Advocacy: Does Your Approach Change When You Add the Word "Israel?"

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Imagine the following scenario in a central area of campus (the quad, diag, college walk, the lawn, etc.): There are two groups of students, each standing on opposite sides of this area. They are involved in a screaming match in which they vehemently disagree with the facts of some situation. Joe Shmo happens upon this screaming match. Most likely, Joe Shmo will walk away as quickly as he can, not wanting to involve himself in this kind of commotion and confrontation.

Now, imagine Joe Shmo hears the word “Israel” screamed by some of the participants. Joe Shmo now associates Israel with this negative encounter. He has not spent the time listening to both sides of the argument. He has not taken this as an opportunity to hear either side. Rather, he shuts them both out and wants nothing to do with Israel, good or bad.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, advocacy is “the act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal.”

Ask many Israel advocates about advocacy, and they’ll tell you it is the act of defending Israel.

I spoke recently to someone who believes strongly in the need to educate students – before they enter college – on how to respond to allegations about Israel so they will be prepared to advocate for Israel when they enter college.

I shared the above scenario with him, and the response I received was, “That really resonates with me. I’ve been involved in many other types of activism throughout my life, and that’s the general consensus on yelling. Why have I never before connected that with Israel advocacy? Of course it shouldn’t be any different.”

We need to shift our thinking. Rather than believing we need to defend Israel, we need to take a stand to promote Israel. Let’s teach the Merriam-Webster definition of advocacy – an approach that focuses on the positive (promote) instead of the negative (defend) – and create a positive atmosphere for supporting Israel. It’s a difficult shift in mentality when the model of “defending Israel” is so entrenched in our thinking, but we’re making headway.

Next time you’re confronted with the choice of how to advocate, what will you do?