Friday, February 22, 2013

The Israel College Lobby Has It All Wrong: A Brief Manifesto

As the Executive Director of an Israeli advocacy organization with the budget closer to that of a squirrel than, lets say, the Jewish Federation of Peoria, Illinois, I have tried to keep my mouth shut for fear of biting the hand that once in a while feeds. As well, there is a sense of "professional courtesy", "not rocking the boat", not presenting "shanda for the goyim" and other quotation mark worthy platitudes that keep me from speaking ill about my "partners" even if, sometimes, they act more like "competitors". Case in point, one organization that shall not be named has decided to steal one of our ideas and begin hosting a program directly like ours. How do I know this for certain? They reached out to our artists and tried to bribe them away from us! I know, right? I will deal with them later in this post.

The true impetus for writing is not anger at this direct thievery of our work. Instead, I am motivated by righteous indignation at the amount of energy, time, money and other resources that these organizations are wasting, causing us far more long-term damage than our enemies. This week alone, I read two articles in major Jewish publications explaining the "best practices" for invigorating Israel sentiment on campus. I will not name the papers nor the organizations - yet.

What follows is a five point list of "do nots" that all Israel advocacy organizations with a college program should abide by. This could be followed by a list of five affirmative items however, they would basically be the converse of the original five and I have too much else to do actually helping the image of Israel on campus to sit here and do all the work for these other guys. All of the below flies in the face of current wisdom. And, while these ideas may or may not be right - all of the previous ideas are wrong - proven wrong, terribly wrong. Israel might be the greatest product in the history of the world with no hyperbole. They are just in the face of injustice, strong in the face of strength, peaceful in the face of war and loving in the face of hate. Yet, these organizations with histories far longer and budgets far greater than ours still have the need to create best practices and stick around since they have failed miserably in the last 40 years. Were Artists 4 Israel given the keys to the kingdom of advocacy - we would be in and out in under 10. Job done.

List below the picture.

1. Do not "empower student leaders" nor "train advocates". Colleges maintain its own ecosystem of leadership. There are natural student leaders, taste-makers, trend-setters and, generally, "cool kids". Whether these students lead by purpose or accident, they all share certain similarities at direct odds with the current Israel advocacy on-campus model. Natural student leaders are untrained. They lead by inherent, natural instinct. Natural student leaders are unannounced and unsanctioned. The second an outside group anoints one a leader, they immediately lose their credibility and, thus, power to lead or influence. This is true not only for the eternally discredited current crop of on-campus advocacy organizations but of any group. In college, sanction equates to stasis. On-campus groups would be best advised to forego any student leader building exercise (my sincere apologies to all you kids who were hoping for a free trip to some warm climate for a leadership "conference" which we all know is code for drinking and sexing). Instead, they should seek to determine the student leaders, particularly those in other fields: the quarterback, the DJ, the funny fat kid, the sexy cheerleader and offer them some brief knowledge of Israel that they can generally incorporate into their repertoire. No, there will be no immediate measureables but considering how everyone is doing on campus, that might be in your best interests. A longer dissertation on this topic is available on request.

2. Do not "keep an on-campus presence". Do fashions stay static? Does the basketball star stay more than 5 years (3 only if he is very good)? In all seriousness, college campuses although maintaining some level of iconic similarity (the druggies will always be around), undergo complete metamorphosis every few years. Consider the example of "21 Jump Street" - the movie, not the tv show. Two undercover cops go back to high school only to discover that the ideas of cool and un-cool have changed drastically since they were last there. Not only is this movie funny (I was shocked too), it is instructive of changing social dynamics and unpredictable trends. The movie was a commentary on the very tv show from which it was derived and the faulty premise that any external group could ever create a lasting and permanent youthfulness. Not to spoil it but, at the end, two of the characters from the original series get murdered - a sure metaphor. Conversely, get in, get out. Like the Talmud demands anyone do when growing things, rotate crops and leave the land fallow for at least a year. Step back. Allow natural growth, re-consider your seeds and, if you have the proper product, begin anew.

3. Do not partner with other organizations towards status quo. We have been approached by various groups to bring our program to many campuses (usually this desire to partner is inspired by students demanding to the other orgs that they want us). These groups always seek to partner not only with us but with others as well. The resulting program by committee gets messy, competitive and, eventually, ineffective. While partnership might be a kind way to lessen the responsibility if things fail or to grab shine if they succeed or to share costs - it lessens the creative landscape for new ideas to be born. Instead, consider a moratorium on united programs. Think of your own, unique talents in advocacy and create programming toward that. You will learn that when the idea is right, it will find a way.

4. Do not steal. Related to the above. Yes, we know. We came out of nowhere, with no funding and routinely bring 100s more students to our events than you do to yours. Yes, we know. The students who attend our events transcend all racial, religious, social barriers. Yes, we know, we are sort after to the point where students pay us to come while most orgs must pay to play as it were, pumping money into the school economy to get followers. But, it just isn't right. I mean, this rule is one of the top 10 in the Bible. It is also bad for advocacy. We are experts in our type of advocacy, you are not. If you were to try and do our program you would fail, ruin the program and eliminate a worthwhile idea. At the same time, you would not be focusing on your own new initiatives. I think the converse of this is simple enough.

5. Do not do what I just did. Do not tell the world your strategies. Do not publicize your reports on best ways to manipulate the student body. Do not even admit that there are tactics much less announcing them. When I was a money-laundering prevention officer at Morgan Stanley I got in a lot of trouble when I offered to tell John Mack that a company (and a government) that describes its money-laundering prevention strategies is a company that has just told those looking to violate these same laws how to do it. Were other organizations promoting these agenda in closed door Protocols type meetings, that would be one thing. But, those don't exist or I have not been invited. It would even be acceptable if these ideas were effective and thus worth the cost of tipping your hand to the other side. They are neither. Keep it quiet, guys. Close in the huddle.

Let's see how many people this offends.


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