Somewhere between $20 million and $50 million is reported to have been pledged at the recent Campus Maccabees Summit convened in Las Vegas by billionaire Sheldon Adelson to fight against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses.
The exact size of the pledges is unknown, and precisely what transpired at the two-day meeting is unclear. That’s because the summit was closed to the press, except to Israel Hayom, which is owned by Adelson. In attendance was a carefully selected roster of donors and Jewish organizations, largely from the right and center of the political and religious divide. Some centrist groups chose not to attend, and many pro-Israel groups on the left were not invited.
Still, it is significant that Adelson was joined at the summit by fellow billionaire Haim Saban. Together the pair present a bipartisan front in opposition to economic boycotts of Israel — Adelson is a Republican mega donor and Saban a Democratic one. The pair also appeared together last November at the Israeli-American Council’s Washington conference, where Adelson famously said “who cares” if Israel is not a democracy and Saban said Israel should “bomb the living daylights” out of Iran to prevent it from getting a nuclear bomb. These are clearly men who care deeply about Israel and are not afraid to speak their minds.
The planned campus effort will be led by another well-known Jewish name, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is closely associated with Adelson and with Republican politics, and who has been the focus of much comment since the project was announced. Among the questions being raised: Will Campus Maccabees reach the grassroots of Jewish campus life and deliver support to students that speaks to their reality? Can the effort open itself to the organized Jewish community and dispel concerns that decisions will be made solely by the super rich rather than by campus and communal professionals (and students) on the ground? Will Campus Maccabees be flexible enough to include the community’s center and liberal left, who believe that what fuels part of the BDS movement is the lack of progress toward a negotiated two-state solution and the continuation of settlement-building?
We applaud the sincere commitment that has driven the Campus Maccabees effort and are impressed by the significant sums that are reportedly being committed to it. We will, however, wait to see how the program plays out and how these lingering questions will be answered before we reach a judgment about whether to cheer for Campus Maccabees.