An Israeli government initiative to establish a database of all Jewish university students and campus activities in the U.S. for purposes of strengthening Jewish identity and connection with Israel has been withdrawn after the project was reported on by Haaretz on Monday.
The plan was formulated by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, to be run by a company set up by the ministry called Mosaic United.
However, when Hillel International, which has offices on campuses around the country, and is in a major partnership with the Israeli government, found out about the idea, opposition was immediate and unequivocal. Hillel said it only learned of the database project when Haaretz called to query them.
Hillel 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,” read the statement.
In a post on its website, Mosaic United said the project was frozen because the “written tender published fails to reflect the essence of the intended project and caused undue confusion.”
According to the tender, quoted by Haaretz, “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,” Haaretz quoted the original tender as stating.
Reaction to the idea among Jewish student organizations outside Hillel was likewise negative.
“It smacks of something KGB-like,” said Yosef Tarshish, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students – which represents Jewish students in 35 countries.
“Broadly speaking, if they’re trying to engage unaffiliated Jewish students, it doesn’t seem that putting their names on an Israeli government list is going to achieve anything positive,” he said.
There were differing versions of what happened. According to Haaretz, the Israeli ministry backed off when Hillel International, which partners in a $66-million, Israeli government-sponsored initiative to strengthen Jewish religious identity on U.S. campuses, threatened to quit the partnership.
As Alon Friedman, the head of Hillel’s branch in Israel characterized the conversation, “Let’s just say we explained to them in no uncertain terms why this project could not come to fruition and, to our delight, they understood and backed off.”
However, sources close to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry said “there was never any threat,” adding, “We have a wonderful partnership with all three of our providers,” which include Chabad and Olami.