Tilt­ing to the Right

A new Is­raeli cam­pus ini­tia­tive is team­ing up with Or­tho­dox groups.

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Peo­ple are ob­ject­ing to the Or­tho­dox tilt of the pro­gram providers.

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment has rolled out the first stage of its long-awaited Is­rael-Di­as­pora outreach ini­tia­tive, which promised to in­ject hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars into a broad range of in­no­va­tive Jewish iden­tity pro­grams.

One might say that the pro­gram un­veiled in an Au­gust 12 an­nounce­ment, a se­ries of grants for outreach pro­gram­ming on col­lege cam­puses world­wide, has fallen far short of orig­i­nal ex­pec­ta­tions. But that would be too gen­er­ous.

Orig­i­nally planned with a $ 300 mil­lion an­nual bud­get, one- third of it from the Is­raeli taxpayer and the rest from Di­as­pora donors, the pro­gram has launched in­stead with $66 mil­lion over two years, in­clud­ing $10 mil­lion in the first year from the Jerusalem gov­ern­ment. And in­stead of the broad range of Jewish move­ments and ideas the pro­gram was to fea­ture, it is launch­ing with just three part­ners: Hil­lel In­ter­na­tional and two right-wing Or­tho­dox Jewish outreach or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The Is­rael-Di­as­pora Ini­tia­tive was for­mu­lated in Novem­ber 2013 at an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence of com­mu­nity lead­ers in Jerusalem. It was sup­posed to re­make Di­as­pora Jewish iden­tity-build­ing, work­ing through a broad, in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional al­liance of Di­as­pora Jewish move­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions, with backup from a range of Is­raeli gov­ern­ment min­istries.

In June 2014 the gov­ern­ment ap­proved an al­lo­ca­tion of $ 50 mil­lion, half the orig­i­nal sum. It also au­tho­rized the for­ma­tion of an in­de­pen­dent com­pany to man­age the project and select Di­as­pora Jewish “part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions” that would de­velop and im­ple­ment the in­no­va­tive pro­gram­ming.

Af­ter three years of bu­reau­cratic turf wars and po­lit­i­cal bat­tles, a man­ag­ing com­pany launched with an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment al­lo­ca­tion of $10 mil­lion for the first year and a prom­ise of $12 mil­lion in the sec­ond year. Twice that amount is to be raised by the three Di­as­pora pro­gram part­ners. The two-year to­tal thus comes to $66 mil­lion, with the ma­jor fundrais­ing bur­den now on the grantees.

The man­ag­ing com­pany, first called the Ini­tia­tive for the Fu­ture of the Jewish Peo­ple, then the Is­rael-Di­as­pora Ini­tia­tive, was un­veiled Au­gust 12 with yet an­other name, Mo­saic United.

The three pro­gram de­liv­ery or­ga­ni­za­tions are what’s left of the broad coali­tion of in­no­va­tive Jewish move­ments that had been ex­pected to join. In ad­di­tion to Hil­lel, the ros­ter in­cludes two out­fits that spe­cial­ize in pro­mot­ing Or­tho­dox Jewish ob­ser­vance: the Chabad-Lubav­itch Ha­sidic move­ment and a less fa­mil­iar or­ga­ni­za­tion called Olami World­wide.

As for the range of Is­raeli gov­ern­ment depart­ments meant to co­op­er­ate in the ven­ture, that’s been re­duced to one: the Min­istry of Di­as­pora Af­fairs, headed by Naf­tali Ben­nett of the Jewish Home party, the main po­lit­i­cal voice of Re­li­gious Zion­ism and the set­tler move­ment.

The main Is­raeli non­govern­men­tal part­ner that had been ex­pected to par­tic­i­pate, the Jewish Agency for Is­rael, dropped out in Au­gust 2015, protest­ing that un­der the Di­as­pora min­istry’s man­age­ment, the pro­gram’s “cur­rent re­al­ity has been changed in di­rect con­tra­dic­tion to both the spirit of the Ini­tia­tive” and the gov­ern­ment’s 2014 de­ci­sion for­mally estab­lish­ing it.

The orig­i­nal goal of the ini­tia­tive was to strengthen Jewish iden­tity among Di­as­pora Jews. But af­ter the re­cent launch prompted ob­jec­tions to the Or­tho­dox tilt of the pro­gram providers, Ben­nett is­sued a state­ment claim­ing, as re­ported by Haaretz, that “the ac­tiv­i­ties would not be fo­cused on is­sues of re­li­gion and Jewish law.”

Rather, Ben­nett was quoted as say­ing, “The ac­tiv­i­ties on cam­puses through­out the world are the real an­swer to the grow­ing anti-Semitism and the dele­git­imiza­tion of Is­rael on cam­puses.”

Back in 2015, though, days be­fore the Jewish Agency’s with­drawal, Haaretz ob­tained an in­ter­nal Di­as­pora min­istry doc­u­ment that de­scribed the prob­lems the ini­tia­tive aimed to ad­dress. “In re­cent years,” the doc­u­ment said, “there has been a con­tin­u­ous ero­sion of the Jewish iden­tity of com­mu­ni­ties around the world.” The ero­sion, the doc­u­ment went on to say, in­cluded the “un­der­min­ing of the Jewish foun­da­tions of the fam­ily unit” and a “sig­nif­i­cant rise in crit­i­cal dis­course re­gard­ing Is­rael.”

The min­istry doc­u­ment ap­pears to ex­plain the choice of the Or­tho­dox part­ners. As part of its pro­mo­tion of Or­tho­dox ob­ser­vance, Chabad Ha­sidism touts a tra­di­tional ver­sion of Jewish fam­ily val­ues, in­clud­ing rules on mod­est dress for women, “im­pu­rity” dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and op­po­si­tion to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Less well known is Chabad’s po­lit­i­cal role in Is­rael, where many of its rab­bis and lead­ers are prom­i­nent in far- right, pro- set­tle­ment and an­ti­com­pro­mise ac­tivism. Sev­eral top Is­raeli Chabad lead­ers have be­come lead­ing right- wing ac­tivists. Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburgh, a se­nior Chabad ed­u­ca­tor and philoso­pher, has writ­ten in praise of the late Baruch Gold­stein, who com­mit­ted the 1994 He­bron mas­sacre. Ginzburgh also men­tored Yitzhak Shapira, co-au­thor of the 2009 book “The King’s To­rah,” which jus­ti­fied killing Pales­tinian ba­bies be­cause they might grow up to be ter­ror­ists. An­other Chabad leader, Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo, raised money for the fam­i­lies of Jewish ter­ror­ists and has urged the death penalty — by a court, not vig­i­lantes — for dovish Is­raeli lead­ers Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni.

Olami World­wide is not a house­hold name like Chabad. Re­peated at­tempts to con­tact its lead­ers were un­suc­cess­ful. Its web­site de­scribes it as an um­brella that works with some 300 or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world, pro­mot­ing Jewish ed­u­ca­tion and trips to Is­rael. Ac­cord­ing to press re­ports and sources fa­mil­iar with Jewish cam­pus pro­gram­ming, the or­ga­ni­za­tion works closely with Aish Ha­torah, an Or­tho­dox outreach or­ga­ni­za­tion that ri­vals Chabad in its global reach.

Aish, as it’s fa­mil­iarly known, be­gan in the 1970s as a Jerusalem yeshiva pros­e­ly­tiz­ing among young Jewish trav­el­ers and vol­un­teers. Over the years it has ex­panded, opened of­fices in sev­eral coun­tries and de­vel­oped a sprawl­ing, elab­o­rate web­site that mar­kets books and rit­ual ob­jects, teaches Or­tho­dox prac­tice and pro­motes its ex­ten­sive adult-ed­u­ca­tion classes.

It has also spun off a num­ber of side or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing sev­eral right-wing pro-Is­rael projects. The best known is Hon­est Re­port­ing, a me­dia watch­dog group.

An­other spinoff, the Clar­ion Project, pro­duces and dis­trib­utes films that preach against the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam. It is widely re­garded by civil lib­er­ties or­ga­ni­za­tions as a prime pur­veyor of Is­lam­o­pho­bia. One of its films, “The Third Ji­had,” caused a scan­dal in the New York City Po­lice Depart­ment in 2012 when it was re­vealed that the film had been show­ing in a con­tin­u­ous loop for months to of­fi­cers at a depart­ment train­ing fa­cil­ity.

The founder and CEO of Clar­ion, Raphael Shore, a for­mer Aish me­dia ex­pert, also heads an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion, JerusalemU.org. It pro­duces videos to pro­mote Jewish iden­tity, ob­ser­vance and at­tach­ment to Is­rael. One of its video se­ries, “Habits of Hap­pi­ness,” teaches Jewish rit­ual and tra­di­tional val­ues as a path to per­sonal mean­ing and in­ner peace.

Though the pre­cise re­la­tion­ship be­tween Olami and Aish is unclear, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Olami, Rabbi David Markowitz, pre­vi­ously served in sev­eral se­nior po­si­tions at Aish, in­clud­ing head of its New York of­fice.

One prom­i­nent Aish devo­tee, Philadel­phia busi­ness­woman Amy Holtz, left the pri­vate sec­tor af­ter the or­ga­ni­za­tion in­spired her to greater Jewish ob­ser­vance, as she re­lated in an in­ter­view with the Jewish Ex­po­nent. She served for six years as pres­i­dent of Shore’s JerusalemU or­ga­ni­za­tion un­til last Jan­uary, when she be­came head of the Is­rael-Di­as­pora ini­tia­tive now called Mo­saic.

Ap­par­ently, Is­rael be­lie ves that some com­bi­na­tion of Holtz’s busi­ness and me­dia savvy, Shore’s al­leged Is­lam­o­pho­bia, Aish and Chabad’s tra­di­tional fam­ily val­ues and Jewish Home’s far- right pol­i­tics is just what’s needed to fight cam­pus an­tiSemitism and win over the hearts and minds of Amer­i­can Jewish youth. But will the youth buy it?

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