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New Initiative to Bring US Students to Study in Israel

In a time of rising anti-Semitism and intensified threats to Jewish
communities, the realization of our responsibility toward the Diaspora is a
practical expression of the principle of “Kol Yisrael Areivim ze l’ze – all Jews
are responsible for one another”, as well as of the close bond between all
segments of the Jewish people.
Studying at the pinnacle of modern academia – Ivy League American
universities – should have been the fulfillment of every Jewish mother’s dream
for her children in the land dubbed in Yiddish the “Goldine Medina”,
broadening their horizons and integrating them into the American economic
empire as equals, but that dream was shattered. Last Shabbat evening,
Jewish students wrapped in keffiyehs sang the “Ana B’koach” prayer in
Washington Square Park.
Researchers identified a sharp decline in students’ identification with their
Judaism already back in the early 2000s. Root causes were attributed to
either a reluctance to declare Jewish involvement due to the American
practice of separating church and state, or to the fear of discrimination on
campus. Either way, a growing trend of politicization on college campuses
was already clear. Between the years of 2016 – 2019, I followed events on
campuses as part of my work for civil society organizations dedicated to
combating libels against the IDF and the State of Israel. Posters on campuses
declared ״ Israel is an occupier״, ״Israel is committing genocide״, ״Israel
poisoned Palestinian drinking water ״ and other libels. The BDS movement
played a significant part in fanning the flames. The writing was on the walls,
the halls, and the lawns of every prestigious university in the United States. A
great deal of evidence accumulated of vandalism, of slashed tires, shattered
windows, and anti-Semitic graffiti calling for a second Holocaust and for
sending Zionists to the gas chambers. The attacks were directed not only at
Jewish students who identified as Zionist and pro-Israel, but also at Jewish
students who expressed no opinion on Israel at all. Those behind the attacks
included all Jews within a white, racist, supremacist, colonialist collective.

Nevertheless, Jewish students continued to enroll in Ivy League universities,
where they were apparently expected to keep their heads down until the
storm blew over or until they received their diplomas, whichever came first.
Jewish-American leadership, despite all its institutions and foundations, failed
to recognize the gravity of the threat, and the State of Israel, concentrated
meanwhile, on supporting important and qualitative but short-term programs
for young Diaspora Jews that were insufficient in providing a proper response.
About eighteen months ago, Kohelet Forum’s Adi Arbel approached me about
writing a policy paper on the subject. Under the professional guidance of Prof.
Yuval Sinai, senior jurist and expert on the structure of higher education in
Israel, I wrote a paper outlining a plan to bring Jewish students from the
Diaspora to Israel for full-time undergraduate studies.
The benefits for both the students and the State of Israel are substantial. A
connection to Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity are in the common interest
of both, as well as the strengthening of ties between the State of Israel and
the Diaspora. The students participating in the program would enjoy a level of
academic study higher than that offered in the United States, where
excellency is currently being eroded by progressive insanity, which aside from
being marinated in Jew-hatred, is also destroying all academic endeavor. The
students would also benefit from paying considerably less than what they
would have to pay abroad. The benefit to Israeli universities is twofold, as they
would gain both from the additional tuition fees and government investments
per student and from the boost in academic ranking, as the number of
international students studying at a given institution is a significant factor in its
academic ranking.
This solution will allow Jewish students to study in a supportive, protected and
safe environment, where they can experience an empowering Jewish and
Israeli experience, deepen their knowledge and familiarity with their roots,
culture and heritage, and strengthen their sense of belonging and connection
to the Jewish people. All this without the need to conceal or avoid expressions
of their Jewish identity out of fear of violence or hostile attitudes.

Our policy paper was completed just before October 7. From the onset of the
war I have been following events on United States campuses with horror,
concerned for the safety and security of the young Jewish people forced to
face severe anti-Semitic attacks. I realized that my initiative has gained new
significance.
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli recently adopted the policy paper,
and has begun to implement its recommendations together with universities in
Israel, going on to issue a “call to action” to Jewish students to come and
study in Israel. To me, this time of crisis on campus emphasizes the need for
this initiative and presents an opportunity for implementing it. The State of
Israel must continue to reach out to our brethren in the Diaspora with more
initiatives and to continue to turn the crisis into opportunity.

First published in The Jerusalem Post (“Come study in Israel, Universities here offer safe haven amid rising campus antisemitism – opinion”, 28.5.2024)

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