How IDC Herzliya is helping American universities fight the BDS movement

“When I took this job over 15 years ago we had 30 students in the International School – now we have 1,800,” school official says.

MORE THAN 1,800 students from all over the world study at the IDC Raphael Recanati International School in Herzliya. (photo credit: IDC)
MORE THAN 1,800 students from all over the world study at the IDC Raphael Recanati International School in Herzliya.
(photo credit: IDC)
The Raphael Recanati International School at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya has taken a front-line position against the growing threat of BDS on US college campuses, according to second-year student Jonathan Neff.
“In Operation Protective Edge, RRIS students translated materials into 31 different languages, which to me is something truly amazing. I feel we really have a community here that works off each other’s energy, drive, and enthusiasm,” he said. “BDS has nothing on us here, and the resources we create are often what pro-Israel advocates on American campuses are using to combat it.”
In recent years, RRIS has become a popular choice for international students looking to pursue academic degrees in Israel. Modeled after the Ivy League universities in the US, the school offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in English to students from 86 countries.
“IDC Herzliya is the most international university in the country with one out of every four students studying full-time degrees in English,” Jonathan Davis, VP for external relations at IDC Herzliya, recently told The Jerusalem Post.
“We pride ourselves on being the most international school in the country,” he said.
“When I took this job over 15 years ago we had 30 students in the International School – now we have 1,800.”
Among the fields of study offered include: undergraduate degrees in business administration, government, communications, psychology, and computer science as well as graduate degrees in financial economics, government, and organizational behavior and development – all accredited by the Israel Council for Higher Education and recognized worldwide.
“Uriel Reichmann created this place 21 years ago and his main aim, which was Israel’s first private but nonprofit academic institution, was how he could contribute to the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the world at large,” he said.
According to Davis, this vision was developed out of “the original Zionism of liberalism and humanism which existed under Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.”
The schools motto – “liberty and responsibility” – echoes this vision, as the institution’s outlook emphasizes leadership and academic freedom alongside community involvement.
While international students pursue rigorous academic programs, they are also encouraged to spend time getting to know the Israeli students as well as participate in off campus activities – something which has led to a growing number of marriages among the student population.
“At the end of the day, after an international student studies here for a degree they get to meet Israelis and some end up with those Israelis for the rest of their lives,” said Davis.
“A very large percentage of our students end up living in Israel – which I think makes us the largest academic absorption center in the country,” he quipped.
“On the other hand there are a lot of students who go back to their countries of origin and become leaders there and those who finish our degrees here continue into top graduate schools around the world,” he explained.
“For us it is a win-win situation for Israel and the for Jewish people in that those who stay in Israel become productive Israeli citizens and those who go back to their countries become great ambassadors to the state of Israel,” he said.
Davis added that the alumni of the International School also serve as a close-knit community offering networking opportunities all around the world.
“From Bolivia, to Canada, Switzerland or Eastern Asia you will find IDC graduates to help you liaise wherever you are,” he said.
When asked to what extent anti-Semitism around the world has played a role in bringing students to IDC, Davis replied that a lot of Jewish students, especially in Europe, see the university as a safe haven.
“A lot of Jewish students in Europe feel comfortable at a small and private university where they can study in English and feel peaceful and satisfied,” he said. “You see what is going on around the world and so we have a pretty big increase in the number of students who want to come study here.”
Deborah Mouyal, a second year student from France, is one of these students.
After making aliya six years ago and serving in the IDF as a lone soldier, Mouyal decided to stay in Israel and pursue an undergraduate degree in government at the IDC International School.
“For me it was natural to stay in Israel, the easiest was to study in English and IDC was the best choice for me in terms of academics and the program in government. It is a really good school – I didn’t even think twice,” she told the Post.
Mouyal said that her choice to move to Israel and study at IDC was largely impacted by the anti-Semitism she faced as a student in Paris.
“My life back in France, we suffered a lot from anti-Semitism and this is something that triggered my desire to leave and we were scared for our security,” she said.
“My parents saw the anti-Semitism early on and so they put me in a Jewish Zionist school, but outside the school was not the same. Every time I was in social activities or just walking outside on my way home I would hear remarks like ‘dirty Jew,’” she said.
Mouyal said that her time at IDC has strengthened her desire and resolve to stay and live in Israel.
“In terms of what I study, I really feel like I am in the center of what is going on conflict-wise and Middle East-wise,” she said. “We have brilliant teachers here – they are from the US and the top universities in the world and are top experts in their field.”
“I was a lone soldier and I was always alone here but I feel like I can turn to the teachers and to the other students – even my dean who is so busy takes the time to talk with me about my future in Israel,” she said.
Neff decided to move from the US to Israel to study at IDC after falling in love with Israel and with the university’s campus in particular.
He initially came to Israel for a high school semester program and immediately felt a connection to the country.
“I felt something missing as soon as I boarded the plane [for the US].
I pleaded for my parents to stay an extra semester,” Neff told the Post.
“Eventually, when I graduated high school in the States, my compromise with my parents of doing the ‘American’ thing to study right after high school and coming back to Israel was simply to study in Israel,” he said.
Neff said he “fell in love” with IDC after taking a tour on his semester program.
“The campus, being as beautiful as it is, was what really drew me in,” he said. “As a history buff, the history behind some of the buildings was really fascinating to me, some remaining from the time when IDC was a functioning air force base.”
“Between the little ‘huts’ that some professors sit in and the giant, beautiful, new buildings, it feels like it’s half a kibbutz, half a hi-tech incubator,” he added.
Neff also said the school’s academic programs match his interests and give him the flexibility to study both communications and business.