Your Daily Phil: BDS resolutions strike back

Good Monday morning.

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new partnership between the National Library of Israel and the USC Shoah Foundation, and feature an opinion piece by Shuli Karkowsky about helping American Jewish teenagers feel comfortable talking about Israel. Also in this issue: Ruth GottesmanLiora Norwich and Iris ApfelWe’ll start with how Jewish foundations and campus organizations are responding to a renewed flurry of BDS campaigns.

Amid a flurry of BDS campaigns and heightened tensions at universities across the country, a small group of foundation professionals and leaders of national campus organizations is gathering in Washington today for a two-day strategy session to take on the challenges facing Jewish college students, eJewishPhilanthropy has learned.

The meeting, the third such gathering of the group, comes amid a spike in antisemitic activity on college campuses and worldwide in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and subsequent war with the terror group. The challenges have been especially acute on college campuses — beginning on some campuses, such as Harvard, the day after the attacks. Those in attendance in Washington this week will take stock of what has been successful on college campuses, where efforts have fallen short and how to move forward in an increasingly fraught environment for Jewish students.

Among the topics to be discussed will be the heightened focus on BDS campaigns: training and supporting pro-Israel students to fight back against efforts, often led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), to pass resolutions or referenda calling on their schools to divest from companies that operate in Israel.

As recently as last year, BDS efforts appeared to have fallen out of favor on college campuses, with just three resolutions being brought forward in 2022, compared to 44 at their peak in the 2014-2015 school year. (eJP covered this precipitous drop in a story published on Oct. 5.) But in the months since the initial Hamas attack and start of the war — Israel’s longest in recent decades — there has been a resurgence in efforts to bring BDS back to the forefront.

That the resolutions are nonbinding and therefore largely ignored by college administrators after their passage should be an indication that the ultimate goal of SJP and the group’s campus allies may not be to actually implement a boycott, but to make Israel a toxic and divisive topic on college campuses. To some extent, they have been successful in that goal.

The University of California, Santa Barbara, for example, has never passed a BDS resolution, despite the issue coming up nearly every year. But that didn’t stop still-unidentified individuals from plastering the school’s MultiCultural Center with posters proclaiming the school’s student government president, the daughter of Soviet Jews who fled the USSR, a genocide supporter, even going so far as to draw horns around her name.

One reason it’s easy to focus on BDS campaigns is because they’re easily quantifiable — wins and losses determined by a certain number of votes. The broader challenges facing Jewish students are less tangible and harder to assess with traditional metrics relied upon by funders.

Incidents such as last week’s in Santa Barbara beg a deeper question: whether passage of BDS resolutions are an indicator of how toxic a campus is for Jewish students, or rather a sign of how effective pro-Israel students were in mobilizing to fight a defensive battle.

That defensive strategy is a part of a broader issue one former campus professional told eJP they hope is addressed this week in Washington.

“We’re constantly being reactive,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And I think we’ve forgotten about going back to the base, strengthening our own base, championing the community from within and also understanding that other minority groups, they also understand and can relate to that sense of nationalism, pride, right?”

Those gathering in Washington will also have to contend with challenges around security at campus Jewish institutions and pro-Israel events amid a rise in physical confrontations — last week at the University of California, Berkeley, a Jewish woman was reportedly choked by a protestor demonstrating against an event featuring an IDF reservist.

Another unanswered question is whether the Jewish community is equipped to challenge issues of foreign funding of college campuses. The influx of funds from countries including Qatar and China raises questions about the intellectual integrity of campuses that receive endowments and other large sums, and also that have increased the number of foreign students who are paying full tuition. Those foreign students add a level of complexity to an already-challenging environment. Testifying on Capitol Hill in December, MIT President Sally Kornbluth said the school had opted not to punish students who violated the school’s code of conduct around their anti-Israel activism — because doing so would put their student visa status in jeopardy.

As the former campus staffer told us, “We continue to utilize the same strategies that everyone knows [are] not working. Everyone knows it’s not working. We don’t have that luxury right now. We are literally in this horrific crisis of mass proportions that none of us have ever dealt with before. So it’s almost like everything needs to be scrapped, start from a blank canvas.”

Above all, those attending this week’s convening will have to address a key question: For all of the time, resources and energy devoted to the campus pro-Israel space over the last decade, how did we arrive at this moment? And where does the campus pro-Israel movement go from here?


Shoah Foundation Executive Director Robert Williams and National Library of Israel Chairman Sallai Meridor sign a memorandum of understanding at the library in Jerusalem on Mar. 4, 2024.
Shoah Foundation Executive Director Robert Williams and National Library of Israel Chairman Sallai Meridor sign a memorandum of understanding at the library in Jerusalem on Mar. 4, 2024.

Everyone in Israel will now have full access to the USC Shoah Foundation’s collection of testimonies from more than 52,000 Holocaust survivors and hundreds of survivors of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks through a new agreement between the organization and the National Library of Israel signed today, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross from the signing in Jerusalem.

More on the way: The new partnership is meant to both provide Israelis with a resource to combat contemporary antisemitism and to serve as a “case study” to demonstrate the viability and need of making the collection fully and freely available to everyone, Shoah Foundation Executive Director Robert J. Williams told eJP before the signing of the deal. Williams said he hopes to make the collection available universally by the end of the year.

A budding relationship: The agreement was signed by Williams and National Library of Israel Chairman Sallai Meridor in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, which first opened its doors in a limited capacity in late October, following a major, yearslong effort to construct a new building for the institution. Both Meridor and Williams said they hoped that this agreement marked the start of a deepening relationship between the National Library and the Shoah Foundation. “This is only the beginning,” Williams said, voicing admiration for the library’s technology division, as well as its education department. “I think there’s a lot we can do there,” he added.

Read the full story here.


What Moving Traditions has learned about teens and Israel

Teens participate in a Moving Traditions program for Rosh Hodesh.

“In the course of developing ‘Our Next Generation’ — the most recent strategic plan for our organization, Moving Traditions, released in 2022 — we learned that many teens didn’t feel they had permission to talk about Israel,” writes Moving Traditions CEO Shuli Karkowsky in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Heart of the matter: “They felt they weren’t sufficiently informed about the country’s deep and complicated history, or they were worried that they had an opinion that wasn’t the ‘right’ opinion. As a result, we started asking ourselves and our stakeholders: How can we better support Jewish teens by making sure they can bring whatever is weighing on their hearts to Jewish spaces without fear?”

Facilitating conversation: “Israel education has not always been at the center of Moving Traditions’ curricula. For many years, Moving Traditions has provided institutions and individuals with materials that merge social and emotional support with Jewish education… Yet even before Oct. 7, we were heading towards change… In one of the curricular exercises we created shortly after Oct. 7, we encourage educators to go around the room and ask teens: When it comes to Israel, who and what are you most worried about right now?… [Their] thoughtful and varied answers reflect our broader experience working with teens, particularly the ease with which a group of teens engages with ‘both/and’ thinking — the ability to feel strongly connected to Israel and recognize the devastating costs of the current war on Israelis and on Palestinian civilian life. Most importantly, though, the question clearly communicates to teens that they and their worries will be held with compassion, and that every teen can participate in a conversation about Israel even if they are starting at very different places.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

An Impactful Relationship: In The Wall Street Journal, Ben Cohen and Karen Langley delve into the professional and personal relationship between Warren Buffett and the late philanthropist David Gottesman and their families, culminating in Ruth Gottesman’s billion-dollar donation — using the Berkshire Hathaway shares her husband left her — to make Einstein Medical School tuition-free. “Her extraordinary gift announced this past week was decades in the making. Ruth Gottesman, 93, joined the Einstein faculty in 1968, not long after her late husband met Buffett. Their friendship led to a business partnership, an epic investment and, now, a tuition-free medical school. ‘I’ve never seen anybody behave better with a billion dollars,’ Buffett said when reached by phone this past week. The Gottesmans were among the friends and partners of Buffett who watched their early Berkshire investments compound over decades into millions and sometimes billions of dollars… Buffett and Ruth Gottesman remain in touch to this day, and she told him of her plans to make this $1 billion gift, which instantly elevated a low-profile nonagenarian educator into the ranks of the world’s leading philanthropists.” [WSJ]

Good Start, But Not Enough: The burden of student debt, coupled with lower financial prospects in certain high-demand specialties, has been pushing new doctors toward higher-earning specialties and contributing to diminishing access to quality care in the U.S., writes Paul Karon in Inside Philanthropy. “Removing the heavy burden of medical school debt, the thinking goes, will enable more physicians to choose to work in the lower-paid specialties that the majority of people need. It will also enable more doctors to take work in underserved communities, such as rural areas, where they can make the biggest difference in the overall health of the country. And then there’s the diversity of doctors themselves. In news reports, Ruth Gottesman [who recently gave $1 billion to the Einstein College of Medicine to make it tuition-free] said she hoped that removing the burden of tuition would encourage more students to pursue careers as doctors — students who, because of their economic status, might not have dreamed of going to medical school, with its associated high cost. It’s a worthy goal, but like so many problems that plague higher education in the U.S., this one is bigger than philanthropy.” [InsidePhilanthropy]

Complicated Returns: In Haaretz, Negev Brigade commander Col. Ariel Ben-Gigi tells Linda Dayan about the challenges reservists face when they go “from 100 to zero” upon returning home. “More than 300,000 reservists were called up after the October 7 massacre. Over the past few months, many have been released from duty, replaced by other reserve and regular units… Ben-Gigi regularly checks up on his hundreds of soldiers, who are coping with the transition in different ways. ‘There are people who went home and are doing completely fine – it’s as if nothing happened,’ he says… ‘There are families who had this tension, whose children missed them, whose only thought was: Come back, please come back. But when dad does come back, he’s not 100 percent. He gets frustrated easily, he’s stressed out, he can’t calm down. So instead of being able to rely on the fact that dad’s home and everything’s fine now, there’s a major sense of disappointment. There are arguments,’ the reservist commander says. ‘This “happy ending” isn’t always a happy ending. Sometimes it is, but a lot of the time there’s a lot of tension. It takes time to live again.’” [Haaretz]

Around the Web

Meredith Woocher, of the the Covenant Foundation, and Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, of The Jewish Education Projectare joining the advisory board of the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education

A new survey by the Bridgespan Social Impact and Capricorn Investment Group found that 5% of primarily U.S.-based foundations use their assets to make impact investments…

Liora Norwich was appointed the next director of Brandeis University’s Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program

Devorah Halberstam, whose son Ari was killed in a 1994 terror shooting on the Brooklyn Bridge, lamented rising antisemitism in New York City and around the world at a commemoration marking the 30th anniversary of his murder…

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum received a new collection of materials from the European nonprofit Centropa, including 25,000 digitized family photographs and documents and 45,000 pages of interviews in 11 languages…

The Times of Israel spotlights a grassroots effort in the Bay Area, mostly led by Israeli expatriates, who are raising awareness about the hostages held in Gaza and combating antisemitism…

Smol Emuni, literally meaning “faithful left,” a liberal religious group that came into being last year to counter what members saw as a rightward shift among their fellow religious Israelis, held its second gathering last week, which was 50% larger than its first…

David Schafer, managing director of Cleveland’s Maltz Museumwill step down from his position, which he’s held since 2017, later this year…

The industry publication NonprofitPro examines the phenomenon of “donor revolt” and recommends two courses of action to prevent it: open discussions with donors and strengthening donor guidelines…

Houston’s Jewish Herald-Voice profiles Joshua Furman, the associate director of Rice University’s program in Jewish studies and the founder and first curator of the Joan and Stanford Alexander South Texas Jewish Archives, as he leaves his roles for a position at Denver University…

French police are searching for an assailant who attacked a Jewish man as he left a synagogue in Paris on Friday night…

In Zurich, a 15-year-old boy stabbed and seriously injured a Haredi man, Meir Zvi Jung, as he shouted “Death to all Jews!” Jung’s condition stabilized at the hospital…

Dr. Benjamin Harouni, a 28-year-old dentist in El Cajon, Calif., was killed on Thursday by what police have called a “disgruntled former client.” Harouni’s family suspects the gunman may have been driven by antisemitism. Ben Herman, the rabbi of the synagogue where Harouni had his bar mitzvah, said he was “extremely spiritual, wise beyond his years and did more for his bar mitzvah project than anyone else”…

Pic of the Day

Over 50,000 people attend the traditional Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City today, during Chol Hamoed (the intermediary days) of Sukkot.
Courtesy/Rick Siegleman

Fashion icon Iris Apfel, who died on Friday at 102, attends a celebration for her 101st birthday at The Hampton Synagogue at Westhampton Beach, N.Y., that was hosted by Donna Schneier (second from left), her son, Rabbi Marc Schneier, and his wife, Simi Schneier.

“We mourn the passing of our distinguished benefactor who gave of her time and resources for the building of the magnificent Hampton Synagogue Children’s Center in Westhampton Beach,” Rabbi Schneier said in a statement.


Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Ice hockey goaltender for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes who made his debut seven weeks ago, Yaniv Perets

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