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Featured Professional


February, 2012

Brett Cohen is the National Campus Program Director for StandWithUs. Based in Chicago, Brett oversees StandWithUs programming around the country, supervises staff, designs innovative new campaigns for campus, and serves as a mentor and resource for students and professionals dealing with anti-Israel problems on campus. He also serves as the StandWithUs liaison to ICC partner organizations, and is a member of several collaborative projects such as the Real Partners. Real Peace.initiative and the upcoming Ask Herzl Israel programs database. Brett has also been a long time campaigner for LGBT rights, and seeks to build bridges between different activist communities.

Q: What does Israel advocacy mean to you?

Personally, I think that advocacy only touches a part of what we do. What this is really about is education. What are we advocating for? Support for Israel? Peace in the Middle East? The core of the issue is the vast amount of misinformation being spread about the reality in Israel. When you ask a typical college student to describe Israel, what you hear is sand, guns, and religion. For people who are passionate about Israel, this doesn't reflect the country we love at all. Our job is to educate the public about the reality of the Middle East, not the selected glimpse you get from the headlines.


Q: Why do you feel itís important to create a positive Israel atmosphere on campus?

The Middle East conflict is one of the most charged issues that students encounter on campus. It can be very intimidating when a student has to deal with libel and accusations against Israel designed to demonize the country. I think that the real message that we need to promote is that the conflict isnít zero-sum. For example, I just spent the past weekend at the BDS conference at U Penn, where speaker after speaker framed the issue as either Israel or the Palestinians have to win. Not once was the idea expressed that both national movements can coexist, or that a win-win scenario can be reached by the parties. When anti-Israel campaigners use the language of human rights to delegitimize the national movement of the Jewish People, and paint the conflict as zero-sum, they do damage to human rights as a whole. Weíre here to inject a message of coexistence into the conversation.


Q: What campus are you traveling to next and what will you be doing there?

I am actually about to embark on a Midwest road trip with the StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers Speak Out program. Iíll be travelling to campuses in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas with two reserve duty Israeli soldiers who will give personal accounts of their service that you donít hear in the headlines. Iím especially excited because one of the soldiers coming along is gay, and LGBT rights has been a passion of mine since long before I caught the ďIsrael bugĒ.


Q: Where is your favorite place to go in Israel?

This is a really tough question. I think I feel most at home in Haifa, with its multicultural, laid-back atmosphere. It feels a lot like Chicago. But the most breathtaking site for me has to be Sde Boker in the Negev, the kibbutz founded by David Ben Gurion where he is laid to rest. The sunrise over the desert ravine is quite possibly the most beautiful thing Iíve ever seen.


Q: What is your favorite Israeli food?

Malawach!!! Best breakfast food ever. For some reason most of my Israeli friends are Yemenite, and Iím absolutely obsessed with their food and culture.


Q: When is the next time youíre going to be in Israel?

Eventually I plan to make aliyah, but not for a few years. There is a lot more for me to do here in the States on campus. Hopefully though, Iíll be leading a StandWithUs student mission this summer.


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