Antisemitism on North American college campuses is a catastrophe! Where are the 800,000 Taglit – Birthright Israel alumni now? Why aren’t we hearing their voices? Where are all the Jewish organizations on campus?
Modern antisemitism is camouflaged as “I’m not against Jews, I’m against Israel” and has reached monstrous and dangerous levels. In the past 25 years, I have visited North American college campuses and saw firsthand the steady rise of Jew-hatred hidden behind anti-Israel sentiments, and how there’s no organized resistance to this threat. The opposing voice, the one that calls to stop antisemitism and not be afraid to support Israel, was not heard. What is the role of Taglit-Birthright Israel and college campus organizations in this situation?
Forcefully breaking the Jewish-Israel connection
Antisemitism and Anti-Israel are not new. Jewish organizations on campus do not hang a flag of Israel, some not even in their inner offices. They silently allow (and some go so far as to host) on-campus events and clubs that single out the only Jewish state in the world for infractions that are more prevalent in other countries, encouraging the disconnection from one of the pillars of Jewish Faith: return to a Jewish homeland. By letting young Jews hate themselves, they allow antisemitism and Jew hatred to grow unfettered. It now breaks my heart to see it escalate to such a scale.
For me, it is clear that Jews and Israel are one.
Lesser known history of Jew-hate
In my opinion if Israel had existed 80 years ago, there would not have been the horror of the Holocaust because the Jews would have had a place to escape to. Remember how no country agreed to accept the Jews who tried to escape from the Nazi threat? My dear American friends, study up about the fate of the passengers on board the St. Louis and how the great democracy, the United States, did not allow the weary and tired from Germany to disembark on their safe shores and sent them back to Europe. It’s also worth reading about the Evian Conference, where all the countries sat together and one by one refused to accept “war refugees” when the Jews needed a safe haven.
This message, like many other messages before, to my great sorrow, is forgotten or maybe even ignored by many Jews around the world, who do not want to learn, listen, or address it, but that is their choice.
Take off your pink sunglasses: there is evil in this world. And unfortunately, a large part of this evil is directed against Israel and the Jews.
Measured by the same yardstick
In the same vein, it’s easy for others to see Israel as an attacking state against the Palestinians without understanding the big picture. And I’m not saying that Israel is always a paragon of virtue – when you are forced to constantly defend yourself you sometimes make mistakes – but not intentionally.
We had 1400 massacred, raped, and butchered on October 7. There are over 240 hostages who were plucked from their houses including toddlers, now orphaned due to the hostile brutality of Hamas-ISIS.
How would any country on earth respond – UK, Russia, China – if someone from another country shot 8,000 rockets at them within a few days? What would the USA do if Tijuana, Mexico sent “only” 100 rockets toward San Diego (a distance of only 18 miles)?
How dare you, Jews in North America, protest against Israel now?!?
Silenced by Taglit – Birthright Israel
For nearly 25 years, Taglit-Birthright Israel has offered a completely free 10-day organized trip to Israel for participants. On the Taglit-Birthright Israel website, they write that the project has brought over 800,000 participants to Israel, which is approximately 12% of the world’s Jewish population outside of Israel. That’s an amazing number!
The State of Israel invested more than a billion dollars in this project. And what did Israel get out of it? What happened to the relationship between Israel and world Jewry?
Ask an Israeli on the street about Taglit-Birthright Israel, and they will tell you that the project has three goals:
- Encouraging Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel).
- Education on Jewish identity.
- Support for Israel and the fight against antisemitism.
To my great sorrow, these lofty goals have NO basis in reality. This is not what really happens.
The tour organizers of Taglit-Birthright Israel are forbidden to speak about Aliyah; they are forbidden to talk about mixed marriages; and because they need to be politically correct, participants meet with Arab Israelis with an agenda before they meet with any other denominations of Jews in Israeli society (if at all). It’s definitely one way to make sure Jews stay in their country of birth.
For Taglit-Birthright Israel organizers, speaking about actively supporting Israel and preparing alumni to respond to antisemitic and anti-zionist accusations is out of the question. The State of Israel seemed to have almost no influence on the content conveyed by the organizers, most of whom are North American organizations with various agendas, but clearly loving and supporting Israel is not the primary agenda, if at all.
This is why I made the decision in 20211, as the head of Oranim Educational Initiatives, to end my partnership with Taglit-Birthright Israel after working together on bringing 50,000 people to Israel.
Other organizations running Taglit – Birthright Israel tours are mostly “Kiruv”-oriented which want to bring people closer to the faith, but not the Israel-loving and supporting part of it.
For that, you need leadership. And that leadership does not currently exist – neither in the United States nor in Israel.
Connecting with the next generation
Israel donates millions of dollars to groups like Hillel, Chabad on Campus, and Aish HaTorah. But in the end, what do those dollars buy us? There aren’t enough training programs for how to promote Israel and combat anti-Israel PR and fake news.
Hillel is the largest Jewish student organization worldwide. The few times I participated in their annual international leadership conference, I was absolutely shocked that there was no flag of Israel hanging at these conferences. There is no support for Israel on their website, even in these dark times.
But that’s not all. Under the banner of “politically correct” they even provide a platform for a wide variety of groups, some of which actively oppose the State of Israel, sometimes known as “Open Hillel.”
Israel needs the connection with the young Jewish generation worldwide. And the young Jewish generation needs the connection to us.
The State of Israel needs to understand that we do not have real partners on North American campuses.
So, what can Israel do?
My experience has led me to believe in the following solutions:
- Understand that we have no partner on North American campuses. Recognizing the problem is the first step to solving it.
- We must immediately close the Taglit-Birthright Israel project in its current form. Create a new project funded by Israel alone. Bring many fewer people to Israel, but only those who identify with the goals and objectives of the State of Israel 100%. connecting them to their Jewish heritage, identity, and history, as well as educating them regarding the role of Israel in their lives.
- Encourage the Aliyah of young people. We have much to offer to these young adults, most of whom paid for their own education. They would significantly contribute to Israel’s economy and can do well for themselves.
- Those who do not make Aliyah will become “Ambassadors of Understanding and Support for Israel.” So, in any demonstration or anti-Israel or anti-Jewish activity, they would stand there, equipped with knowledge, signs, and ready answers as a counterforce.
Every American or Canadian entity that does not agree with these new values is more than welcome to create its own projects, but without involvement or money from Israeli taxpayers.
If this were to happen, the situation would be entirely different. But the management of Taglit-Birthright Israel and the college campus organizations must stand with Israel without worrying about political correctness or being “nice Jews.”
Jews of the world, learn to stand with Israel.
About the Writer
With over 30 years of experience, Shlomo (Momo) Lifshitz was the founder and president of Oranim Educational Initiatives, which at its peak was the largest organizer of Taglit-Birthright Israel tours. Oranim has run 1,201 Birthright groups. After selling Oranim in 2012, Momo turned his sights to promoting educational programs to Israel, and serves as the director of Study in Israel LLC and Lirom Global Education, promoting the Israel4u.com and Israelprogramcenter.com brands.