Commando Tourism and Settlement Junkets: How U.S. College Students Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Israel
With Israel facing growing global opposition and divestment movements, pro-Zionist propaganda efforts in the U.S. are increasingly aimed at winning young hearts and minds through groups like BlueStar PR, a California-based non-profit offering summer tours and other programs dedicated to "empowering the next generation of Israel advocates." Explains its mission statement, "Demonizing and delegitimizing Israel is endemic on many college campuses and in many communities...Help volunteers humanize perceptions of Israel and show how Israelis are building a more peaceful and hopeful future for their children" by shaping “powerful pro-Israel advocates, spokespeople and opinion leaders” on college campuses.
On a June tour with 23 "dedicated student Israel advocates" from California campuses whose almost sole reference to 750,000 displaced Palestinians noted that “Arabs fled the region due to their leadership’s commands and when they were unable to return, became refugees,” the young people described their experiences in wide-eyed daily blogs. Thus, their commando tourism paintball session at a privately-owned counter-terrorism training facility in the illegal Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Etzion that combines “the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting,” and their visit to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which houses a museum, memorial to Israeli intelligence officers and pictures of Palestinian youngsters “handed guns and celebrating death.”
The BlueStar Fellows trip is part of a broader move, particularly aimed at ingenuous young people, to shape a hardline pro-Israel narrative. There's lots of money behind it, but the end result remains unclear.
Intriguingly, amidst the blogs' bad writing and impossibly simplistic thinking, at least one participant, self-described "right-wing" fellow Sachar Ben-David, questioned the narrow perspective of an oh-so-complex conflict he figured out they were getting. He wrote, “No story should be taken at face value; no ‘truth’ should go unquestioned. We should always feel like we are getting all the facts, not just the convenient ones. We need to arm ourselves with every piece of knowledge and information we can. If we don’t let ourselves hear every side of the truth, even the ugly parts, how can we truly advocate for Israel?" Good question.