“Why should every American support Israel?” asked former Rep. Steve Israel at the launch of a new Startup Nation Mentorship program.
“The answer should come from our hearts and from our heads,” he answered, “From the heart because of the shared values, because we are aligned democracies. From the head because in times as we live today, when the U.S. military defines the world as VUCA, short for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity; when there is no place in the world that reflects more uncertainty and ambiguity then the Middle East – in the Middle East there’s no country that provides stability, sustainability and continuity more than Israel.”
This position was held by majority of the Americans for many years.
In the last decade we have witnessed a significant change in outlook toward Israel. From an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue, Israel has become what some critics call the “anti-liberal /anti- social values entity.” These trends start on campuses, where ideologies and slogans are tossed about, not necessarily based on facts. Even the majority of Jewish students admit they face a dilemma whether or not to support Israel openly and bear the consequences.
Many pro-Israeli Jewish organizations are asking themselves the same question: What can we do to convince the younger generations to readopt the same position expressed by Rep. Steve Israel?
In 2015, the Israeli Consulate in New York, in partnership with the World Jewish Congress, started a competition among campuses to encourage students to initiate original campaigns and activities, for students and by students, aiming to portray Israel in a positive light.
For the last four years, students in groups or individuals have come up with original ideas and started organizing events, conferences and exhibitions. One of the key criteria of the competition is the ability to replicate the project in additional campuses.
Last year, two students, Adam Shapiro from Cornell, and Sarel Abnar from Princeton, initiated the mentorship program. Their idea was to start with business students by matching every local student with an Israeli mentor—a senior business leader—who will help the student through the semester.
Adam and Sarel started their pilot in their own campuses. By the end of the year, they were running the project in no less than 15 campuses.
They have now launched their program officially. Nearly 100 students, mentors, CEOs and investors were on hand at a ceremony held at the newly renovated JNF headquarters in Manhattan. The program included a panel with former Rep. Israel and Hope Taitz, CEO and managing partner of ELY Capital. She described her reasons for supporting both for-profit and nonprofit investments in Israel.
Shapiro and Abnar aim to expend their program to campuses around the world, not only for business students but in every field in which Israeli mentors can contribute and create a bridge to contemporary Israel.
We are all aware of the fact that protests against Israel on campuses will not fade away in the next few years. In order to reduce the damage of these demonstrations of violence and bullying towards those who refuse to condemn Israel automatically and single it out, active pro-Israel students on campuses can do two things: one is to respond to the bullying with an immediate response. This option is important, in order to show that no fake propaganda remains un-answered. The other option is to think outside of the box and create campaigns that will educate students about Israel in the long run.
Galit Peleg is the consul for Public Diplomacy and Academic affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York. Also working in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.