At UC Irvine, for Jewish students, spring quarter is shaped by two events: anti-Israel week which we call “Hate Week,” and iFest, a week long celebration of Israel. My freshman year, I remember sitting at a booth during iFest, watching Artists 4 Israel paint a mural on campus. The mural turned out great, the only problem was, students were not engaged, and the event went unnoticed. Fast forward one week, during “Hate Week,” the anti-Israel wall, a structure slandering and delegitimizing Israel’s existence was constantly surrounded by students. Their event was popular, it was effective, their lies and distortions were going unchallenged. This was the moment I realized the strategy to defend Israel on my campus needed to be changed.
Currently, I am the president of Anteaters for Israel, the Zionist club at UCI. I am a CAMERA and Hasbara Fellow. I have seen what tactics work, what tactics prove less effective. One big difference I noticed between defenders and delegitimizes of Israel was the level of passion our opponents brought. iFest was the biggest event of the year for the Jewish students, but the excitement wasn’t there. On the other hand, members of the Muslim Student Union, the sponsor of most anti-Israel activity on campus ended their week with a sense of accomplishment.
How do we get Jewish students inspired? How do we curb the problem of empathy on campus? How do we bring Israel to our campus successfully? One way I noticed is very effective is the power of personal experiences. There is no excuse for Jewish students not to visit Israel. Whether it is Taglit Birthright, advocacy trip, or something entirely different, there are so many ways for students to travel to Israel, become active in Jewish life and build their Jewish identity. This past summer, I came to Israel to learn new and different ways to engage students to our homeland by working for the company BOMAH, the Brand of Milk and Honey, a company focusing on branding and positive messaging through social media.
Living in Jerusalem, I was living the 2000 year dream of my ancestors to return to our historic homeland. My summer housing was a walk down the road from the Knesset, from the Kotel, from Shuk Mahane Yehuda, and this opportunity is available to many of my colleagues. Working for BOMAH, I was learning about Israel advocacy through the lens of storytelling and utilizing social media, learning what strategies have proved effective on some campuses, and less effective on others.
BOMAH stresses a more effective brand to Israel. Israel is our story and our identity. This means we need to brand Israel in a more personal perspective to engaging our colleges to be as inspired as we are. For example, ask yourself the simple question “when and how is Israel in the news on my campus?” At UC Irvine, Israel is almost always associated with apartheid, divestment, violence, and many other negative descriptions. Unfortunately, Israel has developed this image because we, the pro-Israel community, have branded it so.
In many cases, we highlight the points of conflict, the negative stories making the news, and we make Israel some political conflict on the other side of the globe. This is not the true Israel and the brand must change. Israel is our homeland, we need to take back the conversation, and the best way to do this is through sharing our personal experiences. Social media has created the largest audience the world has ever seen, all we as advocates need to do is make our stories available. Had a great Birthright experience? Instagram your experiences. An inspirational Shabbat at the Kotel? Write a blog. Studying abroad or doing a gap year? Make a Tumblr so your friends can track your growth. Anteaters for Israel, the Israel club at UCI, has changed our social media branding to reflect the BOMAH strategy, and three months later, our results are exponentially better with our more personal approach.
This week is the holiday of Chanukah. Chanukah is a huge part of the Jewish identity, with almost universal participation by Jews celebrate Chanukah in one way or the other. Make Chanukah the first step in changing the image of Israel: on the first night of Chanukah, take a picture of your Chanukia (menorah) and post it on Facebook with a two sentence caption about how Israel affected your Judaism or your life. You will not know exactly how many people you reach with that status, but are giving the biggest audience the world has ever seen a chance to hear what matters to you.