Admittedly, I don't have a personal stake in the future of New Jersey. My connection to the state rests solely on it being the birthplace and source of inspiration for Bruce Springsteen. (With apologies to Bon Jovi fans, no better musician has ever emerged from the Garden State.) However, I do admire Chris Christie's ability to cruise to victory, garnering strong across the board support. While I'm not going to evaluate his policies or opine about his stance on various issues, there are lessons that can be gleaned from his campaign, and not just for the Republican Party as Jennifer Rubin recently explained, but also for Israel advocates. Rubin highlighted eight lessons for the GOP from the Christie campaign. From those, I want to focus on three that translate nicely to Israel advocacy and should pave the way to more effective campus activism. (Her points in italics, with my comments regarding campus following.)
- Don’t show up in minority communities only at election time. For campus, it's not about minority communities like in politics; it is about outreach to the various student groups – be they issue-oriented, cultural, or based on ethnicity – that comprise campus life. This outreach should take place year-round and be centered on opportunities for collaboration, support for each other's agenda, and shared values. No Israel club (or any organization for that matter) should ever wait until there's a troubling event to try to connect with another group. Outreach has to be proactive to be effective.
- Don't be a phony. Israel advocates shouldn't try to present themselves, or Israel, in anything but an authentic manner. Students can easily see through shallowness. The pro-Israel community should feel comfortable, and proud, discussing Israel as a dynamic, complex country – or as former Ambassador Michael Oren was fond of saying, "a work of progress and a work in progress."
- Take the jargon and the process-talk out of campaigning. Relationships trump messages. Israel advocates shouldn't worry about memorizing sound bites or bits of trivia. More importantly, they should focus on nurturing relationships and holding constructive conversations that tackle issues openly and honestly. This approach builds trust and good-will, which are much more valuable in the long-term than slogans.
Agree with him or not (respect his taste in music, if nothing else), Christie ran an effective campaign. Let's hope the pro-Israel community can heed some important lessons from New Jersey and continue to enjoy success on campus. And here's to hopefully getting the Boss to perform in Israel on his next tour!