I am more than a PR machine

I was recently quoted in an article on the Times of Israel about my summer program Onward Israel. Yes, I admit that my being quoted may be a conflict of interest, but my biggest issue with the article the lack of head-shot. I know they have my picture on file.

But from one comment, posted below, it is apparent that readers found other issues with the article.

Based on one quote from a single participant, the headline hints darkly that students are being “used” for Israeli PR by being encouraged to use the social media skills they pick up in this highly subsidized program. But nobody’s censoring what they post or share with their friends. And the participants *chose* this program, out of many other ways they could come to see and experience Israel. So what exactly are they — or the Times of Israel writer — complaining about?

I don’t normally respond to comments (as I like to pretend like I am the bigger person) but in this case I will make an exception as this “single participant” in the article probably refers to me.

Although bringing up my relationship status was completely unnecessary.

I do agree that the headline is misleading. A more accurate title would have been “Believe it or not, some Jewish teens in Israel are not on Birthright,” or “Hey look it’s an iPad!”

But back to the question from the commenter: what am I actually complaining about?


Surprise! Sometimes my glass is half full (especially when I have just half-emptied it of highly subsidized wine).

I am not complaining, and in that sense the headline of the article is misleading. It should say that I am observing. Which is why I came to Israel in the first place. To observe, notice and legally drink. As the commenter so thoughtfully mentioned, no one forced me to come to Israel. I came with an open mind so that I could learn a little more about the situation in the region.

I also could not  turn down two months of paid housing, food, and the “resume padding” that I am getting on my program all for the low price of $299.

So I’d be stupid to say no to this great opportunity. Even though for the record my resume did not need padding, just a liberal use of the word “fluent”.

But it is because this trip is so heavily subsidized that I question its goals.

Why have people donated so much money to my cause? Sarah McLachlan didn’t even have to sing yet I have the Jewish Agency making it rain Shekels so that I can live in a hotel like a Disney Channel character and pad my resume with something other than “fluent in all languages and computer programming”.

I’m not ungrateful or entitled. I’m curious. Why should the Jewish Agency or individual donors think I’m worth any of this?

They must have another reason for sending me here.

So when I said that I think this program wants me to go home and do PR for Israel I wasn’t complaining, I was making an educated hypothesis based on evidence.

And here is the evidence.

Two weeks ago I was at a dinner hosted by one of the donors for the program (and for many other similar programs). At this dinner one donor made a speech and said that we should all go back to our college campuses after the program and do “PR for Israel.”

Basically just be Pro-Israel.

Before I continue, I should mention that openly supporting the country is  not an outlandish idea. I am already doing PR for my internship, why not just do it for the whole country?

I don’t mean live tweeting from Israel’s unofficial twitter account @IsRealDoh or going around throwing fliers at random people on the street. I mean simply giving people an honest opinion about the country and my experience here.

And my honest opinion is still not fully formed. I can tell you that it will be some permutation of “I love the country but critical of the government” or “OMG Israeli soldiers are soooo hot!!!”

So no. I am not complaining about my fear of being used, bribed or brainwashed. After twenty years of cable television and General Mills’ commercials I have no room in my brain for any propaganda that does not involve a vitamin fortified leprechaun anyways.

But I am not going to take part in this generous program without questioning its motives and my role in it. I am thankful for this opportunity, and I apologize that in this recent article I came across as ungrateful and entitled.

I normally only like for people to see that side of me in person.



About the Author
Nicole Levin grew up in California and now studies government at Harvard University and writes for the Harvard Crimson