Imagine if the US government were to earmark millions of dollars for fostering democracy in the developing world but neglect to require that the NGOs receiving the money encourage a positive view of America, or at the very least strenuously disavow ideological anti-Americanism. Congress would quickly and rightly take the administration to task for such folly.
No taxpayer should be expected to fund those who hate his or her country, or even those who are ambivalent about opposing the haters.
It is with dismay, then, that we – an American Chabad rabbi with a 25-year history of fighting the Israel-haters on campus and a Knesset lawmaker and former Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) national security officer – have watched Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry sign off on the disbursement of $22 million for Hillel, Chabad and Olami activities on US college campuses without insisting that the groups first stop shying from confrontation with the forces of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
We can only hope that this was an oversight, a fiscal fumble by an Israeli cabinet that has charged a different minister with combating BDS and which is empowered to make such funding decisions without parliamentary vetting.
Because otherwise the Diaspora Affairs Ministry risks being perceived as having acquiesced to the thinking that excuses Hillel, Chabad and Olami from fighting for Israel on campus, namely, a belief that Israel has become so toxic on American campuses that any public association with the Jewish state will dissuade Jewish students from joining Jewish activities.
To be sure, we both admire and applaud Israel’s new efforts to support Jewish activities on American campuses. Israel is, and should be, the locus and focal point of global Jewish efforts and outreach. That Israeli taxpayers are prepared to fund the spread of Judaism and Jewish identity on American campuses is exemplary and laudable.
But the Jewish state is an integral part of any Jewish identity.
To disseminate a Judaism that is unconnected to the land of our forefathers and the place of Jewish spiritual longing for millennia is to spread a Judaism that lacks a foundation and soul.
Moreover, Jewish observance that lacks Jewish pride always dissipates and disappears. Even if the ministry succeeds in getting Jewish students to become more Sabbath- and kosher-observant, it all risks being lost if students hide their identity in the face of Jewish critics and bigots.
Hence, standing up proudly for Israel is part and parcel of guaranteeing the continuity of Jewish observance. There is no Israel without Judaism and there is no Judaism that does not place Israel at the apex of Jewish spiritual longing.
Israel is the test of Jewish pride today. And without Jewish pride there can be no authentic, lasting Jewish observance.
Yet some in Hillel, Chabad and Olami would have us believe that BDS has won the war for the hearts and minds of American Jewish students, a constituency so crucial for Israel’s future backing in the Diaspora, and all that can be hoped for is to shore up their Yiddishkeit in a setting that’s parve on support for the Jewish state.
Chabad and Hillel especially are in a unique position to provide an immediate and effective challenge to the spread of BDS lies, most of which demand Israel’s withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, which all polls show would create a Hamas-controlled terrorist state.
That Israel would provide funding that doesn’t demand some degree of response to this demonization of the Jewish state is disappointing, scandalous and mystifying.
To be sure, $22m. will buy a lot of Shabbat kugels and bagel brunches.
It will be pay for many a community organizer or rabbinic intern at Hillel.
It will provide necessary funding for Talmud classes at Chabad or holiday celebrations at Olami.
But while these groups are to be highly commended for promoting Judaism, they are dead wrong to think the goal can be achieved by side-stepping their duty to defend Israel.
Israel is at the core of the Jewish experience. Its successes reflect Jewish values. Its troubles prompt Jewish soul-searching. The BDS mobs know this, which is why they have carried aloft their few yet vociferous Jews – in hope of driving a wedge between the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
But of course, the self-hating Jews of BDS are just fig leafs for legions of antisemites who march for Israel’s demise not because of what it does, but because of what it is: the world’s only Jewish state. Hillel, Chabad and Olami cannot be seen as koshering this wretched masquerade by refusing to stand up to and expose BDS for what it is.
The State of Israel has both the right and the duty to demand that any money it provides for Jewish causes abroad bring with it a full-throated and unapologetic endorsement of Jewish statehood in activities that – while rooted in authentic Judaism – are both pro-Israel and anti-BDS.
Hillel, Chabad and Olami should make this undertaking publicly to Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry before receiving one Israeli taxpayer shekel. Doing so will not just help Israel, it will also do right by American Jewish students who, seeing their campus leaders fight for what is right, will emerge as prouder and more committed Jews and supporters of the Jewish state.
Chabad, Hillel and Olami all want students to more deeply embrace Jewish tradition and observance.
Few things are more important.
But that commitment will falter without Jewish pride, and the great test of Jewish pride today is the degree to which we stand up for, and defend, the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.Shmuley Boteach served for 11 years as rabbi at Oxford University, where he hosted five Israeli prime ministers and helped to pioneer pro-Israel activities on campus.
Amir Ohana is a Likud Knesset member, founder of the Likud’s LGBT Caucus and served for 12 years as an officer in the IDF and Shin Bet.