San Jose poster campaign grows into pro-Israel training program

After weeks of relentless anti-Israel rhetoric, a group of Jewish students at San Jose State University took matters — and staplers — into their own hands.

The result was a campus dotted with pro-Israel posters and postcards, and a student body better equipped to assess Middle East issues.

Now, BlueStar PR, the S.F.-based pro-Israel media company that made it all happen, is planning to take the “Yozma” program to other campuses across the country. The aim is to train Jewish college students to educate their colleagues about Israel, and not wait for anti-Israel voices to do it for them.

It all began last semester, when the Muslim Students Association at SJSU booked a string of guest speakers on campus, each more vitriolic than the one before.

“They said it is OK if they want to commit suicide to kill Jews,” recalls Vanina Sandel, the Hillel of Silicon Valley program director.

Adding to the problem, the university-sponsored student organization Mosaic, which is supposed to encourage campus diversity, seemed to minimize Jewish concerns. The organization also provided funds for the Muslim speakers, meaning the university subsidized the hate speech.

“We started this campaign as an answer to a problem,” adds Sandel. “The technique was to address the people who are undecided.”

Several Hillel members answered the call. Rather than fire back with equally heated rhetoric, they decided to launch an education program complete with posters and postcards from BlueStar PR. Their tactic: Fight ire with flier.

“We discussed what would be the most appropriate posters for the campus,” says BlueStar PR founder Jonathan Carey. “We decided to target certain buildings with certain themes: engineering with innovations; the business school with posters about investing in Israel.”

“We put the posters up in classrooms and hallways,” says Michael Avrukin, a SJSU senior. “Most students had the attitude of, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this stuff. This is interesting.'”

The Hillelites did more than stick posters on the walls. They also set up an outdoor table (piled with BlueStar postcards) to do on-campus retail politicking.

Says Andrew Schwartz, a SJSU senior, “We pointed out all the good things in Israel. We just wanted to make it apparent to students that Israel is not a place where bombs explode every 10 minutes. Nobody gets a chance to see all the good things.”

“People were surprised,” notes Hillel member David Ben Israel, a sophomore studying international business. “They didn’t know there were Arab or Muslim people in Israel. They didn’t know Israel was a modern country. They didn’t realize that not all Jews were Caucasian.”

The students’ campaign proved so successful, BlueStar created “The New Campus Maccabees,” a 14-minute documentary film about the project. The company also plans to launch a training program for college students modeled after the San Jose example. The program is called Yozma (Hebrew for “initiative”).

Says Carey, “It’s a leadership development program. [Students] learn how to deal with student government, how to fund-raise and how to fight back..”

Carey took “The New Campus Maccabees” to the annual conference of the Israel Project, a Washington, D.C.-based Israel advocacy group. The film received a standing ovation.

All is quiet for now at SJSU. But the Hillel efforts last semester had a lasting impact. Schwartz is now an intern with Mosaic, the same organization that had given Jewish students short shrift.

“We needed someone to advocate for the Jewish community on campus,” says Schwartz. “Hopefully now that I’m there I can say whether someone shouldn’t be speaking here. If the Muslim students want to sponsor someone, fine, but they shouldn’t have the university pay for it.”

Meanwhile, his fellow Hillel members still feel the afterglow of a public relations job well done.

“I love Israel,” says Ben Israel, “and it felt good to get good reactions.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.