The intimate encounter American students have with Israelis their age & the strong bonds that are created help these youngsters return to their campuses with the tools to effectively & correctly confront hostile attacks, armed with their positive and powerful experience in Israel.
By Gidi Mark
Delegates of the American Anthropological Association recently passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions at their annual conference in Denver, Colorado. Now the association’s 12,000 members worldwide will be asked to approve or reject the decision. If approved, the boycott will focus only on Israel’s academic institutions at first, but it could snowball into legitimizing additional boycotts that will hurt Israel’s image and undermine its social, industrial and economic fortitude.
For anyone familiar with what is happening on large college campuses in the United States, this move is regrettable but not surprising. The battle over Israel’s image and its very right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people has been ongoing for quite a while, and not just in hostile places like Iran, Gaza and Lebanon. It is taking place in the backyard of an important and friendly ally — on the pastoral campuses of American colleges and universities.
Research conducted at Brandeis University in Massachusetts reveals that since Israel’s war with Hamas in 2014 — dubbed Operation Protection Edge — many of the Jewish students at institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and Canada have experienced displays of anti-Semitism. About 75% of the Jewish students said they encountered acts of anti-Semitism within the past year. Around 25% said that in the past year they were blamed for the Israel’s actions merely because they were Jewish.
This struggle is also spreading to classrooms and lecture halls presided over by Israeli professors. Students — or individuals posing as students — attend these classes with the sole intention of disrupting the lecture. These are members of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, who will do everything in their power to ensure that Israeli lecturers are left with no one to teach.
This situation is indeed disconcerting, but there are various ways to deal with the issue. One way that has proven effective is to cultivate and strengthen the Jewish identity and the connection to Israel among Jewish young adults in the Diaspora. The Taglit-Birthright program, for example, has brought some 500,000 visitors from 66 countries to Israel. The personal experience, the intimate encounter with Israelis their age and the strong bonds that are created help these youngsters return to their campuses with the tools to effectively and correctly confront hostile attacks, armed with their positive and powerful experience in Israel. The very essence of this direct encounter with Israel, along with the bonds they forge with their peers, gives them a vital and sturdy set of tools with which to cope with anti-Israel propaganda.
The tens of thousands of program participants who come here every year comprise the wall of opposition being built on campuses by Birthright, and it is a strategic asset that will impact generations to come across the globe. The goal of this experience is to show Israel with all its complexities and challenges, but from a perspective of national pride, dedication to the values of the Jewish people and with a vision of Israel as the materialization of the Zionist dream.
Gidi Mark is the CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel.
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