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July 2, 2015 2:05 pm

Lower the Age for Birthright Israel to Build a Pro-Israel Army on Campus

avatar by Robert I. Lappin

A Taglit-Birthright group. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Taglit-Birthright group. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Sheldon Adelson’s goal to “put more boots on the ground” to fight BDS on college campuses is right on, and his recommendation to form an army of college students, dubbed “Campus Maccabees,” is essential.  However, the only way to rapidly recruit and train an army of Campus Maccabees is for Birthright Israel to lower its age of eligibility to 16, thereby attracting teens, en masse, to go to Israel.

Just as an army needs boot camp to prepare for active duty, so too will Adelson’s Campus Maccabees. Providing teens with an Israel experience and Israel advocacy training before they go to college is essential for Campus Maccabees to be prepared to fight BDS on campus.

Fighting BDS on campus is of little interest to Jewish students who have not had an Israel experience. Thus, Birthright Israel’s role is critical in the anti-BDS fight. When Birthright Israel lowers its age of eligibility to 16, Adelson’s Campus Maccabees idea will flourish. Tens of thousands of Jewish boots on the ground will arrive on college campuses prepared, equipped, and willing to fight BDS.

The plan is simple to implement. Birthright Israel can serve as the funding source for Jewish communities to organize 10-12 day teen trips to Israel, and for vouchers for the equivalent of the 10-12 day trip for longer Israel experiences run by Jewish youth groups, camps, synagogues, and schools. This will make longer trips more affordable. When tens of thousands of pre-college age teens return from Israel every year, Jewish communities can provide Israel advocacy training, using any of the high-quality curricula produced by Jerusalem U, Stand With Us, CAMERA, Honest Reporting, The David Project, and others – as we are currently doing with great success.

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Training pre-college age students to fight BDS is an effective strategy because waiting until students arrive on campus to recruit and train them is too late. Recent social scientific studies conducted by Professor Steven M. Cohen prove the effectiveness of the teen Israel experience. My community is proof that the teen trip to Israel followed by Israel advocacy training is working.

The funding infrastructure is in place, using Birthright Israel, to attract teens en masse to go to Israel. High-quality Israel advocacy programs for high school students are ready to go. All that is needed is for Sheldon Adelson and other funders, who attended the Campus Maccabees Summit, to see what is readily available and to persuade Birthright Israel to lower the age of eligibility to 16.

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