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“I think Shalem recognized very quickly that if pro-Israel voices were coming directly from students, there was the potential to have a much greater impact,” Strusberg said. “Shalem helped to foster some very talented young people who maybe otherwise would not have found their voice initially on campus and the broader public.”
A research institute founded in 1994, Shalem began with early funding from conservative American businessman Ronald Lauder. A confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current prime minister, Lauder served as Shalem’s chairman. Yoram Hazony, its founding president, was a researcher and aide to Netanyahu prior to his first stint as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999. The center has also received funding from Sheldon Adelson, another major Netanyahu supporter. It published a Zionist quarterly called Azure, edited in part by Hazony’s brother, David Hazony, who is currently a contributing editor at the Forward. Azure stopped publication in 2011.
In 2004 the Shalem Center initiated what it called the Azure Student Journals Project after a group of summer interns expressed interest in starting their own campus publications. “They saw it as a way to break out of the cheerleading mode of hasbara, which was at that time the dominant mode of Israel engagement on campuses,” said Krieger, whose Yale Israel Journal was a precursor to the Shalem-supported journals.
Shalem acquired a $100,000 grant from one of its funders, American neoconservative businessman Roger Hertog, and set up a summer training institute for future editors-in-chief. The program launched at the tail end of the second intifada, when tensions around Israel were running high on college campuses. The first interns included young activists like Weiss, one of several Columbia students who accused Joseph Massad, a professor in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Civilizations department, of anti-Israel bias. (A committee appointed by Columbia’s president to investigate Massad’s professional conduct found evidence that he was strongly critical of Israel, but no basis for allegations that he penalized or suppressed dissenting views in his classroom.)
“The students who came were seriously crème de la crème,” Strusberg said.
David Hazony, the Azure editor, trained the interns in writing, editing and publishing. The students were introduced to the “who’s who of Israel,” in Strusberg’s words: writer Yossi Klein Halevi, former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, and Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. All served as research fellows at Shalem. At summer’s end, the interns returned to their universities to start their journals.
Over a four-year period, Shalem alumni began publications at Columbia, the University of Toronto, Brandeis University, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and others. The Yale Israel Journal, which was already in existence, served as a model for the Azure Student Journals Project.