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Campus Life 202: How To Win Friends for Israel
by Emily Berman & Sarah-Beth Kirshner

Do you feel at a loss in effectively advocating for Israel on campus? Here is how we’ve built a pro-Israel environment at Indiana University:

  1. Develop Personal Relationships with Influential Students. Identify the student leaders who direct organizations on campus and may be predisposed to be pro-Israel. These leaders not only shape the overall school environment, they’ll grow to become leaders in their communities and our country. Educating them now will influence their present and future stance on Israel.

    Begin by initiating personal connections around the leaders’ specific interests. Once positive rapport is built, you can link their issues to Israel and inspire them to act. For example, talk with leaders of campus organizations devoted to women’s issues about Israel being the only country in the Middle East with progressive women’s rights, and how a woman—Golda Meir—was Israel’s fourth prime minister. Talk to GLBT leaders about how Israel is the only country in the Middle East that allows gays and lesbians to go public about their sexuality and serve openly in the military. Tell students interested in business and technology that Israel invented cell-phone and voicemail technology, and is the home of more start-up companies than any other country in the world. Tell students interested in environmental issues how Israel invented drip irrigation, and is developing the infrastructure to place electric cars on the road in 2011.

    When most students hear “Israel,” they think about the Middle East conflict. If you draw connections based on personal interests, student leaders can look beyond the conflict and cast Israel in a positive light. For example, while meeting with the president of College Democrats over coffee at IU, our pro-Israel student organization IIPAC (Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee) discussed how the U.S. commitment to Israel bridges both the Democratic and Republican parties. From this meeting, we learned that the College Democrats would be focusing this year on healthcare. As a follow-up, we hosted a speaker and used Power Point to show the College Democrats how Israel’s public healthcare system with a private option could serve as a model for U.S. health reform. This presentation sparked the interest of many College Democrats and began a relationship with IIPAC that continues to this day.

  2. Become an Influential Leader Yourself. Taking on leadership positions in which you’ll have a say in shaping your university’s decisions (e.g., student government, dean’s advisory board) can help ensure that pro-Israel students influence other student leaders. For example, after being elected as a director of student government, an IIPAC member built great relationships with the student congress and executive members—which then led to IU’s student body president accompanying IIPAC to a pro-Israel conference, and later expressing eagerness to advocate for pro-Israel issues on campus. Similarly, members of the pro-Israel student group at the University of Florida were elected to the student senate and built relationships with other student leaders, enabling them to pass a resolution 56 to 9 to ensure university support for Israel.

  3. Be Proactive, Not Reactive.  If your college campus is a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, don’t allow the students who denigrate Israel to set the agenda. Let the next anti-Israel rally inspire you to write a positive article about Israel for your campus newspaper.

    When we learned that a non-academic, anti-Israel speaker was going to give a lecture to the College Democrats, we explained to the group’s president how this speaker would be detrimental to their organization and the campus. Our preexisting relationship came into play: She cancelled the speaker and asked us to organize an ongoing educational program on Israel instead.

    Even if your campus has little anti-Israel activity, it’s still important to engage in proactive Israel advocacy in order to maintain this status quo in the future. At IU, for example, while other schools held Israel Apartheid Week, we organized Israel Awareness Week to educate students and faculty about Israel’s various achievements.

  4. Establish Goals with Impactful Results. For every initiative you decide to organize on campus, set a goal that specifies the desired impact—not only within your university but beyond. At the University of Minnesota, two pro-Israel students set a goal to build relationships with all of Minnesota’s members of Congress. They visited the district offices of each House member throughout the year and soon became familiar faces to every Minnesota member of Congress and staffer. When legislation that would fortify Israel’s security came to vote, every single representative voted in favor of the bill.

  5. Don’t Let Apathy Win. It can be challenging to make students care about a world issue when they often don’t care enough to wake up for class. Apathy exists on every campus, but activism is predicated on the notion that one individual can make a difference. So don’t be discouraged by Jewish students who love Israel but won’t commit time to pro-Israel advocacy. Even a small coalition of dedicated individuals can build a strong network of support for the Jewish state.

    IIPAC was started by one student who cared enough about Israel to enlist her close friends in joining the effort. That small group of friends reached out and grew to 14. The group then mobilized more than 100 student leaders from 40 different campus organizations to sign a statement of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, published the signed statement as a full-page advertisement in the campus newspaper, presented it to our local member of Congress, and mailed copies of the signed statement to each congressperson in Indiana.

    One student’s passion for Israel altered the political arc of a community.

    URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie stresses, "What Israel needs from us now is unconditional support." As Jewish students, we have the ability to make a real difference on college campuses throughout North America. From campus to Congress, advocating for Israel ensures a Jewish homeland for future generations.

—Emily Berman & Sarah-Beth Kirshner, Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee at Indiana University and members, respectively, of Temple Shalom, Louisville, Kentucky and Temple Kol Emeth, Marietta, Georgia


Union for Reform Judaism.