When a good friend of mine first stepped foot in Israel, during a summer birthright trip, the first thing he noticed was that when people refer to the country as a desert, they actually really mean it. After dealing with the scorching heat on his walk between the airport and the tour bus, his guide welcomed him to the trip, and went on to start explaining things about the land that he was standing on – its ancient history, endless struggle, and its Jewish Identity.
However, before the bus even made it to its first stop, the tour guide made sure to give a brief introduction about the people who live on this land – also known as Israelis (pronounced Is·rae·lis). The guide essentially went on to describe the people as nice, yet loud and not afraid to speak their mind.
This story is neither special nor unique to my friend. When I went on organized trips to Israel with “Taglit-Birthright” and “Hasbarah Fellowships” our guides made sure to give the same description. The reason why it seems that every description of an Israeli involves some sort of reference to their loud and opinionated ways is because, well, Israelis are extraordinarily loud and opinionated. It is incredibly hard to make it through a trip in Israel without having Israelis tell you their stories – thus making sure that you have your own.
Now, this phenomenon is not only fascinating, but provides a very interesting insight to some of the shortcomings of Israeli advocacy on American college campuses. College campuses are made up of people with thousands of different backgrounds, and countless of different stories- and the political atmosphere is generally related to whatever stories are heard more.
For example, before Minnesota (the state where I attend school) legalized same-sex marriage this past summer, my college campus was filled with student advocates for gay marriage. They were successful at sending their message not because they spread academic facts about the cause – everyone knew what gay marriage was anyways- but because they spread stories of the “suffering and injustice” that same sex couples have to deal with on a daily basis. They showed pictures of their love, shared stories from their childhood, and read testimonies about their hopeful futures- that is what resonated.
Therefore, considering that Israeli culture is known for being incredibly loud and outspoken, one would think that college campuses would be dominated by their opinions. Unfortunately, the latter is not true. Even though Israel has the democracy, the freedoms, the pride, the social liberalism, the technological innovation, and the attractive girls (and guys) that college students love – its advocates are often forgetting to share stories showing how amazing the place is, and how only a fool would not be proud of supporting it! Meanwhile, its enemies are able to sway crowds with misleading pictures and largely fabricated stories.
In other words, what has been happening on college campuses is that the pro-Israel communities are constantly being put on the defensive and are generally not doing proper “hasbara” (explaining). Instead of explaining how incredible Israeli culture is, how beautifully built the land is, and how moral the country has been while its neighbors have been too busy stoning and digging up mass graves for the citizens they massacred (ie Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt) – they are often too busy answering to completely bogus claims of apartheid and excessive force. By responding to these claims instead of explaining, and showing, Israel’s beauty through personal stories, and the stories of our families and friends, we are giving these claims legitimacy and constantly putting ourselves on the defensive. We need to share our own stories that will properly explain the undeniable facts of this gorgeous and historic land.
Itzik Yarkoni, an Israeli native and the founder of The Brand of Milk and Honey (BOMAH), argues just that! He spent years helping Israeli advocates fight their battle in some of the most anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campuses in the world and has said that “the reason why your Israel story can be powerful is because no one can argue with it! No one can say that you are a mossad agent spreading lies because it’s YOUR story that shows YOUR pride and YOUR love for the state”. The more the BOMAH mentality will proliferate throughout the pro-Israel community, the sooner we will see a change in the opinions of the mass amounts of “story listeners”, also known as “people”, throughout the world. Again, it should be about our stories: that outline the truth about our country and our land.
Thus, what the Israeli advocacy community needs is to simply share their personal stories that outline facts about the wonderful country they love.
Israel has the facts, now all it needs is for its citizens and its supporters to share their Israel story on with the world!
Authored by Ron Feingold (firstname.lastname@example.org)