Tech2Peace, a grassroots NGO that brings together Israelis and Palestinians for training in tech and for promoting peace and coexistence, was founded in 2017. They hope “participants will influence others in their communities and workplaces to see the conflict in different perspectives, and will work from influential positions in society towards a more peaceful future, possibly including from within the high-tech sector / through Arab-Jewish startups.” From an international public relations perspective (a class I am taking this semester), I would especially like to see them expand that statement to beyond communities and workspaces. Stories shared online can travel much further, especially if there is a plan for spreading them.
This past week Tech2Bridge held its second virtual event hosted by Belfast’s Rev. Dr. Gary Mason, founder of Rethinking Conflict, which uses lessons learned from Northern Ireland’s past to bring Protestants and Catholics together. (Locally, he is also an adjunct professor at Emory University.) In these virtual webinars, Israeli and Palestinians not only learn about the Northern Ireland reconciliation process from Rev. Dr. Mason, but also use breakout rooms to share their own stories. Churches in Ireland reviewed the earlier June event in a piece called Lessons in Reconciliation Webinar, and included participants’ impressions. The more recent webinar had almost 50 participants and followed the same format.
The story in Times of Israel about the October 12 webinar received prominent coverage on the Times of Israel’s website (true as of this writing), but the story itself garnered scant notice anywhere else. Googling the words Tech2Peace and Ireland turned up nothing under News and some coverage of the June event in Google’s regular search engine. This seemed, from a public relations perspective a lost opportunity to not only draw attention to both groups’ good work, but also to this interesting intersection of witnesses to conflict.
What caught my eye in the Times of Israel story was the screenshot (above) of participants in the Zoom call. Right smack in the center was Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, whom I recognized having heard him, along with Palestinian Shadi Abu Awad, speak a year ago here in Atlanta (I wrote all about it in a blog at the time – it was very impactful). His organization, Roots (Shoreshim in Hebrew and Judur in Arabic) is a grassroots NGO that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who live in the West Bank. What makes Roots exceptional is that most of these West Bank Israelis are religious settlers, typically portrayed by the press as extreme right wing).
I then searched Tech2Peace and Roots and found that Roots will next be hosting a webinar next month, open to all, featuring one of Tech2Peace’s founders and two of its alumni, so that Tech2Peace can share about their own work.
The reason that I saw representatives of Roots in Atlanta was because its representatives were part of a North American tour, speaking in synagogues and other venues across the country. Their purpose was to inform people about their efforts at bridge building between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank, but also to grow their list of Friends and to solicit donations. It was a planned and effective public relations campaign. Their Friends of Roots website is developed in this same vein. Tech2Bridge’s site, n the other hand, does not appear to be geared towards raising awareness, although the award-winning group does count Microsoft among its partners and offers ways for visitors to “be a part of the change.”
While the Tech2Peace/Rethinking Conflict event was intended only for its members and so absence of advertising for it makes sense, the very uniqueness of this kind of event, bringing Irish Protestants and Catholics together with Jewish and Palestinians participants, carries a degree of newsworthiness. Perhaps more relevantly from an international public relations’ perspective, it has the potential to speak to multiple publics in a way that a story solely about bridgebuilding in one country or the other wouldn’t. For this reason, I think this is too good a story and hope Tech2Bridge takes the opportunity to employ public relations’ techniques to help spread the news about this series of webinars and the impact they have on participants.