Humans are motivated by stories: family stories, leadership stories, national stories. The Jewish holiday of Passover is not only a story of leaving Egypt, but of building a new nation. It is our story that has motivated the Jewish people for thousands of years. Now there is a new story that motivates the Jewish people: the story of Israel.
Let’s start with the good news: there is no lack of resources for Israel advocates on campus to tell the story of Israel. The vast majority of active Jewish students have traveled to Israel at least once, and they can visit the country again through various Israel advocacy organization. Students can receive grants to promote Israel on campus, and over 50 American universities have Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to work with students and help them use these resources effectively. This is a significant change from the year 2000, when only a small minority of students had the funds to see Israel with their own eyes.
The bad news? Well, you just need to log onto Facebook to see it: even with all the resources listed above to promote Israel on campus, all we hear about is the ominous reality of an ever-growing anti-Israel movement. Their engagement with anti-Israel posts, their social media campaigns, and their often hateful and dishonest arguments shift the focus away from sharing Israel’s true story, one of great diversity, unparalleled history, incredible achievements, and the success of the Jewish people.
It’s time to take a break and reevaluate the situation. We need a fresh approach to Israel’s story on campus. We need to share our stories, be proactive, and not wait to be motivated only by attacks on Israel.
A few weeks ago, the Minnesota Student Association passed a statement of support urging the school to invest more in Israel on account of its vast diversity, its record on human rights, and its status as a technological haven. The statement included acknowledgments that Israel has “the highest ratings in human rights and democracy in the region” and that “Israel is a global leader in science and technology research” as well as “in agricultural development and sustainability practices.”
Unlike previous efforts that focused on defending against anti-Israel messages, the Zionist community of Minnesota successfully oriented the debate around positive, truthful, pro-Israel messages. The Israel story in Minnesota was different. Even as pro-Israel students in Minnesota overcame anti-Israel sentiment on campus, our success stories were ignored. We even did not share them, and well-intentioned supporters of Israel chose to share anti-Israel stories on Facebook.
Part of supporting Israel means understanding that Israel advocates are not, and should not be, the PR agents of the anti-Israel lobby. When pro-Israel students mention anti-Israel campaigns on social media, they unintentionally spread those campaigns to people who otherwise may not have heard of them or given them much thought. Time and time again, well-meaning pro-Israel advocates share stories and narratives created by the anti-Israel lobby in their efforts to prove those narratives false, accidentally magnifying the reach of the anti-Israel lobby well beyond its natural influence.
The next step to promoting Israel is to create and spread your personal narrative, your own statement of “why.” Why do you care about Israel, and what values does Israel share with you? We suggest that Israel advocates use the available resources to assist young Jews in the Diaspora connect with the Israel of 2014, giving them their own stories of the modern nation of Israel to spread. Instead of focusing on anti-Israel sentiments on campus, we will help young people engage with Israel, and these students will find ways to be part of Israel story themselves.
To summarize: first, do not repeat messages you’ve heard, but create your own story. Second, share and follow success stories. And finally, understand why you support Israel.That is the path to the next level of Israel advocacy, and the one that the new generation must take.
This Passover, we must recognize that we are all part of the Jewish story, and we must work to share that story productively.
Both authors have served as Jewish Agency Israel Fellows at the University of California, Irvine, and have since moved on to other positions in the fields of Jewish education and Israel advocacy. Itzik Yarkoni founded BOMAH: The Brand Of Milk and Honey, a PR firm that focuses on social media and storytelling. He is now touring US campuses with the support of Hasbara Fellowships and the School of Communication of Bar Ilan University. Tzvi Raviv left the nonprofit sector after working for Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement and Rethink Israel.