Students can actually speak up and join the real conversation. They don’t have to participate in Israel’s democracy in a “mock election” learning exercise.
I love the Hasbara Fellowships. I have dedicated my 20 years-so-far career to Israel, Public Relations, and the intersection of the two, so how could I not? I love their mission, and their efforts to collaborate with other organizations.
Yet this is precisely why I am so disappointed by the current “I Vote Israel” campaign. An effort headed by the Hasbara Fellowships, it is a campaign being run by several other organizations as well, including Hillel, Mishelanu, Stand With Us, SSI, AEπ, Jerusalem U and the WZO.
The idea is to mobilize American Jewish college students to identify with, learn about and “participate” in the upcoming Israeli elections. Through information and debates, students are supposed to become educated mock voters and subsequently vote on their campuses in mock elections timed in conjunction with the actual Israeli elections.
The campaign’s tagline is “The upcoming Israeli elections are a perfect opportunity to educate your campus about Israeli democracy and diversity. “ (http://www.hasbarafellowships.org/IVoteIsrael) As Hillels and proud Jewish students on campuses across North America brace themselves for “Apartheid Week”, the idea is to use this program for the third year in a row to highlight just how democratic Israel is.
In the Jerusalem Post, Hasbara Fellowships executive director Elliot Mathias said: “College campuses have become a real hotbed of Apartheid Week and the BDS movement, and we felt the Israel elections are a perfect example of how to educate students” and to counter the “misinformation and lies on campus and show how diverse and democratic Israel is.”
They have even gone one step further with a financial incentive: the campus with the highest number of participants in the mock Israeli elections is eligible for a $500 grant!
So why do I have a problem? Because this isn’t just another year.
This year is very different, and a unique opportunity for engagement with these students in a REAL vote.
American Jews have until April 30th to register and vote for a slate in the 2015 World Zionist Congress elections. The essentially parliamentary body of the World Zionist Organization votes on important prioritization of global Jewish issues, and decides upon the allocation of over millions of Jewish philanthropic dollars within Israel and around the world.
This vote only rolls around every 4-5 years, and this is the first time every single undergraduate on these campuses is eligible to vote in a real election that will have a vital impact on Israel and World Jewish Leadership for the next five years. This means, that they have a very real, concrete opportunity to make a stand, decide the priorities of the Jewish world, and to yes, have a real say on Israel and her future.
The World Zionist Congress was conceived by Theodor Herzl in 1897 and now meets every five years in Jerusalem. The same students that need to learn about Israel’s government don’t know that this body appoints key leaders to influential positions, and controls allocations of over $400 million a year.
It is Diaspora Jewry’s actual democratic voice in Israel; The WZO includes members of Knesset, and one of the clearest ways for them to understand the makeup and opinions of American Jewry is through the slates, and how many seats each is given. This is real, concrete, nothing-mock-about-it democracy.
The organizations that are running know this. They are reaching out aggressively to their constituents, using social media campaigns, articles, videos, and even celebrity endorsements.
This year also marks a real recognition on the part of each slate that reaching out to young Jewish adults is critical – almost every party has highlighted “Youth Delegates”, candidates 18-35 years old, many with high spots on their list.
Yet this is not enough. If I had been asked, I would have told Hasbara Fellowships to take their great annual program and shelve it for a year – or modify it. I would have told them to focus all of their energy on how every Jew in the United States can have a say and a vote on the Jewish world they live in, at home and yes, in Israel. Registration and voting booths could still be set up – but with opportunities to register and vote in real time.
There are parties to understand, and affiliations to learn about, and this is also an opportunity for young Jews across America to decide what matters to them most in terms of Israeli domestic policy, Jewish education around the world, and Diaspora-Israel relations.
They don’t have to participate in a facsimile – as a learning exercise. They can actually speak up and be a join the real conversation.
Mr. Mathias, it isn’t too late. While inspiring and motivating Jews across America, while working with our most critical demographic – college students, while disseminating videos and educating as you already are, use the opportunity to go beyond “mock” elections and help mobilize the next generation of American Jewry to participate in this real, vital democratic election!
To register and vote in the 2015 World Zionist Congress Elections, visit: http://myselfourisrael.com
NB: Mr. Mathias has noted below that Hasbara Fellowships uses the opportunity while on campuses for the IVote campaign to also encourage students to vote in the WZC elections.