BY SHIRI HADAR, YNET—
The wave of anti-Israeli criticism sweeping across many countries, including in North America, has prompted the Jewish Agency to significantly increase the number of Shlichim (emissaries) abroad.
These emissaries, who engage in advocacy for the State of Israel, have been a central part of the Jewish Agency’s vision during the past two and a half years.
“Several years ago I visited abroad and spoke to young Jews,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky recalled. “I heard them say things like: ‘For me, a young Jewish liberal, it would have been better if Israel didn’t exist.’ That’s when I understood that what they’re missing is pride in Israel.”
Sharansky decided to act on his hunch, and nowadays some 400 Jewish Agency emissaries are spread across the globe, out of which some 250 are stationed in North America.
Until recently, the shlichim fulfilled a more educational role in the Jewish communities to which they were sent, however events in the past few years, including the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza blockade and the flotilla raid, compelled the agency to change direction.
‘Many anti-Israeli expressions’
Sharona Kramer, 26, an emissary to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says she has lately encountered many anti-Israeli expressions, including a heated confrontation with a woman who had participated in the flotilla and came to the campus in order to raise funds for the next sail.
“Her lecture mostly focused on describing IDF soldiers as blood-thirsty people who abuse Palestinians,” said Kramer. “She took half-truths and tried to put them together into a complete picture. Her descriptions made my stomach turn. She wasn’t speaking the truth,” Kramer added.
“I confronted her during the lecture. People were surprised by my very presence in the hall. A Jewish student approached me after the lecture and thanked me for showing the other side. He said he usually feels isolated in these events and finally there was another voice. That made me very happy.”
A Jewish Agency official noted that the political affiliation of the emissaries is irrelevant in this case: “We don’t care whether they vote Likud or Meretz. What’s important is that they love Israel and fight against the movement that denies the Jewish people’s right to exist and its right for its own country.”
The Agency’s goal, the official noted, is to increase the number of emissaries over the next few years, so that “we have at least one emissary in each of the 100 campuses in North America, where there is a Jewish population.
“The University of California at Berkeley, for example, is a hornet’s nest in terms of its de-legitimization activity against Israel. But our emissaries take part in debates and present our side. They provide the local population, which may not know a lot about the subject, with the other side of the story.”