The Jewish Agency its increasing its campus presence by 30%, Chairman Natan Sharansky announced Tuesday night, in order to help combat rising efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
85 Israel Fellows will be sent to 170 university campuses across North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and – for the first time – South Africa and Germany, up from 65 on 120 campuses this past academic year.
The 31% increase in the number of Israel Fellows and the 42% increase in campus coverage represent the program's largest expansion since it was created in 2003.
"Our goal is to thwart those who seek to confuse young Jews and draw them away from Israel," said Sharansky, after meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and seven cabinet ministers in Jerusalem. "Our Israel Fellows are doing an outstanding job of bringing young Jews to experience Israel, encouraging them to become involved in advocacy for Israel, and inspiring them to feel deeply attached to Israel."
Israel Fellows are young Israeli college graduates sent abroad by The Jewish Agency to work as part of local campus Hillel staffs, helping connect Jewish students to their Jewish identities and to Israel and supporting Israel-related activities on campus. The Israel Fellows spend a year or more in their campus postings, after receiving extensive training in Jerusalem.
The Jewish Agency will dispatch a total of 1,600 shlichim (emissaries) over the course of the summer, including some 1,200 camp counselors sent to Jewish summer camps in North America and 400 long-term shlichim sent to Jewish communities around the world in order to strengthen the communities' connections to Israel.
The announcement surfaces months after several damning reports revealed a spike in anti-Semitism on college campuses in the US, with at least part of the influx due to the influence of anti-Israel activity.
54% of Jewish American college students experienced anti-Semitism on campus during the 2013-2014 academic year, according to a study released in February, and students involved in pro-Israel organizations were more likely to be targeted. Several of the "worst offenders" for anti-Semitic activity included top Ivy League universities and large state schools.