In my career in Israel advocacy on campus I have participated in and planned many Israel advocacy seminars. The goal of these seminars is to prepare the participants to become better advocates on behalf of the State of Israel on campus. It is common for these seminars to include a component of how to answer tough questions. The structure is always the same.
Generally in this session there is a veteran Israel advocate on the podium, and she challenges the participants to pose a challenging question in regards to Israel. The veteran advocate always has an eloquent and accurate response. A lesson to the participants is that they themselves can answer any hard question presented to them regardless of who is in front of them. The second lesson is that the heroes of Israel advocacy are the ones that are able to challenge a speaker.
In a way, the session on how to answer hard questions is similar in a way to a presentation by a basketball pro on how to make a three point shot. The professional will probably make most of his three point shots, but we know it takes thousands of practice hours to reach the shot accuracy of the basketball pro. The participants will probably miss hundreds of shots until they will get close to the accuracy level of the basketball pro. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers describes the 10,000-hour rule, according to this rule it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a field. In basketball, it takes hundreds of hours to master the three point shot.
Israel advocacy on campus is no different. Israel advocacy professionals have thousands of practice hours in how to answer hard questions about Israel. Their example, while sometimes inspiring, is not practically useful. It is like teaching students how to make a three pointer by watching a pro ball player.
Given that most anti-Israel speakers have also thousands of hours of Israel bashing under their belts, it is naive to expect that a student will be able to tackle an anti-Israel speaker after listening to one or two lectures of this kind. We are expecting our inexperienced advocates to behave like veterans and compete with pros. It is time to be honest with ourselves. Most students that take part in Israel advocacy seminars will not take the time to become debate experts in the field of Israel advocacy. A small minority of Israel advocates have the will power, the time and the rhetoric capacity to become experts that can tackle the most seasoned and virulent anti-Israel activists.
I assume that motivated college students can devote up to 100 hours to learn and practice the tools of Israel advocacy per academic year. As the director of Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE) my goal is to build Israel advocacy trainings for the majority; students that will give Israel advocacy up to 100 hours a year. Given that the students’ time is a rare commodity, I try to prioritize what pro Israel students at Rutgers should know and practice.
RHCIE’s first priority is to work with students on their Zionist elevator pitch. So they can articulate why they support Israel. The basis for every advocacy is to believe in the cause and be able to communicate the legitimacy of the cause. This is no less true for Israel advocacy, to articulate the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the land of Israel. Next, RHCIE seeks to create opportunities for students to share their Zionist elevator pitch with their peers. Currently, I am working with Lihi Rothschild, Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Rutgers Hillel, to create the 100-hour plan for Israel advocacy.
There will always be a place for the next Alan Dershowitz. But we need to realize that students with the passion and reasoning of Mr. Dershowitz are the minority. We need to create an Israel advocacy training based on the majority of the pro-Israel voices on campus, the 100 hours students. The 100-hour plan can give our students the opportunity to gain the home court advantage. Those students who participate in a realistic plan for creating and sustaining the pro-Israel movement on campus will be the new heroes of Israel advocacy.