[Freemanlist2] JEREMY GIMPEL - Israel advocacy or Zionist education?

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Mon Jul 1 07:27:43 CDT 2013

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Israel advocacy or Zionist education?                    
JPost.com - 06/27/2013 14:43   By JEREMY GIMPEL
What is the difference between being pro-Israel and a Zionist?
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem  Growing up in Israel in the 1950s, my father recalls what Israelis called “the  black road” in Tel Aviv, once the only asphalt paved road in Israel. It’s hard  to believe, but just a handful of decades ago when one traveled to the post  office in our country, it was on dirt roads.

Fast-forward to the present  and Israel has attracted the highest venture capital investment per capita in  the world, 30 times more than Europe. From dirt road beginnings, Israel has more  NASDAQ-listed companies than any country outside the US and China – more than  all of Europe, India, and Japan combined. Impressive, no? On the other hand, in  a recent BBC survey measuring public opinion, Israel placed in the company of  North Korea, ahead of only Iran and Pakistan. How could a country accomplish so  much yet fail so miserably in its public relations? Recently, Deputy Foreign  Minister Ze’ev Elkin complained publicly that the ministry’s budget for public  relations was only NIS 9 million, while the Palestinian Authority’s budget for  public relations was $200 million. He compared Israel’s PR war to David and  Goliath.

This is clearly a part of the problem.

However, even if  Israel’s leadership were to sober up, recognize their failure and invest tens of  millions of dollars in PR, I fear it wouldn’t bridge the gap. The root of the  failure lies in us, the Jewish people, and our fundamental approach. When  training student ambassadors or addressing the world, we explain Israel’s case  as advocates and not as Zionists – and there is a world of  difference.

Allow me to explain. Hasbara (public diplomacy), and  “advocacy” are the words usually used to describe Israel’s PR  efforts.

Encrypted in those words lies the answers to Israel’s PR  conundrum.

Hasbara in Hebrew suggests an effort “to explain” (lehasbir).  From the outset, the goal of hasbara is to explain, defend and excuse Israel for  its faults. It’s a defensive, apologetic approach with no positive message or  consistent strategy. Instead, our PR efforts are relegated to crisis management  and shoot-from-the-hip responses to current events.

“Israel Advocacy”  adds another problematic term and faulty approach to the mix. There are hundreds  of courses in schools, yeshivas, seminaries and college campuses around the  world teaching Israel advocacy. Here too, developing an advocate, literally like  a lawyer, aims at teaching students effective talking points giving them  diplomatic ammunition to handle anti-Israel activists or teachers on campus.  Israel advocacy is important and every lover of Israel needs to know how to  defend our rights, but when trying to win public opinion, exercising our  Talmudic skills of arguing may not be the best approach.

Last weekend I  hosted a four-day retreat for Jewish college students, and one of the  participants shared the most significant challenge she has encountered on  campus.

She was well-trained in Israel advocacy but when challenged to  defend Israel’s stance on human rights, her noting the free gay nightlife in Tel  Aviv or Israel’s environmental advancements did not address the core issues of  the conflict.

She recognized that, with people suffering, no number of  Israeli innovations justify the pain some live with, and the rehearsed talking  points felt shallow.

Although she may have walked away with the upper  hand in some arguments on campus, she also walked away unsure about her true  feelings about Israel. And here, we failed.

We cannot focus exclusively  on winning arguments. We need to win hearts. For winning the heart, advocacy and  hasbara will always fall short.

We need to shift the focus of our message  and our education. Instead of training pro-Israel advocates, we need to inspire  Zionists.

WHAT THEN, is the difference between being pro-Israel and a  Zionist? At a lecture I attended by Yehuda Hakohen, an alternative peace  activist, he suggested that it’s the difference between being a fan and being a  player.

Someone who is “pro-Israel” loves Israel the way that I like the  Atlanta Falcons. I love my team, I follow their latest news and developments and  I don’t want anyone ridiculing them. If they do, I’ll stand up for my team, for  their honor and mine.

Moreover, I’ll visit my team on vacation and pay  good money for sideline seats to watch the game up close.

In contrast, a  Zionist isn’t on the sidelines rooting for his team to win – he’s running the  ball down the field. A Zionist sees himself as a player in the game. A Zionist  sees himself as an active character in the story of the Jewish people.

In  my years of speaking on behalf of Israel, filmmaking and teaching, I’ve found  that the most profound message that resonates is recognizing our lives in Israel  as another chapter in the 4,000-yearold story of our people.

We must  continuously draw the lines from Abraham to Moses and Joshua to King David in  biblical times to the Maccabees and Bar- Kochba and now, in post-biblical times,  to the IDF. We are simply the next chapter in the greatest human story ever  told.

Our goal must not only be to advocate for Israel, but to tell the  story of our people. The story of our kingdom destroyed, our bitter exile and  our ultimate liberation. It is the story of the undying hope of a people for  2,000 years; a dream to live as a free people and return to our homeland. That  is the story the world must hear again and again.

Relating international  law and the wonders of Israel’s modern society are a great educational tool but  when educating the next generation, we must help them rediscover their Jewish  identity – not only as a religion but as member of a nation with a glorious  history and majestic destiny.

We must shift from Israel advocacy to  empowering every Jew to see themselves as characters in the story of the Jewish  people.

With that in frame of mind, students are no longer just  advocating for Israel or explaining her case. Every lover of Israel must ask  himself: What is my place in Jewish history? How can I play the most significant  role possible in this magnificent story? The sages of Israel said, “Words spoken  from the heart, enter the heart.” When our spokesmen and ambassadors stop  apologetically explaining and advocating, and instead speak with clarity of  cause and sincerity of purpose as representatives of the Jewish people  throughout the ages, I believe world opinion will be changed and unabashed  Jewish pride reclaimed. ■ 

The author is the Deputy Director of the World  Mizrachi Movement. 
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