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Israel suspends plan for building database of US Jewish students

FILE - In this Sunday, June 1, 2014 file photo, revelers carry a banner made of Israeli flags as they march up Fifth Avenue during the Celebrate Israel Parade
AP Photo/John Minchillo
The initiative was reportedly to strengthen young American Jews' religious identity and support for Israel

The Israeli government has suspended a controversial plan to build a database identifying Jewish college and university students on campuses across the United States with the aim of bolstering their Jewish identity and strengthening their connection to Israel.

The plan, initiated by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs headed by Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett, was suspended hours after it was exposed by the Haaretz daily on Sunday.

The database of names was to be managed by a company called Mosaic United, which was set up by the Israeli government ministry several years ago in order to strengthen young American Jews' religious identity and support for Israel, Haaretz reported.

Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, said that it was unaware of the initiative until it was approached by the paper for comment.

The organization said in a statement that it "immediately investigated and made clear to Mosaic United our objections to this initiative."

"We believe the initiative in this tender is not in the best interest of engaging American Jewish college students. Based on our objections, Mosaic United has agreed to take down the tender from its website and cancel this initiative. We appreciate Mosaic United’s swift response to our concerns," the statement said.

Mosaic United froze the initiative based on Hillel's objections, explaining that the "written tender published fails to reflect the essence of the intended project and caused undue confusion."

The plan, Haaretz reported, would have involved Mosaic United outsourcing the project to an Israeli company that specializes in data mining and database building.

"The idea is to set up a database of all Jewish students in the United States (some 350,000 students) and to map daily all the Jewish/Israel events taking place on campuses, along with a daily structural mapping of Jewish/Israeli online content from around the web," the original tender said, according to Haaretz.

"The goal is to bring a student not active today in activities connected to Judaism/Israel (roughly 85 percent) to participate in online and local campus activities numerous times and continuously," it said.

Names in the database would have been further divided into subgroups for "micro-targeting purposes", by which individuals would have received tailored materials through social media and other channels that might be of interest or relevant to Jewish students, including information about Jewish or Israel-themed events taking place on their campuses.

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