Working in the field of Israel advocacy on campus I had a question—if the goal of Israel advocacy is to create a public opinion favorable of Israel, in what moment does a student shift their opinion from being anti or neutral to being pro-Israel?
I believe that the foundation for advocacy, any advocacy, is to believe in the cause. Successful Israel advocates know why they support Zionism. Naturally, I find Marshall Ganz public narrative model as a useful tool to lead students to action on the Rutgers campus. The model is based on the overlap between the individual’s values and the group’s values as a catalyst for action. Too often in Israel advocacy on campus there is a jump straight into action, leaving students to find where their values overlap with the group. Instead of creating the foundation for Ganz’s model, frequently students are presented with the idea that transmitting vast knowledge of facts in regards to Israel is the key to expanding the pro-Israel network. But people choose the facts that serve them. Therefore, students with a positive or negative opinion of Israelis will reject facts that don’t match with their opinion. Students can better engage their peers with Israel after they articulate for themselves why they support Israel and why Zionism is moral and right. Then action should follow.
I recently encountered presentations about Israel engagement by the David Project and Donniel Hartman about values based advocacy. Both got to the conclusion that meaningful conversations are the key to shift opinions. Because of my experience in Israel advocacy I agree that meaningful conversations are the key for successful Israel advocacy on campus. If the moment we shift opinions is within a meaningful conversation, what is then the role of professionals in the field of Israel advocacy on campus? As I see it, first we need to help students to better articulate for themselves why they support Israel, finding their inner Zionist. This is necessary to apply Ganz’s model. Once the students will crystallize for themselves why they support Israel they will be able to better engage others with their passion for Zionism. Pro-Israel students will be able to better influence their peers by talking about why they care about Israelis, appealing to their emotions and values.
After we established that meaningful conversations are the key the next step is to create opportunities for those meaningful conversations to happen. For example, the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE) created the Rutgers Israel Fellows (RIF) program to encourage Rutgers students to engage their peers in meaningful conversations about Israel. The RIF program’s goal is to reinforce the moment of change in Israel advocacy. As compensation for their time, RIF will be provided with scholarships to attend Israel-related programs based on their contribution to the development of the pro-Israel network on campus. Again, the support of travel to Israel reinforces the students’ emotional relationships with the Israeli people and the Jewish state.
There are many methods to promote Israel on campus that are dependent on external resources or expertise, while to implement Ganz’s model is based on local resources, using students that are passionate about Israel. We at Rutgers Hillel are driven by a core belief that a positive connection to Israel is essential for a strong, healthy Jewish identity. To own your Zionist identity is a step in the right direction.