Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), Israel’s Minister of Education and of Diaspora Affairs recently announced a wide-ranging effort to “strengthen Jewish identity and the connection with Israel” for Jewish college students in diaspora. With a considerable budget of more than $30 million a year, a third picked up by the Israeli government and the rest by philanthropist groups, Bennett has made no bones about who, in his opinion, should be deposited with the responsibility for enhancing Jewish identity on campus — namely, the folks who are already doing it: Chabad, Olami and Hillel.
The fact that the first two of these organizations is completely Orthodox, while the third varies from one campus to another has irked many, in Israel and abroad. But, according to Bennett’s office, the project does not promote religion. As Bennett himself put it, “The activities on campuses throughout the world are the real answer to the growing anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel on campuses. For the first time since the founding of the state, the State of Israel understands that it’s not just the state of Israeli citizens, but the state of all Jews throughout the world.”
So, no religious instruction, but rather opportunities for Jewish students to feel more connected to their brothers and sisters in their home country and in Israel. Which would be a nice switch from the constant, anti-Israel drivel they encounter on so many campuses in the US, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Hillel’s foundation for Jewish campus life is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, working with thousands of college students globally.
Unlike Chabad, which enjoys an organic network of outreach institutions around the globe and a consistent and reliable Jewish agenda, Olami is more of a a network of local organization focusing on Jewish identity, including, most notably, Aish HaTorah.
Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Reform Movement in North America, complained to Ha’aretz that the Bennett plan in its current scope does not appeal to more than about 20% of Jewish students in America. Another US Jewish official rebuked Israel for pouring its hard-earned shekels on a minority of north American Jewish activists on campus, and suggested it looked like Bennett was trying to export the Israeli disproportionate dominance of the Orthodox.