Our God and God of our fathers, we ask Your blessing for our country, for its government, for its leader and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights of Your Law, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.
For centuries, Jews have recited prayers for the leader of their county. And not only Jews: The Christian faith famously instructs to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”; and the prayer excerpted above, from the Conservative movement’s “Siddur Sim Shalom,” even appears on the Web page of a Boy Scout troop. It has long been the wish and prayer of many that their national leader be blessed for success and for wisdom. And well they should, because that leader is responsible for the fate of many.
It’s been true throughout Jewish history. Strong leaders with whom Jews and Israelis are on good terms — Joseph’s Pharaoh, King Hiram of Tyre, Cyrus of Persia, George Washington, Napoleon — usually mean good things for Israel and the Jews. Weak leaders — Moses’s Pharaoh, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King Ahasuerus, Nero, Neville Chamberlain, Kurt Waldheim — lead to instability, threats to the Jewish people and Israel, and bad outcomes.
Smart Israel supporters, particularly in the United States, are also wise to heed such prayers. In the realm of global affairs, Israel benefits when the US is strong and projects strong leadership in the world. Weak and ineffectual American administrations invite global rogues and rivals to seek to disrupt the world order — and such disruptions all too commonly affect the Middle East in which Israelis must live. Assertive American leadership in the global realm, by contrast, tends to cow rogue players — witness, for example, the about-face of Libya’s late and unlamented Muammar Gaddafi and the reported partial slowdown of Iran’s nuclear program in the immediate wake of the second Gulf War; or the halt to internecine slaughter among the former republics of Yugoslavia after the intervention of a US-led coalition — and inspires respect and compliance among allies and adversaries alike. The bottom line is that Israel does better when the United States is strong economically, militarily and politically; smart Israel advocates in the US nurture relationships with those most likely to be strong leaders and help those leaders succeed.
The same holds in the campus environment. To best ensure that Israel receives positive treatment on campus, that interactions between the campus and Israelis and Israeli institutions are robust, and that disruptive and divisive tactics of Israel detractors are minimized, the campus Israel network does best when it benefits from strong campus leadership.
Strong campus leadership takes many forms, but the most obvious and significant is a robust campus administration, typically originating from a strong university president. Campus administrators who are clear in their vision for campus, and confident in their ability to mitigate distractions from a positive learning environment, can stand up to the fringe, disruptive elements among which Israel detractors commonly dwell. Witness, for example, the strong statements opposing anti-Israel divestment and other detractor activity from such university leaders as C.L. Max Nikias of the University of Southern California, Mark Yudof and Russell Gould of the University of California, John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University, Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan, Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, or Lawrence Summers of Harvard University and Dean David Elwood of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Witness, too, the even more forward-thinking vision of those campus administrators who have led the way in deepening ties between their campuses and Israeli institutions, like David J. Skorton of Cornell University, whose joint venture with the Technion won a competition to build a high-tech campus in New York City that will net hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for his university as well as yielding over $23 billion in economic activity and 60,000 new jobs for New York. Forward-thinking administrators across the country, particularly at the California State University and University of California systems, follow suit.
When forward-looking campus leaders take strong stands regarding Israel, it helps both the environment regarding Israel on their campuses and the campus environment as a whole. Smart campus Israel supporters do well to thank such leaders for their positive stands, to nurture positive connections with them, and to urge them to encourage still-greater efforts.
Investing in relationships with, and the success of, strong campus leaders is an effective way to ensure a positive campus environment; and it is surely no accident that many of the leaders mentioned above have participated in or even led trips to Israel for campus administrators — facilitated by such organizations as Project Interchange of the American Jewish Committee — and have close ties with many campus alumni who support both their alma mater and a positive connection between their schools and Israel. The campus Israel network could increase its current efforts to nurture and sustain such ties by a factor of 10, and enjoy significantly greater outcomes.
But strong campus leadership regarding Israel can also come from others. Astute faculty members who understand the inner workings of the campus hierarchy and, in most cases, will remain on campus much longer than either students or administrators do, can also serve as leaders, particularly behind the scenes, to ensure that the campus infrastructure regarding Israel is strong.
Campus professionals with Hillel and other student-facing service providers, who frequently confront issues relating to Israel, can provide strong leadership when they have the confidence, skills and support to address such issues in ways that also help them accomplish their broader campus mission.
All of this is true without mentioning the issue that the campus Israel network spends most of its time addressing — namely, strong campus leadership also can come from student government and other student organizational leaders who are truly proactive, forward-thinking and empowered to address issues regarding Israel in a mature, sophisticated and positive way.
The Jewish people have long recognized that by asking for blessings of success and wisdom for the leader with whom they interact, they, too, will benefit. The campus Israel network would do well to pray for their campus leaders as well as to act to see that vision realized.
Stephen Kuperberg is executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an organization dedicated to weaving and catalyzing the campus Israel network to create a positive climate regarding Israel on campus, and publisher of Israel Campus Beat.