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Advocacy Trainer Insists: Speak From the Heart

November 20, 2008 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Staff
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Neil Lazarus

You don't have to be an expert to advocate for Israel; you don't have to have all the facts, either. Israel advocacy doesn't even have to be political.

"[And it] doesn't mean you have to agree with everything Israel does," said Israel advocacy trainer Neil Lazarus.

The easiest and most important part of Israel advocacy, he said, is making someone see Israel in a different, positive light. "You don't have to be an expert -- just speak from the gut."

Lazarus, who discussed the issue recently with members of the Penn Israel Coalition at the University of Pennsylvania's Hillel, is part advocacy trainer, part motivational speaker and part stand-up comedian. The 41-year-old is half Israeli and half British -- or, as he put it, "I drive like a lunatic, but I still have to apologize for it afterwards."

Throughout his lively presentation, he offered the audience tips on promoting the Jewish state, mixed in with his own opinions.

What's the problem with Israel advocacy? According to Lazarus, we do far too much explaining.

"We need to replace the word hasbara -- to explain -- with marketing. We need to sell it," he insisted.

"The best example is McDonald's," said Lazarus. "Israel should do what [it] does. McDonald's makes bad food, it makes people fat. ... But they sell it with emotion ... they sell it with the language of the audience. They do marketing; we do hasbara."

Their Knowledge Comes From TV
Lazarus also had some comforting words for those who worry about not being an expert: "More often than not, if you're speaking one-on-one, the other person's knowledge is based on television, and you know as much -- if not more -- than they do."

"There's no substitute for knowledge," he added, "but ... the question today is how do you get the message across in an effective manner?"

"Get out, argue -- you can be critical, that's all right. But speak from the heart."

He offered a number of tactics for what he called "talking Israel."

"If you can't convince them, confuse them," he said, suggesting the phrase, "I wish you were right," as a way to throw people off and buy yourself some time to formulate a coherent counterargument.

Another tactic is simply asking the person's name as a way to personalize the debate. That also serves a larger purpose.

"When you can talk on first-name terms, you've made the first step towards peace," he said.

Calling audience members "the front-liners for Israel advocacy," Lazarus told a story about the only time he'd ever been in a fight. At the age of 18, he punched someone in the jaw. That someone is now a member of the British parliament. The message should be clear, he said: You never know whom you'll meet who might end up in a position of power someday, so it's important to be sure that person is on Israel's side.

"Whenever I go to an airport, I get randomly selected to be searched," said Lazarus. He told the story of a recent airport exchange, and how the security officer apologized for the inconvenience.

"I'm from Israel," Lazarus told the man, before thanking him for doing his job in a professional manner, much like his Israeli counterparts.

"You're Jewish?" the officer asked, to which Lazarus replied in the affirmative. "God bless your people," the officer said, before finishing the search and sending Lazarus on his way.

"I walked away thinking, 'One down, 50 million to go.' "

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