Engaging Student Leaders to Combat Anti-Israel Efforts on College Campuses

By Melanie Roth Gorelick

This has been a difficult year for Israel on college campuses. Anti-Israel efforts, including divestment resolutions before student governments, have more than doubled since Israel’s defensive war with Gaza last summer. This troubling issue was featured this week in a New York Times article Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities.

In many schools across the country, Jewish students have found themselves on the front lines combatting divestment efforts. National Israel advocacy organizations, Federations, and Hillels have been providing support to these students and, thanks to their efforts, more than 24 Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaigns have failed this year according to the Israel on Campus Coalition.   

Four years ago, the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) and Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA) realized this anti-Israel cloud was beginning to hover over college campuses and launched the Israel Action Network (IAN) to help guide Jewish communal organizations to prepare our communities for the impending storm. Over this period, the resources and focus of our organizations have been to train our students, strategize with our appropriate partners, and help build coalitions with vulnerable groups that are prey to anti-Israel narratives.

At the CRC of Greater MetroWest we are taking this issue very seriously. Our Federation works with Jewish students on the college campuses in our catchment area and Rutgers University by sponsoring an annual Talk Israel Retreat, awarding scholarships for students to go on Hasbara Fellowships, and providing strategic guidance on how to respond to Israel Apartheid Week and anti-Israel actions on campus.*

But the real tactical strategy has to be engaging high school students in Jewish life and preparing them to be leaders on the front lines in support of Israel on their future campuses. Rabbi Jeff Salkin makes a good argument for this approach in his op-ed How American Jews Can Fight The Academic Intifada (Forward, May 9, 2015). 

The CRC provides high school students with Israel education and engagement opportunities throughout the year, in partnership with our Israel Center, Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, and local synagogues. We also recruit ten high school juniors to participate in Write On For Israel, a two-year Israel advocacy program that is run by the Jewish Week in New York for 40 select fellows in the tri-state area. This exciting program gives students the tools they will need to be campus leaders and advocates for Israel through journalism, broadcasting, and public speaking. We have supported 40 students from our community in this program over the past four years. 

What can you do?

We are calling on all parents and grandparents to help the CRC recruit ten Write On For Israel fellows for this fall. To learn more about the program or to apply, visit: www.jfedgmw.org/crc. Please share this opportunity with qualified students.

Participate in the CRC Step Up For Israel Greater MetroWest campaign. Organize an educational program in your area for teens and community members based on Jerusalem U’s film-based online programming. This program has been made FREE to our community. The program includes a high school curriculum, information education, and adult curriculum. To learn more, visit www.jfedgmw.org/CRC and let us know how we can be helpful.

As Jewish communal professionals, alumnus, students, and professors, we must encourage our universities to educate students on the facts, provide opportunities for structured dialogue and joint efforts to work towards a peaceful two-state solution, and encourage students to partner with one of the 100 grassroots organizations made up of Palestinians and Jewish people working together to build their society. 

* These programs are made possible thanks to the generous support of the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future.

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