By: Sophie Jacobs, Tulane University, Hasbara Fellow
I was recently in Washington DC for my first AIPAC Policy Conference. Aside from being surprised by the physical size of the convention center and my inability to acquire any sense of direction of the said convention center even after three days, what truly shocked me was the sheer number of conference-goers. There were nearly 18,000 people in attendance, over 3,000 of who were students like myself. It was difficult for me to conceptualize 18,000 people, even when sitting in the same room as them. It was even more staggering to process that all of those people were supporters of Israel.
Though I often find myself in pro-Israel environments, those environments are nowhere near the scale of the PolicyConference. It’s astounding to consider that 18,000 people care enough about Israel to find themselves at a 3-day conference in DC. It’s also incredibly uplifting to think about the passion that each of these people possesses for the Jewish state.
When I went to Israel with Hasbara Fellowships during my winter break, one of the key themes was exploring our “Why.” Why were we in Israel? Why did we want to advocate for Israel? Why was Israel important to us? Why did we care? Throughout the trip, I struggled to mentally and verbally articulate what exactly my “Why” was. I knew that I loved Israel and I knew that I wanted to somehow share my love for the country with others, but love didn’t seem like a strong enough “Why.” The first time we were asked to identity our “Why”, I couldn’t think of a simple answer.
Going to the Policy Conference helped put in perspective for me how important Israel is to so many people. To me, Israel is important because it is the live manifestation of Zionism, a great underdog story, and home. When I’m in Israel, I feel a sense of belonging and purpose—not only do I feel welcomed, but I also feel like I’m where I’m meant to be, with the Jewish people in the Jewish state. Thinking about the dedication and determination that the founders possessed in order to create a state makes me incredibly proud of my predecessors, further strengthening my sense of belonging.
However, not everyone cares about Israel because they feel part of some greater community or because they find the narrative fascinating. There are also some people that are somehow not impressed by the achievement of the Zionist dream. And that’s fine—not everyone has to care about Israel for those particular reasons. But I still want people to care about Israel in some way. I want to help people connect to Israel so that when they hear the name of the country, their first association isn’t a black-boxed geopolitical conflict set in the desert. My “Why” is combatting apathy. And through my “Why,” I know there will inevitably be a follow-up “Why” from those I seek to reach: “Why should I care about Israel?”
Hasbara Fellowships has helped me tremendously in answering this secondary “Why.” Israel does not have a singular definition. That is to say, to some Israel is an exciting excavation of history and politics. To others, Israel represents the innovative startup nation. Israel’s nightlife scene is what members of my generation might classify as “lit.” Israel is beautiful. To me, Israel is home. Hasbara understands that there is a multitude of connections to Israel, and in that they tailor their messaging to account for such range.
Hasbara uses this tool of connection as a method for engagement. Their campus campaigns target those who don’t necessarily think that they care about Israel. The intended audience cares about other things, like the environment, diversity, or humanitarian aid. Through these themes, people are able to learn how Israel is relevant to them personally and the causes that they already care about. So too at the Policy Conference, AIPAC offered a range of speakers both in the general and breakout sessions that didn’t just focus on one specific aspect of Israel, but rather many. The breakout session that resonated with me most pertained to the founders of the state. Yet, I also went to a session about Israeli women leading the nation and one about Israeli environmental advances. The range in sessions mirrored the range in attendees, so as to ensure that everyone found at least one element that they could connect to, under the larger umbrella of supporting Israel for all the important reasons like that it’s an ally of the US and the only democracy in the Middle East and all that.
As most people are healthily self-involved (at least I am, and I hope most people also are), in order to care about something there usually has to be a link that is directly applicable to one’s own life. Once that personal connection is discovered, only then can the beginnings of apathy towards a subject begin to subside. However, in order to find that connection, one needs to learn, which is especially difficult when one is apathetic toward a topic, thus having no impetus to seek out knowledge relating to it. And that is where Hasbara thrives.
Hasbara provides micro-educational opportunities through the targeted engagement of their campaigns. People don’t need to sit through a lecture in order to learn something. Rather, they can pick up a card with a picture of an old man on it and flip it over to learn what a kibbutznik is. Hasbara’s method is attractive because these micro-interactions engage with people who wouldn’t necessarily take the time to come hear a speaker discuss something Israel-related. In my experience, this strategy is effective because while it doesn’t require a large commitment, it still makes an impact. Hopefully, this impact will lead to a connection, which in turn could develop into some semblance of consideration or possibly even support for Israel.
I care about Israel. I want others to care about Israel. I think I found my “Why.”