Opinion

The five types of Israel engagement

Each member of the Zionist and pro-Israel community has an obligation to take part in the public discourse in the way they are best suited to do so.

Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

Public discourse on Israel is paradoxical. On the one hand, it is crowded with stellar organizations that produce top-notch content and publish it throughout the world. On the other hand, it seems that Zionists and pro-Israel activists frequently lose the public debate to Israel’s opponents. No matter how many organizations and individuals speak on behalf of Israel, Israel’s opponents are always louder and more popular than those spreading the good word about the Jewish state.

In fact, five conversations are taking place simultaneously in the public discourse on Israel: Defending Israel, marketing Israel, explaining Israel (hasbara), advocating for Israel and educating others about Israel. Each of these efforts is crucial.

The task of defending Israel is obvious. Israel is constantly accused of the most heinous crimes, and thus there must be professionals who spend their time refuting these accusations.

It’s not enough, however, to simply defend Israel. There must also be an effort to market Israel in a positive way. This attracts tourists, business and politicians throughout the world to Israel. By demonstrating there is more to Israel than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Israel marketers” help turn the Jewish state into a not-to-be-missed destination.

Hasbara, explaining Israel’s situation and point of view, is a mainstay of the public discourse on Israel. Israel even has a minister of hasbara tasked with this effort. Without hasbara, Israel’s opponents would be able to frame events according to their anti-Israel narrative with impunity. Successful hasbara allows Israel’s narrative to be heard, helping open-minded people understand Israel’s take on events.

Advocating for Israel is a unique mission. Professional Israel advocates address a specific audience and promote a specific message in order to advance Israel’s political and economic interests. These advocates lobby foreign governments, inform journalists and secure contracts with global conglomerates.

Israel educators are different. Almost everyone involved in the public discourse around Israel has an agenda, a specific point of which they seek to convince the world. Thus, their messages are packaged in a way that will persuade their target audience. Israel educators, in contrast, have no agenda. Their task is simply to inform, teach a methodology and inspire their students to think about the issues they have studied.

Israel educators teach their students about the values of Zionism and how the State of Israel governs its citizens. They encourage their audiences to think about Israel, its challenges and how it can secure a successful future. They do not defend Israel from false accusations, market Israel in a positive light, explain current events in a favorable way or advocate for Israel’s interests.

There was a time when Israel educators had to teach the major events of Israel’s history. Currently, students can access such information on the internet. Thus, the educator’s task in today’s world is to teach students how to analyze and understand those events. This gives students the lifetime skills necessary to analyze both history and current events constructively.

It is not enough, however, for the Zionist and pro-Israel community to support the professionals, organizations and activists who undertake these five tasks. Each member of the community must agree to undertake one of these tasks themselves, depending on their own personal abilities and talents.

This does not require every member of the community to spend hours answering detractors, posting on social media or creating videos that defend Israel. Every Zionist can talk to their family, their immediate or extended community and, if they have the opportunity, the larger world. All members of the Zionist and pro-Israel community share in this obligation.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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