In a recent panel discussion at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, known for her work in conflict resolution, said that a “two-way relationship is the precondition for effective advocacy. Listening is the precondition to being heard.” (“Reframing Zionism,” Nov. 12, 2012). I could not agree more. We must understand that at the outset of a potential relationship, most students simply want to be heard. Not listening negates the possibility of a two-way relationship with students who may become ours – and Israel’s - closest friends.
My grandmother asked me about my work at The David Project, and I explained that one way I work with student Israel advocates is by encouraging them to reach out to diverse communities. I stressed that the key to being an effective Israel advocate is getting to know and understanding another individual, rather than leading with Israel as the driver of conversation.
My grandmother interjected and informed me that she wholeheartedly agreed with The David Project’s approach to advocacy, but said that she believed that students’ goals should be to “educate other students and give them the facts about Israel.”
Her reply forced me to think about the role of education in relationship building. I asked myself: what comes first: the chicken (the relationship) or the ed(ucation)? In other words, is appreciation for and understanding of Israel (education) an outcome of the relationship-building process, or is education the catalyst?
In some instances, I believe that Israel education needs to come first for an effective approach to advocacy. For example, when initiatives like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) come before student government, advocates need to educate student representatives on why BDS is not a productive movement for peace. More recently, students had many questions for Israel advocates as Operation Pillar of Defense unfolded. In response, The David Project prepared a briefing and discussion guide to help students and campus professionals better understand the conflict through thoughtful and productive conversations.
These two examples demonstrate that education has a central role within Israel advocacy.
However, for Israel advocates' day-to-day pro-active work , I believe relationship building needs to take precedence. A solid relationship creates the foundation for students to be able to learn from one another. Advocacy depends on the relationships we build and how well we listen to what others care about. Like Rabbi Weintraub, I believe that one of our goals should be to deeply understand where diverse students come from, what they care about, and what motivates them. If we do not first listen to what they have to say, we have no way of knowing what they care about in the first place. Listening lays the groundwork for effective education.
So I ask, what do you think? Does the chicken come before the ed(ucation)?