Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The biggest challenge that today’s youth face is to make sure that Israel does not forget its Jewish and democratic roots, President Reuven Rivlin told a group of 84 North American and Israeli college students on Wednesday.
The students were in the middle of a 10-week internship with leading Israeli hi-tech companies and investment banks. The project, known as Excel, was created on the 10th anniversary of Birthright Israel by the Steinhardt, Schusterman and Singer Family Foundations, and is today one of the most sought-after internships among potential young leaders, Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark told Rivlin during the interns’ Wednesday’s visit.
The 84 were selected from among thousands of applicants, said Mark. He added that in its 15 years of existence, Birthright Israel has revolutionized the number of young Jews interested in coming to Israel, and has brought 500,000 of them to the country to date, including 45,000 this year.
The Excel project, in addition to encouraging the preservation of Jewish identity and heritage, provides a network for the next generation of international Jewish business and technology leaders, with the aim of strengthening global corporate policy toward Israel.
While acknowledging that it was “okay” to criticize Israel, Rivlin emphasized that it was “not okay” to use violence or intimidation to silence debate or to single out Israel or Jews.
He implied that the true face of the boycott movement was yet another manifestation of anti-Semitism.
Rivlin told his guests that when they returned to their campuses, they would be on the front line of a modern battle in which they would have to fight attempts to boycott and defame Israel.
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The summer that they were spending in Israel, he said, was not just about their internship, but also about building bridges among the different branches of the Jewish people, who, regardless of where they lived, were all part of one people.
When asked what the students could do for Israel when they returned to their home countries, Rivlin replied that they must explain to people that the Jews had “returned to their homeland to define themselves not just as a religion, but as a nation.”
“We have no other homeland,” he said. “The Jewish people have only the Land of Israel in which to express themselves as a nation.”
In response to a question about Iran, the president asserted that Israel could not be part of the negotiating process – not only because Iran refused to recognize Israel, had publicly declared its intention to eliminate Israel, and supported the anti-Israel assaults of Hezbollah and Hamas, but because Israel must maintain its ability to protect itself if attacked by Iran or its cohorts.
One Israeli student asked Rivlin’s opinion on freedom of expression, to which the president responded: “The heart of every democracy is freedom of expression. The rule of the majority is the only rule you can accept.”
There may be redlines, he conceded, with regard to issues such as declaring terrorists freedom fighters, but such redlines must be determined by the attorney-general, and even the attorney-general’s decisions can be appealed to the High Court of Justice.
Throughout the meeting, Rivlin stressed the compatibility between the state’s Jewish character and its democratic one, but was adamant that in a Jewish and democratic state, “democracy does not apply only to Jews, but to all its citizens.”
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