This article was originally published in The New York Jewish Week.
The Jewish community is rightly concerned with a campus environment that is too often hostile to Israel. Public demonstrations, inflammatory language and personal attacks by anti-Israel organizations seek to exploit the spirit of open debate and public action central to American academic life.
Rather than reflexively respond to the animosity of others, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—America’s pro-Israel lobby—and Hillel— the center of Jewish life on over 550 campuses worldwide—are working together to strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.
We are leveraging the reach and resources of our respective organizations and partnering with the many other important pro-Israel organizations that gather together as the Israel on Campus Coalition. As we work together, we develop better and more effective strategies for minimizing the impact of anti-Israel activities on campus. We build on this growing base of knowledge and experience every day.
A recent example of this extensive collaboration occurred in mid-October. Amid anti-Israel organizing at Stanford University, AIPAC planned and executed the Northern California Campus Summit with the Hillel at Stanford. The event explored critical issues facing Israel and the U.S. in the Middle East and attracted more than 100 campus opinion-leaders, including Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders and more than 20 campus professionals from 17 colleges and universities in the area.
Author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi addressed the issue of “Peace, Justice and the American Way” at a standing-room only luncheon that drew additional campus leaders from a variety of political organizations including College Republicans and College Democrats.
AIPAC’s work was strongly supported by the students, staff and lay leaders of Hillel at Stanford, who helped with logistics and in recruiting students and faculty to attend. AIPAC’s expertise brought a level of skill and sophistication on Israel advocacy that is supported by Hillels on campuses across the country.
In addition to the Summit, Hillel at Stanford organized an extraordinary array of Jewish and pro-Israel activities on campus. Hillel planned educational programs, including a lecture series entitled “A Wide Angle: Perspectives on a Democratic Israel,” with former administration official and Ambassador Dennis Ross, renowned Stanford Professor Larry Diamond, and other prominent scholars. Hillel also launched the “Connect Across Differences” Shabbat Dinner Initiative, which, as Hillel at Stanford Executive Director Rabbi Serena Eisenberg shared, engaged Jewish students and faculty in learning core texts related to Israel and skills of respectful debate.
The result? Students emerged more confident in their skills, beliefs and the community around them, to stand in support of Israel. During a challenging time, the Jewish campus community continued to thrive.
The success at Stanford, and on campuses that have experienced similar activity, is a lesson in the best way to confront those seeking to exploit the campus for their anti-Israel agenda. We will continue to provide affirmative ways for Jewish students and the rest of the university community to learn and to articulate the case for Israel. This is essential year-round, not just when anti-Israel forces are mobilized on campus. This effort requires that our organizations, AIPAC and Hillel, remain close, strategic partners.
We are proud that the organizations we help lead work every day to support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. AIPAC and Hillel both raise their voices for Israel, and both work to engage students on campus to love Israel and to strengthen the ties between Israel and their college environments.
Together, with all others who love and support Israel on campus, we will never stop celebrating the remarkable story of the rebirth of Israel, and we will never allow Israel’s detractors to erode campus support for the Jewish State.
Eric Fingerhut is Hillel’s President and CEO; Jonathan Kessler is AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director.