The Israeli government is working to set up a database of all Jewish students at universities and colleges in the United States so that it can target them more effectively in its outreach efforts.
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The project will be run through Mosaic United, a company set up by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs several years ago with the declared mission of strengthening the religious identity and connection to Israel of young Jews abroad. Mosaic United intends to outsource the project to an Israeli company that specializes in databases and data mining. It recently published a tender inviting bids.
“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," the tender for the project reads.
"The goal is to bring a student not active today in activities connected to Judaism/Israel (roughly 85 percent) to participate in online and local campus activities numerous times and continuously."
Mosaic United replied to Haaretz's request for comment with a statement that reads: "The written tender published fails to reflect the essence of the intended project and caused undue confusion. Therefore, Mosaic United is putting the tender on hold, and any further discussion will be based on teh directive of the Steering Committee."
Members of Mosaic United’s advisory board, however, have been kept in the dark about the initiative, which is almost certain to draw criticism from liberal Jews in the U.S.
Rabbi Avraham Infeld, the former president of Hillel International and a prominent Jewish educator, told Haaretz that he intended to resign from the advisory board over the decision.
“I’m in total shock,” he said. “For some time now, I’ve been contemplating resigning because although I’m a member of the advisory board, nobody there has ever asked for my advice. I was asked to delay my resignation, but now that I have become aware of this new initiative, which no one ever consulted me about and was never discussed in any of our meetings, I can no longer see any reason to delay it.”
According to the tender published by Mosaic United, there are currently 350,000 Jewish students on campuses around the United States, 85 percent of whom have little or no connection to Judaism and Israel. These unaffiliated students will be the target audience of the project.
The job of the company that wins the contract will not only be to create a database of names, but also to divide up the Jewish students into subgroups for micro-targeting purposes.
According to the tender, the company will be assigned with gathering material, both online and offline, that might be of interest or relevant to Jewish students – such as articles, photos and video clips, as well as information about Jewish or Israel-themed events taking place on their campuses. Each subgroup of students will receive a package of material, via social media and other channels, tailored to its specific needs, which will be determined in consultation with Mosaic United.
The payment that the company will ultimately receive will be calculated largely on the basis of the results – that is to say, the increase in the number of Jewish students attending Jewish and Israel-related events on campus and the number of students engaged online with material it distributes.
Just over a year ago, Mosaic United partnered with three Jewish organizations in a $66 million initiative aimed as strengthening Jewish identity on U.S. college campuses: Chabad, Olami and Hillel International. Unlike Chabad and Olami, Hillel – the largest Jewish campus organization in the world – is not affiliated with any particular stream of Judaism. The company came under fire for teaming up with mainly Orthodox organizations when most Jewish students on U.S. college campuses are non-observant. At the time, Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister, resigned in protest from the advisory board of Mosaic United.
The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is headed by Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Orthodox, settler-aligned Habayit Hayehudi party. Bennett also serves as minister of education and has been criticized for using the power of his office to promote Orthodox Judaism over other streams.
Mosaic United CEO Amy Holtz stepped down from her position in March, after just a brief period on the job, without providing any explanation. Holtz had previously served as president of Jerusalem U, an organization involved in Jewish outreach and Israel advocacy. Since her resignation, Mosaic United – which the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs crowns its “flagship project” – has been operating without an organizational leader.