Jewish students allow anti-Israel interests to dominate campuses in the United States, Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky told a group of 11th graders visiting from New York on Sunday.
"The majority of Jewish students choose to be silent," he told them. "One of the biggest challenges of the future is how to make sure that the majority of the next generation of Jews in America will not become Jews of silence."
"Write On For Israel: An Advocacy Journalism Program for High School Students", a 10-day trip marking the culmination of the two-year program, focused on combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Sharansky, who is responsible for Diaspora affairs, addressed those topics in speeches at 21 college campuses across the US during the past year, but he had not reached American high school students – until Sunday.
According to Sharansky, it is the silence of the majority of Jews on campus that permits pro-Palestinian propaganda, consisting in part of Middle East Study Centers funded privately by Arab countries, to influence apathetic peers.
"Those Middle East Study Centers usually invite one Palestinian and one extremely leftist Israeli, so that the Palestinian looks like a very rational guy," said Sharansky. "It is absolutely ridiculous. The moderate Israeli voice is not heard there."
The only way to combat the anti-Israel bias, he said, is to speak up.
"I found that when people are not afraid and they know how to debate, when they know the facts and they how to present them, it is usually very easy to cause change."
Change toward more balance on campuses is the goal of the Write On For Israel program.
Sponsored by The Jewish Week and the Avi Chai Foundation, the program aims to educate Jewish high school students about Jewish history and media bias about Israel in order to better equip them to speak up.
"With Jewish college students overwhelmed and under-armed at times in combating an aggressive anti-Israel political assault on college campuses, it is time to start educating their younger brothers and sisters about the facts of the current Middle East conflict," said Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week.
The first year of the program is composed of monthly lectures, each with a different guest journalist, politician, or academic. After the fully subsidized trip to Israel, the students continue to learn for the second year of the program until they graduate from high school and embark on their careers in higher education.
"The true test will be what happens to them when they get to college," said Rosenblatt.
For some of the kids, the challenge that lies ahead has already begun.
"The majority of my school is very liberal, so there is a lot of pro-Palestinian activity," said Jenny Sutton, of Bard Public High School in Manhattan, where she is enrolled in the two-year early college program.
She said the school's Middle Eastern Student Union hangs posters in school hallways attacking Israel for their mistreatment of the Palestinians.
"I think I am the only Zionist Republican in the entire school," said Sutton."I have to taken it upon myself to defend Israel."