Thirty-five student advocates for Israel have graduated from a leadership programme, preparing them to argue Israel’s case on campus.

Jewish and non-Jewish students from 15 universities and three high schools across the UK, were awarded certificates upon their graduation from the StandWithUs UK Israel Leadership programme at the House of Lords.

Hosted by Lord Turnberg on Wednesday, the event saw Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP, Michael Freeman, Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs, Israel Embassy and Baroness Ruth Deech, address the young Israel advocates.

The  graduates went through a rigorous 6-month process run by Israel advocacy group StandWithUs UK, learning about international law, Israel’s history and had media training from the Israeli embassy’s press attaché.

Non-Jewish International Relations student at Queen Mary University Joe Sigolo, spoke to Jewish News after the graduation.

He said he got involved in Israel advocacy in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, when he “saw Israel being misrepresented in the media”.

Joe said: “I’ve always had anti-Israel hatred and anti-Semitic remarks thrown at me, and since starting university it’s reached a new level.”

He related an instance at university, when a lecturer called Gaza a prison, and “when I said that wasn’t true, a student gets up in the middle of the lecture, and says “that’s a dirty Jewish ideology and you’re a dirty Jew.. I can’t believe I am sitting next to a Zionist”.”

“It’s a great example of how anti-Zionism has become a euphemism for anti-Semitism, and those two concepts are very much linked.”

Joan Ryan MP addressing the graduates

Joan Ryan MP addressing the graduates

Speaking about the campaign to boycott Israel on British universities, Joan Ryan MP told the graduates: “Many campuses across the country are at the very sharpest end of the debate”, and that it’s “absolutely unacceptable” some students feel “intimidated” or suffer abuse on campus.

The Labour MP said: “The BDS (boycott divestment and sanctions) movement and the atmosphere which it both breeds and feeds upon, is the root of the problems which some campuses are currently experiencing.”

Baroness Ruth Deech, who tabled an amendment in the Lords on Tuesday to force universities to put measures in place to prevent hate speech on campus, also spoke to students.

She said the the training “is not just about Israel, it’s about leadership, standing up for you think is right.. and not shutting down debate with silence or violence, as is happening on our campuses sometimes.”

Tamir Oren, Director of Public Affairs, StandWithUs UK said: “We are proud to host the first Graduation of the StandWithUs UK-Israel Leadership Programme. A programme launched to empower UK students to be informed, active and articulate student leaders, capable of combatting delegitimisation on campus, biased university faculty, anti-Israel activists and capable of teaching others to follow their example. We hope that they will go on beyond university, continuing to learn more, to go on developing their skills and to be active when they move into their professional careers and become future community leaders for Israel.”