I’m writing barely tongue in cheek, but the recent story, which you can read here, of the plan by the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Ministry to channel funds to orthodox student groups on college reminds me of the way in which Saudi Arabia has over the years financed the establishment of Wahabi institutions of Islamic learning and community across the Muslim world, twisting and distorting the values of that religious tradition. That’s one way to read the gross attempt by the government of Israel to remake the liberal American Jewish community into its own right-wing image.
In addition to money for Hillel, the plan funds two orthodox campus groups –Habad and Olami. Which makes one wonder. Will these groups, Hillel included, be promoting democracy, citizenship, pluralism, peace and coexistence, human rights? Or is the point to sweep the occupation under the rug in the service of tribal ethno-nationalism couched as cheerful hasbarah? And what kind of Judaism? Do the planners think that Orthodox Judaism will be the face of American Jewish culture on the liberal campus? Will they promote Jewish settlement in “Judea and Samaria,” the “right” to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and rebuilding the Third Temple?
Here are some of the details and first response from voices from the American Jewish establishment as reported in Ha’aretz:
The Diaspora Affairs Ministry has announced a comprehensive project to “strengthen Jewish identity and the connection with Israel” among university students around the world. The budget for the project is 250 million shekels ($65.6 million) over two years, with a third of that sum coming from the government and the rest from Jewish groups and philanthropists. The budget will be divided equally between three organizations that work with Jewish students: Chabad, Olami and Hillel, the first two being Orthodox groups.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Reform Movement in North America, said he was aware of the new plan, but added, “This funding only addresses 20 percent of Jewish students and their needs since most students are not engaged with any of these organizations. It is a beginning, but we believe that much more needs to be done to reach out to a broad range of Jewish students, especially in a time of great complexity.”
Other U.S. Jewish sources were less enthusiastic. An official at one American Jewish organization said Israel was poised to give tens of millions of shekels to groups that represent only a small portion of American Jewry, and that are not prepared to work with the other streams. This lack of proportion, he added, gives the impression that the Diaspora Affairs Ministry is trying to export the communal distortions that exist in Israel to communities abroad. He called this a worrisome and dangerous trend.