Decrying the persecution of Israel and the global ineffectiveness of the United Nations, students and faculty from Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence and Midreshet Shalhevet High School in North Woodmere protested for more than two hours at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Manhattan last Wednesday.
Taking an active role in rallies on global issues has been a part of Rambam’s educational mission since the school was established in 1991, said Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, rosh mesivta.
“To take part in rallies like this is very important in today’s self-centered world and it extends the educational message to teach students, who will be tomorrow’s leaders, about the world at large,” said Rabbi Friedman, adding that Rambam graduate Avi Posnick is now the managing director of StandWithUs, a leading pro-Israel education and advocacy organization.
Rabbi Friedman and Rabbi Yotav Eliach, Rambam’s principal, pointed to two U.N. resolutions passed in recent months that they believe were intended to weaken Israel, along with a listing of global massacres in which millions were killed where the U.N. failed to intervene to help end the bloodshed.
First in October, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) identified Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as exclusively Muslim sites. The U.N.’s Security Council followed up with Resolution 2334, labeling the Western Wall as “occupied territories” held illegally by the Jewish state.
Between 1949, four years after the U.N. was founded, and the present, critics of the U.N. have pointed out that there have been 15 instances of worldwide mass killings by either governments or the result of civil wars, where the United Nations has not taken action.
Each year the U.S. provides roughly $8 billion in mandatory payments and voluntary contributions to the U.N. and its affiliated organizations. The largest portion of this money — about $3 billion in 2015 — went to the U.N.’s regular and peacekeeping budgets, more than that contributed by 185 other countries combined
“A question someone has to ask himself or herself is, ‘What are they doing’?” Rabbi Eliach said. “It’s time to say enough and talk about serious alternatives to the U.N.”
Students from both Rambam and Shalhevet staunchly believe that Israel is persecuted by a majority of U.N. members. As Rambam students prepared for Wednesday’s rally, several shared their opinions.
Interested in politics since he was 11, Rambam senior Noah Schwartz, 17, said he has learned the importance of stepping up to be part of the solution. “I’ve had the desire to be involved,” Schwartz said, “so when I go to college and I’m on campus I can try my best to make a difference.” He noted the U.N.’s long-standing history of being anti-Israel and the recent rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric on college campuses throughout the U.S.
Fellow senior and rally organizer Josef Silverstein, 17, said his peers want to send the U.N. a message that there are people who oppose the recent resolutions and the persecution of Israel.
“We are taking a stand against the treatment of Israel,” Silverstein said, noting that in 2014 and 2015, the U.N. condemned Israel 31 times for perceived acts of aggression while well-recognized human rights violators North Korea and Syria were cited only once each.
“The rally is important because the U.N. has constantly shown aggression against Israel and singled them out,” said Tuli Weiss, a 17-year-old senior from West Hempstead.
“I definitely have learned that it’s important to show up and take a stand,” Weiss said.
Stirred to think more about Israel and its global role by her older brother Benjamin, Sarah Austin, 15, a Shalhevet junior from Long Beach, said she took part in the rally to voice her concerns.
“You have to understand what [the U.N.] is doing to Israel — they are delegitimizing another country and we have to make a stand,” Austin said. “If a bunch of high school students are standing up for Israel certainly middle-aged people can do it.”
Zahava Fertig, 17, a Shalhevet senior from Woodmere, said her passion for Israel is strong.
“Israel is surrounded by enemies and they do so much while they are combating these enemies,” said Fertig, alluding to the technological advances and business successes of Israeli companies. “Imagine how much they could do if they didn’t have to worry about fighting.”
Zvi Orlow, 17, a senior from Queens, Adam Schwartz, 15, a sophomore from Lawrence, and Solomon Prince, 14, a freshman, also from Queens, all expressed concern about how the world treats Israel.
“It seems that the Jewish state is held to a double standard,” Orlow said, referring to the resolutions.
“The world is a dangerous place,” Schwartz added, “and if we don’t stand up for Israel, who will?”
Prince attended the protest because he feels the world doesn’t respect Israel as well. “It’s not fair and I’m upset about it,” he said.
A member of the StandWithUs team leadership committee for Long Island, Woodmere resident Rachel Fishbein, 17, a Shalhevet senior, said she has always possessed a love for Israel and wants to defend the Jewish state.
“I’ve learned how to combat anti-Semitic comments and want to go to a college with a diverse student population,” she said. “When I’m older, I want to move to Israel and work with StandWithUs.”
Jeff Bessen is editor of the Nassau Herald, where a verson of this story appears. The Nassau Herald is the secular newspaper for the Five Towns.