Billionaire launches pro-Israel campus task force
David McNew (Getty/AFP/File)
A multimillion-dollar program by billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to combat anti-Israel activism on American college campuses was launched last semester at six schools and is set to expand to 20 more schools in the autumn, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.
The Maccabee Task Force is intended to provide positive education about Israel, but Executive Director David Brog said it's also meant to counter the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Students for Justice in Palestine group.
“It’s the No. 1 nonmilitary threat to Israel and the Jewish people,” Brog told the LA Times, referring to BDS.
Israel supporters have become concerned over increasingly vocal opposition to Israel on campuses. Student governments at nine University of California (UC) undergraduate campuses have voted to support BDS in the past four years, the newspaper noted. A Pew Research Center poll from this year found that 27 percent of millennials sympathize more with Palestinians – up from nine percent a decade ago – while support for Israel fell to 43 percent.
Earlier this month, a coalition from the Black Lives Matter movement released a new platform endorsing BDS and accusing Israel of being an "apartheid state".
The David Horowitz Freedom Center in Los Angeles this year launched a campaign called "Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus" which included hanging up posters on UC campuses listing "Jew haters" at the school – a move condemned by some Jewish student groups.
Horowitz told the LA Times that he plans more posters, speaking engagement, and actions at 17 campuses this fall.
The Macabee Task Force denied any connection to the controversial posters, telling the Guardian that while it had approved a "modest grant" to the Horowitz Freedom Center "to focus on the true nature of pro-BDS organizations" its funding was not used in support of this particular campaign.
"The Maccabee Task Force does not believe that focusing on student activists who conduct themselves civilly is an appropriate or effective way to combat the BDS movement on campus," Maccabee Task Force executive director David Brog said.
Brog said that the task force has spent less than $10 million this year on pilot projects generally aimed at making a "proactive case for Israel" – hosting "peace tents" for dialogue during Israel-related campus events, funding a trip to Israel for students, and expanding pro-Israel activities.
In the wake of mounting complaints that Jewish and Israeli students are uncomfortable with anti-Israel activism on campus, a recent decree by the University of California Board of Regents called Principles Against Intolerance calls for university leaders to fight anti-Semitism via "more speech" rather than shutting down debate.
The task force hopes to create a more nuanced debate, as groups fighting for minority rights in the US increasingly ally themselves to pro-Palestinian groups and accuse Israel of genocide.
“It’s very worrisome, and Jewish students then get shut out of dialogues about social justice,” Lisa Armony, who works for Hillel at UC Irvine, told the LA Times. “We are looking at that situation very carefully to create greater understanding.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that the Macabee Task Force provided funding for the "Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus" poster campaign. This article was amended on August 31 following a statement from the Macabee group clarifying that while it had approved a "modest grant" to the Horowitz Freedom Center, its funds were not used in support of the poster campaign.
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Thank you, Sheldon