The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer, commenting on the Zionist Movement’s triumph in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, said: “…it is still true that their daring and reckless readiness for self-sacrifice sprang not from despair but from their fervent preoccupation with the revival of an ancient land and an ancient people. They, indeed, fought and died for cities yet to be built and gardens yet to be planted.”
After four years of Israel advocacy on campus and countless encounters with pro-Israel students, I am proud to say that the vast majority of pro-Israel student activists reflect Hoffer’s model of hope. These devoted Zionist students care about Israelis and the State of Israel. They want to see a prosperous, democratic Israel, and they come to Israel advocacy out of love. We at The Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE) provide a wide, welcoming tent for Israel activism on campus and for any student who agrees that a Jewish State in the Land of Israel is a correct and moral idea.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that Jewish self determination in the Land of Israel is a moral and correct idea. On some college campuses across North America, there is an annual week devoted to promulgating hatred toward the Jewish State. The organizers call it “Israel Apartheid Week,” but a more accurate title would be “Hate Week.” If there is any hope in the failed attempt of anti-Israel organizers at Rutgers it is perhaps to devote their time and energy to positive conversations rather than attempts to destroy another people’s dream. It doesn’t “sell” at Rutgers University.
We at RHCIE decided that engaging in a war of words and counter claims did not serve any positive long term goals. Rather, we chose to personally engage the Rutgers community with Israelis by calling on the Rutgers community to Support, Invest, and Connect (S.I.C) with Israelis and Israeli companies. Understanding that most college students resonate well with hopeful, positive agendas such as eradicating poverty and hunger, promoting a cure for cancer and other diseases, and seeking LGBT rights, we share positive messages about the spirit of Israelis.
To promote the SIC goals and efforts on the Rutgers campus, RHCIE introduced a petition asking students to affix their names to the positive goals of the effort. More than 830 students have added their signatures to date. A petition is a great conversation starter. A student requesting a peer to sign has an easy transition to discussing the goals and mission of SIC.
RHCIE buttressed the effort further through social media channels using Facebook and Twitter. Social media provides a great tool to promote the spirit of Israelis. Given that knowledge, RHCIE coordinated a campaign promoting smart messages in an organic way. Throughout hate week students posted photos of themselves every couple of hours, making sure that Facebook shared our message.
Using Facebook ads we were able to target the 18 to 22 year-old cohort who live near Rutgers University and are affiliated with Rutgers. For the price of a family dinner at a restaurant, we exposed approximately 26,000 people to our messages.
Eventually, these positive efforts by Rutgers students clearly established the dominant narrative regarding both Israel and Jewish life on campus, building on Hoffer’s Message of Hope theory.