NJ State Deepens Academic Ties with Israel
By Joshua Warhit
For more than a decade, Israel has faced its longest ongoing battle to date, as anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses across the United States continues to remain prevalent, provoking academic boycotts as recently as this past month at the University of Illinois. As institutions continue to disregard the rise of BDS on campus, the State of New Jersey has committed to building stronger ties with Israel, both economically and academically. Last week, eleven professors from three universities in New Jersey - Rutgers University, Rowan University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) - received grants to conduct research in Israel this coming summer as part of Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF) Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel. Now in its 12th year, the Faculty Fellowship Program connects scholars from diverse backgrounds with their Israeli counterparts to initiate exchanges and develop solutions through collaborative research, while providing a holistic view of Israeli society.
Over 350 professors from 120 universities and colleges in the United States have participated in past cohorts, creating partnerships with dozens of academic institutions across Israel. In the next cohort heading to Israel, 40% of professors will be from New Jersey – an incredible result according to JNF National Board Member Dr. Robert Benedon. A proud resident of New Jersey, Dr. Benedon is passionate about both the economic success of his home state and building the Jewish homeland. The Cherry Hill native connected Andrew Gross, Executive Director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission (NJIC), to JNF, and immediately Gross and JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson understood the importance in investing in deeper academic collaboration. The result has been game-changing as New Jersey’s economic mission as taken the lead in driving greater academic engagement.
“I’m delighted to be here in Israel with the New Jersey-Israel Commission as we look to broaden and deepen academic engagement between faculty members from New Jersey and Israel,” said Dr. Benedon. “This program enables leading university faculty members to share their knowledge and experiences with each other while appreciating how JNF is supporting the land and people of Israel.”
The announcement of the fellowship’s newest cohort embodies an already warm relationship between the Garden State and the world’s only Jewish state. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has visited Israel in the past, and his close relationship with the Jewish community has shown. Just last week, he called out a Facebook page for promoting anti-Semitic sentiment, after which the social media platform removed the page.
Last month, grant recipients were announced in Tel Aviv with representatives from New Jersey on hand. Alongside the NJIC and JNF stood Jose Lozano, President and CEO of Choose NJ, a nonprofit organization that promotes local business development, job creation and capital investment by bringing companies to New Jersey.
“The JNF Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel is a vital academic exchange for New Jersey,” said Lozano. “This collaboration between our universities and Israel allows New Jersey to continue to enhance our talented, well-educated workforce, making our state an even more attractive destination for investment.”
The Faculty Fellowship Program demonstrates the importance of institutionalized partnership and cooperative research. The latest Jersey-strong cohort will help the state market itself abroad, and can bring great ideas back to the United States.
Israel has become known as a hotbed for innovation, one that is devoted to solving the most serious challenges of the twenty-first century. Even with neighboring countries whose relationships with Israel are tricky at best, the country’s ingenuity has proven instrumental. Israel recycles 87% of its waste water, and is now a net exporter of drinking water in a drought-ridden Middle East. Just as new ideas and technologies are forging new economic and political cooperation, so too can joint academic research bring New Jersey and Israel even closer.
The cohort will also help JNF further its mission of building a bright future for the State of Israel. Fellowship participants arrive with only basic knowledge of the country, so they take time to visit Israel’s borders, meet its minority communities, and familiarize themselves with research centers throughout the country.
By giving academics the opportunity to experience Israel first-hand, the program empowers campus leaders to return to the US with more nuanced perspectives. This is especially important in the face of delegitimizing campaigns against Israel, which have plagued American campuses in recent years. As part of its campaign for Zionist education, Jewish National Fund is committed to showing the world that Israel is a vibrant country continuously building itself anew. The Faculty Fellowship is one of the linchpins making that happen.
Steven Weinstein, Executive Vice President for Policy and External Relationships at Rowan University, made it clear that New Jersey stands to benefit going forward: “This is the beginning of a long relationship with JNF.”