI organizes Israeli cultural and educational events, including bringing Israel-related speakers to the GWU community.
A former student at Kellman Brown Academy and Midrashah, Levinson had always wanted to visit Israel. She got the chance with Temple Beth Sholom’s Confirmation Class trip.
“I really loved it, and that’s when I decided that if people were critical of Israel, I needed to keep Israel positive,” Levinson said. While in high school, she spent a semester in Israel on the Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim program. Levinson went to Cherry Hill East, where she started an Israel Club.
One of the things that Levinson loves about Israel is that there is really something there that everyone can support. She said that Israel is strong on gay rights, the environment, technology, and other areas.
Unlike other trips Levinson has taken to Israel, the Hasbara Fellowship program focused on the political. “I had to look at Israel strategically,” she said. The program forced her to look critically at the peace process and other issues.
Levinson said the Hasbara Fellowship program was a lot of fun, and she was able to see family and friends, but there were many intense days. “We went to the Knesset, heard speakers, and visited the foreign ministry,” she said.
“I hope that students would take a more active role in supporting Israel,” said Levinson. She said that people who love Israel and visit Israel should stay involved when they return.
“There is a lot of tension in the Middle East, and so a lot can be done for Israel back home,” said Levinson. She said that Israel is in the middle of all the uncertainty surrounding the Arab Spring. “Israel needs our support,” she said. .