This past June, I finished my fourth year of leading Israel advocacy on a college campus, the equivalent of getting a BA in Israel Advocacy, and this is a good time to conclude and share some lessons learned from my experience. The two main lessons are in communications and strategy.
There is a famous quote, “perception is reality.” This is very true for Israel engagement on campus. Action without reporting is ineffectual, meaning effective reporting to the community about the progress of Israel advocacy efforts is as important as successful program implementation. There are many ways to establish the dominant narrative, but the rule of thumb is that information from students and staff about the student experience needs to be uploaded in real time. I led Israel engagement efforts at Rutgers Hillel and UC Irvine Hillel, and in both places I made sure that Hillel established the dominant narrative regarding both Israel and Jewish life on campus.
Effective communications is very similar to getting ready to run 5k in less than 25 minutes, in the sense that it is about continuous activity. Most of us will have to run at least three times a week to run 5k under 25 min. There is no value for one practice run. Communications are not that different. To set the narrative I correspond through social media at least three times a week and wrote a blog post at least once a month. On the other hand, Hillel does not operate in a vacuum, and there is no lack of organizations willing to set the narrative about Israel on campus. For example, the Anti-Israel Movement (AIM) is working very hard to set the narrative on campus, and the AIM already had some success getting Zionist organizations to advertise for them.
The best improvisation is pre-planned. Stakeholders want to know that Hillel is on top of the situation, and a well crafted plan is a great way to rally community support. A strategic plan resembles a flag, in that it unites people. A good plan is about the operations, ensuring that we engage others with positive conversations about the spirit of Israelis. I recently wrote about how Rutgers Hillel prevented the AIM from passing an Anti-Israel Resolution at Rutgers. It is better to be ready with the right message and manpower than to run around searching for the tools needed to promote Israel in a time of crisis. We know when Israel Independence Day is and we know when Hate Week happens. Now all you need is a plan for a strategic, coordinated and systematic approach to Israel advocacy on campus.
During my time at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program I was introduced to the field of community organizing. In community organizing individuals gather to promote common interest. A strong, proud Zionist community will promote the values of Zionism. Therefore successful Israel advocacy is dependent on a vibrant pro-Israel community. The Hillel staff can facilitate formal training with community leaders, but it is up to the student leadership to implement policy that engages their peers with conversations about Israelis.
The biggest difference between Israel advocacy as part of Hillel is that Hillel professionals own the situation on campus for the good and bad. Other organizations might assist with Israel engagement on campus, but Hillel is expected to carry the load. Hillel’s physical presence on campus, its highly professional staff, and intense, creative programming involving all aspects of Jewish life, results in an excellent foundation for the development of an Israel advocacy apparatus. Ultimately a strong, vibrant pro-Israel community under the right mentorship and equipped with the correct tools, particularly strategy and communications, will provide positive results in Israel advocacy on campus.