|What of tomorrow? As university Board of Governors season approaches, it’s time to examine the priorities for students|
What of tomorrow?
By BRENDA KATTEN
As university Board of Governors season approaches, it’s a good time to examine the priorities for students at home and abroad.
This is the season of Israeli universities’ Boards of Governors’ meetings. As governors arrive from all over the world, perhaps it is a good time to assess the priorities for both Israeli students and Jewish students in the Diaspora.
Here in Israel we see the continuation of Israeli academics at Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion and the Hebrew Universities, which imbue their students with a doctrine that is against Israel, and against even the university that pays their salaries. This year there are some governors who chose to stay away from their annual board meetings because their voices are not being heard. Last year a respected governor of Tel Aviv University, Mark Tanenbaum, resigned his seat on the board, as well as resigning from chairing anumber of university committees, because the president refused to allow a meaningful discussion and a vote on the question of those academics calling for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel.
As a former chair of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation in the United Kingdom, I am shocked when I see how afraid our UK Jewish students are to stand up on behalf of Israel. Recognizing that it is from universities that leaders emerge, the time is long overdue for both Israel and our Diaspora communities to take a hard look as to why – at this crucial moment – our students appear to withdraw from confrontation. There is no strong student voice to challenge the Muslim fundamentalists and pro-Palestinian factions who continue to rule the roost on campus. All this is made worse by Israeli academics who travel abroad specifically to call for BDS.
This is particularly disturbing when seen against a background of an Israel that, sadly and wrongly, has neglected the whole question of hasbara for far too long. Today we are paying the price, with an international media that has turned against us. While there can be no doubt that the media battle has been won by our enemies with, frighteningly, members of the Jewish communities adopting their hostility against the one Jewish state – the most worrying aspect is what is happening to our future generation.
University is the period in one’s life when one is subjected to freedom of thought, human rights campaigns, and the understanding and acceptance of “the other.”
Certainly in the Diaspora the majority of Jewish students enter university with scant knowledge of Jewish history or today’s Israel. While the US’s Michael Steinhardt initiated the significant Birthright program – enabling youngsters to have a free 10-day educational visit to Israel that leads to a strengthening of Jewish identity and knowledge of the real Israel – there remains an enormous void in Jewish knowledge for the average 18-year-old about to begin university.
Our enemies, certainly wealthier than us, have recognized the importance of investing in universities. This accounts for the number of university chairs on the Middle East sponsored by Libya, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. We now know of the influence of Libya at the London School of Economics, where Col. Gaddafi’s son was awarded a PhD in the most suspect of situations. However, we too have generous philanthropists who could sponsor chairs, especially in those universities where anti-Zionism is rife. It’s all a question of priorities.
What can we do to improve the situation? First, we must recognize the vital significance of educating the future generation. This is a challenge that has to be shared by both Israel and the Diaspora. Israel’s embassies abroad should be “open houses” to the Jewish student population. Israel’s Foreign Ministry should give directives to its ambassadors to make this a priority. The embassies should work together with local Zionist and Jewish organizations to provide meaningful training programs for youngsters in their last year at school. While I am aware that the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland organize student training days from time to time, I believestudents deserve much more support than they currently receive.
What of the Hillel Foundations worldwide? Is it enough to provide a place for Jewishstudents to come together, or are we missing the boat by not offering attractive training programs?
At the end of the day, we will receive the leadership we deserve. Let us come together to provide the support that will ensure a better tomorrow.
The writer is co-chair of Europeans for Israel.