Why going big on Israel’s historic purpose is our best option
Co-authored with Erin Kopelow
“I don’t know if I want to raise my kids in a country that is at war,” a friend recently shared with me upon her return from the US. “But life abroad doesn’t seem any more safe. There is real hate out there on the campuses, and these kids will be the leaders my kids will depend on tomorrow. It feels hopeless”
Of the three existential crises Israel currently faces – from Islamist Reconquest, from internal scisms, and from an ideology on campuses that denies our right to exist – the long-term implications of the third worries us the most. The chances that we will defeat Hamas and find unity post-2023 are, we would argue, much higher than the chances of healing our demonized international identity. Unfortunately it seems that the public diplomacy tools into which we invested so much have proven unable to counter the anti-Israel position ubiquitous in the academy.
Since October 7 we have all witnessed how the training grounds of our future leaders have been captured by an anti-Israel ideology. Given the pervasiveness, even if 5% of students buy into anti-Israel claims every year, this delegitimizing stance will define our decades to come. We see a preview in open letters by staffers to administrations around the world. Other than the good graces of Uncle Joe and select European leaders whose worldviews were framed by the Holocaust, we are getting a clear message: the world prefers we not exist as a nation.
Decades of our community’s investment in tactics such as campus coalitions and educational seminars have not countered the increasingly pervasive anti-Israel worldview of the rising global elite. Further, a head-on confrontation with academic institutions without an alternative system in place will not work. Protected by tenure and department self-governance, academic departments are self-perpetuating: existing members educate the next generation of academics and pick from their own classes their successors. No amount of outside protest will break that dynamic.
The only way to break the anti-Israel choke-hold on the academy is to have a vision for Israel so grand and so bold and so intuitive that it offers an alternative paradigm to an elite that has lost its way: Israel as the World’s Campus.
This vision has its roots in Isaiah’s call for Israel to become a source of inspiration for humanity as a whole, for Israel to be the place where the world’s brightest seek to learn how to live best in the world we’ve inherited. A place where Torah – not religious dogma, but wisdom applied to living a good life – is developed.
Translated into modern terms, the best way we can address the existential threat we face from global elites is to transform Israel into the place where the world’s brightest are drawn to study, debate, engage, and solve the greatest challenges facing humanity: climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.
Sound far-fetched? Hear us out. Since the time of Abraham, the People of Israel have been celebrated as knowledge creators. Nearly every paradigm shift since the birth of monotheism can be attributed to, or has the fingerprints of, a Hebrew. This is not to put other nations down, or raise us above them, but to understand why we are uniquely described as the People of the Book. A people who, wherever we wandered, first built schools. A people driven by a purpose to create and share knowledge.
By adopting a World Campus aspiration as the national mission of Israel we will both counter the threat from the elite intellectual training grounds biasing tomorrow’s global policy against Israel and we will rise to our role as knowledge creators to address this age of polycrisis. We would counterbalance the captured institutions doing a disservice to humanity by leveraging the unique value proposition the Jews have offered since time immemorial. We will center ourselves as an answer to the largest challenges facing humanity.
To make this work, we need to think big. By Israel’s centennial – 25 years from now – we should have one million foreign students studying in Israel, every year.
This will be a challenge given today’s physical infrastructure and the bureaucratic hurdles stymieing today’s universities. So we need to get to work. To build new institutions on new infrastructure that creates the conditions for higher educational and professional programs that are international at their core. This is a monumental task, but we’ve risen to greater challenges. We’ve settled millions of new citizens during times of war. We’ve made the desert bloom. We’ve launched more companies than nearly any other country.
The support of the world’s elites is as important as the strength of our military, the robustness of our economy, and deserves no less investment. We must meet this existential threat head on, and we must start now. Cementing our place in the future is necessary if we are to deter our neighbors from dreams of reconquest. It is also achievable. When a million of the world’s future leaders study in Israel every year, no one will care what the president of Harvard thinks about Israel, or what insane new theory on Jewish maliciousness comes out of Columbia University this season.
To put a World Campus grand strategy into place, I recommend the following steps:
- Establish a public-private coalition dedicated to pursuing a national mission to create a network of international education institutions in Israel that eclipse the Ivy League. Disillusioned donors to major global institutions should be backed by Israel’s public and philanthropic sectors to establish world class English-language educational institutions in Israel who meet international standards for undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. No expense should be spared from attracting those same brilliant professors across the Ivy League who now fear for their safety and their future in the context of their institutions.
- Invest in the infrastructure to enable these institutions to grow to serve one million international students by 2048. We will not secure our position in future policy circles by keeping to the less than fifty thousand foreign students a year we currently host. If we want to break the intellectual siege on Israel we need to create a power-center no less significant in quality and quantity. One million students will match New York State’s numbers, and meet Massachusetts’ when one compares relative population size in 2048 to the present. It will also jumpstart a whole new economy in Israel with attractive and well paying service jobs for those serving this large international population.
- Embed Israel’s citizens into these institutions through economic development programs. Setting an audacious goal of one million international students also opens us to thinking about every element of Israeli society and how it could be transformed by Israel’s becoming the World’s Campus: housing, transportation, employment, education, security. Just as campuses have economic benefits to the communities that host them, becoming a World Campus will strengthen Israel’s prosperity and resilience.
Israel is the only country we know that was built on a dream. If we have learned anything over the past 75 years it should be that the ambition of the dream reflects the opportunities available to the dreamer. We can meet the challenges facing our future by reaching deep into our past. By transforming Israel into the World’s Campus we will create a vehicle for offering our unique value to humanity and thereby establish ourselves in our age-old place among the nations. A State for the People of the Book, a place that inspires joy among the nations. Where the leaders of today and tomorrow collaborate on the cutting edge, develop knowledge and apply it to celebrate and sustain life.
BONUS: Want a look into what Israel might be if we adopted the World Campus grand strategy? Take a look at a History of the Future from the vantage point of 2048, after Israel enacted the vision and become part of the movement to build a World Campus by adding your comments and questions.