Never has there been so much Israel advocacy #backoncampus than the present. But how much of it is designed to have an impact? How often do students and campus professionals ask themselves the question: How will this activity produce positive change on our campus? Here are five things that campus activists are currently doing that, generally speaking, don’t produce positive change and take away time and resources from activities that might make a real difference.
(1) Stop holding speaker events for a general audience. Unless it’s a headline speaker with a winning message who will draw hundreds of people from a wide cross section of the campus (and then you have to ask yourself: is this the best way to spend our money?), the guest speaker will probably only draw from the Jewish community and the anti-Israel detractors, and make no difference whatsoever in improving the Israel atmosphere on campus.
What we should do instead: Build relationships with key campus groups, and use speakers strategically to address these groups. Consider convening a “Campus Conversation” with leaders from targeted campus groups on a subject of interest, such as those held at BU and NYU.
(2) Stop opposing anti-Israel events head on. Many campus professionals and students have come to realize that opposing anti-Israel speakers and events probably does more harm than good. We simply give the detractors more publicity than they would have been able to get on their own.
What we should do instead: Step up relationship building around the time of an anti-Israel event. Take a page out of Penn Hillel’s playbook, and hold dozens of Shabbat dinners for non-Jewish students and discuss Israel, either the same weekend or before the anti-Israel event.
(3) Stop bringing the camel to campus. Yossi the camel may be cute and attract attention, but he sends the exact wrong message about Israel. We don’t want to associate Israel with an image of a camel.
What we should do instead: Bring a technology fair (aimed at tech or business students) or bring some other high tech device developed in Israel. Or highlight Israel’s strides in becoming a model for LGBT rights.
(4) Stop debating anti-Israel students.
Debating anti-Israel students only makes pro-Israel students look antagonistic and turns off the students we want to reach.
What we should do instead: Seek out students who are open to hearing a pro-Israel point of view, and get to know them over time.
(5) Stop using generic talking points when speaking with potential allies.
Talking points are great for meetings with elected officials or preparing for a media interview, but they only make us seem contrived when we speak to potential friends about Israel. There’s no need to hit them over the head with Israel in the early stages of a relationship.
What we should do instead: Spend time getting to know other campus groups. Your most important “talking point” will be your own personal connection to Israel. Invite them to your events and ask them to speak. Attend their events as well. Allow Israel to come up organically in the course of a relationship. Find out what makes them tick, and frame Israel in a way that's relevant to their values.
As more and more students get involved in supporting Israel, wouldn't it be better if the activities they undertake actually contribute to an improved campus environment toward Israel? Let’s put the old stuff on our “not-to-do-list.”