The 2014 BDS Movement and growing anti-Semitism on college campuses prompted the Federation to make Israel advocacy a core area of impact for its 2015 funding. BDS supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Fortunately, the BDS movement did not gain a foothold on campus. At the same time, the need to help Jewish students become better advocates for Jews and for Israel was recognized.
“Though Federation recognized the need to increase advocacy on campus and in the community before the BDS activities in 2014, they motivated our leadership to make Israel advocacy a priority. It is one of our core impact areas,” said Stuart Wachs.
In 2015, the Federation allocated $50,000 to fund a full-time position on the ASU Tempe campus to educate and train students to advocate for Israel. The position was the result of a collaborative grant request from Hillel at ASU and Jewish Arizonans on Campus.
“We are thrilled to be a part of this exciting collaborative effort with Hillel, JAC and the Federation,” said Rabbi Jordan Brumer, director of JAC. “By having a staff member focused on Israel advocacy on campus, more students are being connected to Israel and to Jewish life on campus. At the same time, they are given the tools to promote Israel in a positive light and to combat anti-Israel activity at ASU.”
Debbie Yunker Kail, executive director of ASU Hillel, echoed Rabbi Brumer’s sentiments.
“The partnership with JAC and ASU Hillel is a deeper one than we have ever built before,” said Yunker Kail. “We believe working together to hire an Israel Education Coordinator and to implement new Israel programming benefits the entire campus community explicitly by adding new initiatives and implicitly by modeling how organizations can work together for the greater good.”
In July, the two agencies hired Andrew Gibbs, an ASU graduate. The position is housed at ASU Hillel.
Gibbs is working to expand Israel education and advocacy on campus by building relationships with other schools, colleges and organizations.
During the fall semester, Gibbs implemented several initiatives, including an essay contest and workshop honoring the life and legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. Students were invited to explore their relationship with the state, land and people of Israel, as well as Israel’s role in their Jewish identity. The top three essays were published in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.
Coordinating with the Israel on Campus Coalition, Gibbs also arranged a visit from David Makovsky, advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry from November 2013 to September 2014. Makovsky was part of an elite team seeking an historic peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Students were riveted by his first-hand account of what it is like to work behind the scenes on one of the world’s most diplomatic issues.
“From the essay contest to a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry’s former Middle East adviser to regular lunch discussions, the conversations about Israel on campus are more diverse, deeper and engage more students—Jewish and not,” said Gibbs.
“There are so many more students who have not found a way to explore Israel’s rich culture, history and values in a meaningful way. My hope is that through our programs, students will find that voice.”
This semester, Gibbs is launching several new opportunities for the larger community campus to learn more about Israel.
In addition to the $50,000 received from the Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation of Phoenix also provided $10,000 for the position.