Israel Education 'Blitz'

Education Blitz for September 2011


This September, a number of events – namely, the UN vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state, the Third Durban Conference, the beginning of the new academic year, and the High Holidays – will coincide to place Israel firmly in the public spotlight. In the background, the assault on Israel’s legitimacy continues to penetrate into the heart of some Jewish communities, to the point that rather than serving as a source of unity, Israel is turning into a deeply polarizing issue.

The anticipated heightened focus on Israel presents an opportunity to launch a targeted Israel re-engagement effort. The goal: To re-engage Jewish communities with Israel in new ways and to use the concepts of 'broad tent' and 'red lines' to reconnect across the dividing lines.

This Call for Action is informed by the recent segmentation study co-funded by the Brand Israel Group (BIG) and the Conference of Presidents, the results of which were analyzed by BIG.

Although the focus of this study was limited to the United States, we believe that the results are applicable to other places around the world. Previous versions of this Call for Action were disseminated over the past two months to Jewish organizations, primarily in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom. Some of these organizations are already planning to take action for September and others have demonstrated their willingness to participate in this effort.

Soon the Reut Institute hopes to be able to disseminate material that could be used for educational purposes, which several individuals and organizations in the field of education have offered to produce, including MAKOM and Gil Troy of the Engaging Israel Project at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

An Education Blitz for September

The Reut Institute encourages local communities and organizations to launch a variety of Israel re-engagement initiatives for September. The vision is for a critical mass of locally coordinated campaigns, taking place across a diversity of locations, to constitute a global initiative with significant impact. Below are some suggested guidelines that can be adapted to local contexts:

1) Separate education from advocacy – The BIG study demonstrated that while the vast majority of American Jews are core supporters of Israel, there is a clear decline in support from the older to the younger generation. Similar to 70 percent of Americans, increasing numbers of young Jews feel less connected to Israel, and become ‘swayable’ in that they may change their views when it comes to Israel.

The ‘swayable’ majority is more receptive to Israel when presented with personal stories that highlight the complexities, nuances and dilemmas of Israel across a range of issues.This approach is more effective than 'presenting the facts', in the sense that it is more likely to make emotional inroads into the hearts of the general population. 

2) Show the human face of Israeli society. The humanity of the Israeli people is what resonates strongest with the swayable majority. The BIG segmentation study demonstrated that the key is to emphasize the creative, diverse, indomitable, moral and personable nature of the Israeli people.

This approach is far more effective than efforts that focus on Israel as a friend of the U.S. or as its ally in the "War on Terror," or than messages claiming that “Israel makes the world a better place”. Moreover, the study firmly concluded that smearing the other side does not improve Israel's image. 

Action Items for September

We identify three main types of initiatives which can serve as the basis of the ‘blitz’ for re-engagement:

1) Organize events that draw upon the ‘broad-tent approach’ and the ‘red lines’ principle (see below)– These events provide a space for constructive dialogue, debate and offer a platform through which to present the complexities, dilemmas, and nuances surrounding the major issues facing Israel.

These events could be held in the form of discussions led by qualified guest speakers, film screenings, open forums, expert panels, strategy games, and round-table discussions.

Issues that are likely to emerge prominently in September and present educational opportunities include: The case for a Jewish state, Jewish communities and the peace process, the political assault on Israel, red lines to the discourse about Israel, key issues in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (security, borders, Jerusalem), and the current Israeli protest movement for 'social justice.'

2) Create a platform for Israelis so that their voices can be heard byco-sponsoring visits for Israelis capable of delivering the human face of the Israeli society to engage communities across the Jewish world. These speakers can be brought from Israel or identified among the Israeli Diaspora.

3) Disseminate relevant educational materials for Rabbis, lay leaders, and educators. Producing high-level materials that reflect an emotional-educational approach is critical given that the upcoming High Holidays present a well-timed opportunity during which Rabbis will be talking to millions of Jews who they may otherwise see infrequently. As stated above, Reut soon hopes to be able to disseminate educational materials that other organizations in the field of education will produce.

Broad Tent and Red Lines

The Reut Institute created the concepts of ‘broad tent’ and ‘red lines’ as a part of Reut's strategic response to the assault on Israel's legitimacy. The term 'broad tent' promotes a united Jewish front, across the political spectrum, against the assault on Israel's legitimacy. The term 'red-lines' refers to the voluntarily boundaries that should be defined to the discourse about Israel, in order to make it constructive. 

Reut has understood that it is necessary to adopt a narrow definition of what the assault on Israel's legitimacy is, and to make a distinction between those who are critical of Israeli policies, and those "eliminators" who intentionally undermine the Jewish people's right to national self-determination.

Often, the approach of the Israeli Government and Jewish organizations – which Reut refers to the 'closed tent' approach– is to address all criticism of Israel in the same manner, by justifying Israel’s actions at all times.

This ‘closed tent’ approach results many times in rejecting and alienating those who engage in a legitimate discourse about Israel. Therefore, the 'closed tent’ approach has occasionally pushed them into the arms of the "eliminators." Reut believes that this trend was the central cause for Israel being overwhelmed in 2006-2009 by a global, systemic campaign against its legitimacy. In recent years, the assault on Israel's right to exist has driven a wedge between many Jews and their communities, turning Israel from a unifying issue into a divisive one.

Reut’s response to this problem is the ‘broad tent’ approach. The logic behind this approach is that some of the most effective voices against delegitimization often come from the ‘left’, as well as from non-establishment ‘fringe’ groups, often due to their ideological proximity to the (false) pretention of delegitimizers to serve peace, human rights and international law. In order to effectively challenge the "eliminators," the community must broaden its base by increasing its tolerance for legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies.

The ‘broad tent’ approach must be compounded by ‘red lines’ in order to distinguish between legitimate criticisms on the one hand, and acts of delegitimization on the other. Such boundaries are necessary as, in some cases, organizations and individuals have been unknowingly fueling the assault on Israel's legitimacy. Reut believes that delineating such red-lines must be a community based deliberation. Examples include the San Francisco JCRC and JCF policy on Israel-Related Programming by its Grantees, the Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, and the initiative Restoring Sanity to the Israel Discourse, led by Prof. Gil Troy. Although, these approaches are geared towards seizing the opportunity to re-engage the Jewish Diaspora with Israel, these recommendations can easily be applied beyond the Jewish community (click here to read more).