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Just What is Israel Advocacy

May 18, 2011 By:
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The term "Israel advocacy" gets tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? With efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state showing no signs of letting up, many in the Jewish community are re-examining the goals of Israel advocacy, reassessing what tactics work best, and analyzing whether the effort should primarily be geared toward Jews or non-Jewish influentials. The Jewish Exponent asked a number of local activists to weigh in on three questions: How do you define Israel advocacy? By what concrete means do you go about it? Who is your target audience?

Here are excerpts:

Shoshana Weiss, Drexel University sophomore, president of the student group Dragons for Israel:

"Israel advocacy means revealing the truth about Israel. It's not about unwavering support for Israel because Israel -- like every other country -- makes mistakes. However, Israel advocacy is showing the support for the acceptance of Israel as a legitimate sovereign state."

Weiss helped bring a number of speakers to campus to address the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal.

Harris Devor, regional chair of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee:

"Israel advocacy means listening, hearing and absorbing what the democratically elected government of Israel, be it left of center or right of center, has expressed it needs to happen for Israel to remain strong and secure," and helping that to happen.

That includes lobbying legislators, and being a resource for them, as well as developing relations in print, broadcast and online media.

It also means engaging "those who are in our Jewish community who focus so little or no attention on Israel's safety and security and for whatever reason, don't view this ongoing challenge as their business, or don't want to be bothered."

Ilana Wilensik, executive director of the American Jewish Committee's Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey chapter:

AJC concentrates its efforts in the non-Jewish community and works to build relationships with diverse constituencies.

"I want the Chinese community to come out, I want the Mexican community to come out; they are going to be the influentials."

"One of the things that must be done when advocating for anything is to first understand from where the 'other' is coming. What is their knowledge, from whom did 'they' receive this knowledge?"

Steve Masters, a longtime dovish activist and chair of J Street Local's advocacy committee:

"Advocacy means to work to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. That work has to be done through the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution. Nothing else matters for Israel's long-term security as much as that.

"J Street advocates forcefully in the policy process, in Congress, in the media, and in the Jewish community to make sure public officials and community leaders clearly see the depth and breadth of support for our views on Middle East policy among voters and supporters in their states and districts."

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, founder of Z Street, a group developed to counter J Street:

"Israel advocacy means providing the facts, the context and the details that are essential for people to understand what is happening in, around and to Israel."

She culls material from dozens of sources and distributes it to her target audience -- individuals she says are already positively predisposed toward Israel.

"Some call it preaching to the choir. My answer is that most of the choir has very few notes, needs more and needs to know the song so well that they can sing it without looking at the sheets."

Leonard Getz, co-president of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America:

"To educate and influence the public, and educate and lobby our government about Israel's just cause and work in any way possible for the safety, security and well-being of the Jewish State of Israel."

Jewish groups should be sounding the message that "trying to reach compromise and appeasement is the wrong direction," since the Palestinian Authority has still refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The group lobbies lawmakers in Washington, with one recent goal to get the United States to withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority until it stops incitement to violence. Locally, the group sponsors speakers and spearheads a campaign to purchase Israeli products, said Getz.

Jeffrey Rollman, University of Pennsylvania sophomore and fellow with the David Project, aimed at educating students about Israel:

"Most of my advocacy is through events, meetings (with Penn for Palestine and other anti-Israel groups) and word of mouth. We also utilize email and Facebook (1,000-person listserv and Facebook groups with hundreds of members), but I don't think our online efforts are as effective."

Jane Zolot, chair of New Initiatives, Hadassah:

"I look back and think of what we did for the Soviet Jewry movement -- that's when people marched and wrote letters. That was probably one of the most historic movements. I think we have to use everything we can."

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