Here and There: What of tomorrow?

Looking at the US-Israel relationship, and the urgency of reaching on-campus American Jews.

Hillel international (photo credit: WWW.HILLEL.ORG)
Hillel international
(photo credit: WWW.HILLEL.ORG)
Inevitably, because of the forthcoming elections, much attention has been focused on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US to address a joint meeting of Congress. The address was originally scheduled for February but then moved to March 3, to coincide with a previously accepted invitation to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – a source of staunch, solid and reliable support.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu has caused a mixed reaction both here and in the States; negative vibes have emanated from the White House, yet at the same time we are being reassured that America’s support for Israel (both national and Jewish) remains intact.
What of tomorrow – will the Jewish state continue to enjoy this consistent backing, or can we expect change? That is, change in terms of Israel’s relationship with the US, and in terms of American Jewry’s strong identification with Israel.
Universities are the breeding ground of future leaders. Of particular significance over these past few years is the amount of money Arab states have invested in universities around the globe, notably in the States.
In one example, back in 2005, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud – whom Forbes ranked as the 26th-wealthiest person in the world in 2013 – donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University, to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. At Harvard, the money was used to endow a chair in the name of the billionaire, as well as fund four new senior staff professorships.
In the aftermath of 9/11, four years before – when New York City’s Twin Towers were eliminated by Islamist suicide pilots – this same prince had offered then-mayor Rudy Giuliani $10m. – suggesting the US “should reexamine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian case.” Giuliani refused this “strings-attached” offer.
The influence of Muslim money began in the 1960s and ’70s, with Muslim donors funneling millions of dollars into American universities to support Islamic studies, employ faculty specialists in Islam and fund the writing of material on the subject. Saudi Arabia is also home to the fundamentalist Wahhabi brand of Islam, funding many of Pakistan’s madrassas, hard-line religious seminaries which take in children as young as eight and turn them into young men ready to sacrifice themselves for so-called holy war.
There can be no doubt that the amount of Muslim money which has poured into the universities is having and will continue to have a detrimental effect on the way Israel is perceived in the future. Back in 2004, Lee Kaplan of wrote, “Over the last 30 years, the Saudi royal family has contributed upwards of $70 billion to spread its anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda... By creating new Middle East studies centers and endowed chairs on campuses, the Saudis are able to influence the curriculum taught to the next generation of Americans; that curriculum is anti-Western, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish.”
Yet the West and many Christians have chosen to ignore this reality, as Israel and the Jews have woken up far too late to the war being waged against the very existence of the world’s lone Jewish state.
HOW ARE Jewish students coping on campus today? The answer: with great difficulty.
The choice is between standing up and being counted as supporters of Israel, or taking the more comfortable route of saying that the reason I am here is to obtain a degree and enjoy myself.
For many Jewish students beginning campus life, Israel is not the focus of their thoughts. In fact, one is seeing a clear turning away from identifying with Israel. This is characterized specifically by the increasing popularity of such student movements as Open Hillel.
Let’s take a look at Open Hillel, as even the name itself is confusing. Many of us do know about Hillel International, on campuses worldwide. As a former chairwoman of Hillel UK, I appreciate the difference Hillel can make to the Jewish student, especially in his or her first year at university.
Hillel in the UK provides Hillel Houses on numerous campuses where Jewish students can choose to live; it is also the venue for Friday night dinners and many social get-togethers, where students can learn about and endeavor to support Israel. Hillel UK has always supported the Union of Jewish Students, and UJS has, in the past, been consistent in its support of Israel.
The choice of the name Open Hillel is meant to convey a spirit of openness and a broad acceptance of all viewpoints. Yet unfortunately, this frequently means projecting a negative perspective on Israel.
At the organization’s first conference, which took place at Harvard this past October, its policy in respect to Israel was quite clear – it does not see anti-Zionism as having any connection with anti-Semitism, nor does it view the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel as being necessarily unacceptable.
At the conference, organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine; the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; J Street U, the university arm of J Street; and the New Israel Fund had stands promoting their wares.
Hundreds of predominately Jewish students participated in the conference; everyone was welcome to express their view, and they did.
It seemed okay to place all the blame for the failed peace talks at the door of the Jewish state, while being unprepared to acknowledge the unacceptable Palestinian demand for the return of the Palestinian refugees – now numbering in the millions to include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It also seemed okay to refuse to acknowledge – or more likely remain ignorant of the fact – that some 800,000 Jews were thrown out of their respective Arab countries when Israel was reborn.
It also seemed okay to find acceptable reasons as to why the BDS campaign against Israel exists.
That this conference took place in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge simply added an extra anti-Israel dimension.
Open Hillel has bedfellows among J Street U, which has attracted vast numbers of younger Jews, as well as the Jewish Voice for Peace. Needless to say, Open Hillel is somewhat at odds with Hillel International – which while wishing to keep this new group within the fold, is finding it increasingly difficult to do so.
For the Jewish newcomer to campus life (and especially those with little knowledge of the Israel-Palestinian conflict), presented with this young dynamic organization run solely by students for students, it is not difficult to understand the attraction.
BACK TO the beginning – the controversy over Netanyahu’s impending visit to the States: Is it good or bad for Israel? Will it affect our future relationship with America, or not? While these are clearly questions to be addressed, there seems to be scant concern for tomorrow.
Israel and the established leadership of American Jewry have ignored for far too long (to our detriment) what is happening on the campuses of the country on whom Israel has relied virtually since its rebirth in 1948.
The combination of Muslim money invested in Middle East studies together with a Jewish student who is now willing to “understand” our enemies better than us, could well have a devastating effect on Israel.
Though it might be too late to do anything to counter the Muslim influence, we still might still have a chance with our Jewish students. Today’s Jewish establishment must find a way to include the younger generation, whatever their views. Opportunities to bring youngsters here – whether through Taglit-Birthright, Masa or any other scheme – must be increased.
It is vital for tomorrow’s Jewish leader to comprehend our present, and our past. Ensuring a meaningful grounding in our history as well as the reality of the challenges facing us today should be placed at the top of both Israel and the Diaspora’s agenda.
We have so much to be proud of in this little country, and this is the Israel we want our youngsters to touch.
The writer is chairwoman of ESRA, and has been active in public affairs and status- of-women issues.