University of Oklahoma students honored for pro-Israel activism

 Students from the University of Oklahoma, including two from Oklahoma City, were named “Activists of the Year” at the recent national meeting of the America Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC).  The contingent was in good company.  They were honored along with students from Indiana University and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA).

Shayna R. Daitch of Oklahoma City, vice president of OU Sooners for Israel and a member of the undergraduate student Congress, was part of the delegation.

She said, “I’ve always been a supporter of the Jewish state. Being Jewish in Oklahoma can be a lonely experience, so Israel became my connection to my faith. I also support the Jewish state because of the shared values between the United States of America and Israel — democracy, rights for women, religious freedom, equality for all, etc.”

She recounted, “I was not involved in pro-Israel activism until college. Activism is difficult because so many students are apathetic about it, not because they don’t care about the world around them, but because it takes enormous time and effort. Sooners for Israel at OU provided me with a base and resources for campus activism.

“Being involved in pro-Israel activism is a way to further my values and educate my peers on an issue the vast majority of Americans support, but may not necessarily be familiar with the details and threats Israel faces every day. It’s much more effective.”
Asked if she believed support for the nation of Israel is particularly important at this time, she replied, “Support for Israel has never been more critical because she faces a multitude of existential threats – rockets raining from Gaza, ruled by Hamas, whose own charter calls for the destruction of Israel; Hizbollah in Lebanon amassing 40,000 rockets on Israel’s northern border; threats from Iran to destroy Israel while they race to build nuclear weapons; uncertainty over whether or not the new government in Egypt will maintain peace; and the global campaign to de-legitimate and isolate the Jewish state. But I digress.

"Israel is held to a different standard than every other country in the world, a standard that is unreasonable. I can think of no other country whose very existence is questioned and debated globally, who is forced to return land won in war, and who is expected to not defend its citizens.”

At OU, Daitch is majoring in international security. She said, “I hope to work in the American foreign policy sector.”

In response to a question, she described her attendance at the AIPAC policy conference in these words: “Being in a room of 10,000 people and seeing the most prominent politicians speak on the issues affecting Israel was so moving.”

Hunter Ligon of Oklahoma City, president of College Republicans at OU, was one of the five AIPAC members from OU who went to the national gathering. In an interview, he traced his involvement with the group to his friend, Daitch.

“I was approached by my friend Shayna, to join an organization on campus called Sooners for Israel. Something I found, and still find, so intriguing is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is such a bipartisan issue. I represent the Right at OU as College Republicans President, and we have other students involved in our organization who represent the Democrat point of view. Despite our many political differences we realize that the U.S.-Israel relationship is critical on many different levels, from national security to human rights, and we unite to protect those freedoms.”

As for what he considered the significance of support for Israel-U.S. ties at this moment in history, he reflected, “It is crucial to support Israel now more than ever.  The nuclear threat of Iran is a major concern in the international community, and now that they have recovered from the recent Stuxnet virus it is reported that they are producing low-enriched uranium at levels higher than before the virus hit. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for the death of Israel.

“What’s important to understand, as Americans, is that anyone who calls for the death of Israel is also calling for the death of America — because we share the same ideals. Ideas like freedom of speech and religion, empowerment of women and minorities, and true democracy are values that Americans love and cherish, and that’s why it’s vital that we defend Israel from those wishing to do harm.”

At OU, Ligon is a broadcast journalism student, seeking a minor in political science. He said, “After graduation I would love to cover international affairs, particularly in the Middle East. As of late I find myself becoming more outspoken on a wide array of issues, so I may even pursue something other than journalism to avoid conflict of interest.”

Ligon said he learned a great deal at the national meeting from hearing sharply divergent views about the Middle East from two world leaders. He recalled, “One of the most interesting experiences a person can have is hearing the President of the United States speak live, only feet away from you, especially when what he’s saying is highly controversial.”

Ligon continued, “In his speech, President Obama spoke of Israel returning to 1967 borders with ‘mutual agreed land swaps,’ but unless a person has studied the controversy one might not know what that means. As I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak days later, he made it completely clear. I learned that Israel can’t defend itself using ’67 lines because at its narrowest point Israel is only nine miles across – a border that would be impossible to defend.”

Concluding his comments on the national meeting, Ligon said, “Another highlight for me was making friends from all walks of life. From the Ivy League to Historical Black colleges, the friends I’ve made will last a lifetime.”

Then asked to sum up his experiences since Daitch encouraged him to join the pro-Israel student group, Ligon commented, “I think Oklahomans can identify with this issue very well. We have a vibrant evangelical Christian community who sees the Biblical importance of helping our Jewish friends, and we embrace the values of freedom and democracy. Israel needs our support, and that begins with raising awareness in the community.
 “We were very fortunate to speak with every member of our Congressional delegation while in Washington, and each member gave their wholehearted support for the state of Israel. That is a powerful message, and testament to the beliefs of Oklahoma.”

In addition to Daitch and Ligon, each a graduate of Oklahoma City’s Putnam North High School, the OU group at the AIPAC policy conference consisted of what Ligon characterized as “both sides of the political spectrum and of different nationalities and faith.” Others attending were Erik Baker, President of Sooners for Israel and  Hannah Morris, President of the OU Student Association (i.e. student body president).

A large number of OU students, beyond the group that attended the Washington conference, were engaged in passage of a resolution, in the OU Student Association, of a resolution which recognized what the AIPAC national office characterized as “the importance of security assistance to American allies including Israel. After passing the resolution, the students met with members of Congress to encourage strong support for American foreign aid to Israel.”

The 2011 AIPAC policy conference drew to Washington more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists. Of those, 1,500 are campus advocates. Included in the student count were 215 presidents of student government associations. More than 400 campuses, all 50 states and the District of Columbia were represented at the gathering.