Since returning from a 16-day advocacy training trip to Israel last month, I’m still processing all of the information that was given to me and the diverse experiences I had.
From December 25-January 10, I attended the first of two Israel Training Program trips that were organized this winter by Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel campus activism organization working with over 80 universities across North America. I discovered the trip from my fellow student leaders with the Dawgs for Israel group at the University of Georgia (UGA).
This was my second time in Israel, with my first visit coming on a Birthright trip through Hillel. My favorite part of this latest trip was an urban combat simulation, which taught me so much about the IDF’s rules of engagement and what combat is actually like — minus real guns. If it weren’t for Hasbara Fellowships, I would not have had an experience like that.
Another memorable experience on the trip was a presentation by Grisha Yakubovich, the former head of the Civilian Department in the IDF’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit. Yakubovich had a profound impact on my views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel in general. He has great experience with negotiations and working with foreign entities. Not only is that something I’m interested in career-wise, but he made the issues seem more tangible for people to understand.
I’m currently taking international policy graduate courses at UGA. I hope to earn my master’s in international policy along with my BA in international affairs. While I am unsure of exactly what I want to do for a career, the Hasbara Fellowships trip exposed me to careers in foreign policy that I didn’t know existed or which I originally saw as unattainable. I know that the experiences I had will have an incredibly positive effect on my career path.
For now, I can use the knowledge I acquired during the trip to positively influence the environment surrounding Israel on my campus. UGA has been deemed an at-risk campus for BDS resolutions. We have an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, and they have interrupted a few of our Israel-related events. They also hold an “Israeli Apartheid Week” each year.
However, when pro-Israel groups hold an event, they draw positive attendance. For instance, Dawgs for Israel hosted IsraelFest and celebrated Israel’s 70th birthday on the main quad. So many people came out and participated in our activities and learned new things about Israel. The amount of people that attended and actively participated was invigorating. It showed me that it is easy to get bogged down with the negative aspects of tensions relating to Israel, and I tend to forget how much fun and inspiring it is to celebrate Israel.
At the same time, advocating for Israel often means confronting difficult questions and criticisms about the Jewish state. During the recent advocacy training trip, we learned extensively how to answer such questions and claims — a challenge that requires specialized skills and a high degree of confidence, both of which I gained from Hasbara Fellowships. In particular, we learned how to embrace this challenge by using a wide array of tools and platforms such as public speaking, on-camera techniques, social media, coalition-building, and more.
I know that thanks to Hasbara Fellowships, my voice on campus and in other arenas will only grow stronger.