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Tools For Israel Advocacy

ADVOCATING TO ELECTED OFFICIALS

Establishing relationships with your elected officials is the most effective way to communicate the depth of support for Israel among their own constituents. As developments in the region pose new questions and challenges, Members of Congress should hear the views of their own pro-Israel constituents. There are multiple ways to put issues on a Member’s radar screen and having an issue raised by different constituents in a range of venues demonstrates local support to Members of Congress and their staff.

Lobby Members at Home

There is no substitute for a Member of Congress hearing from constituents who embody local support for strong U.S.-Israel relations. Regular visits when Members are home in their Districts and ongoing contact and engagement make even a small constituency more visible and significant. Prior to each Congressional recess, contact the District Scheduler of your Senators and Representatives to schedule meetings with the Members to discuss current developments.

Town Hall Meetings

The literally thousands of town hall meetings convened across the country in each session of Congress provide another vehicle to convey the personal importance of support for Israel in their community. Contact the District Offices of your Congressional Delegation to find out how you can be notified of upcoming town hall, “tele-town hall” or other community meetings in your area. It might facilitate a more in depth and productive discuss if you notify a Member’s staffer in advance if you plan to raise an Israel-related issue. Connect with the Member’s staff at the meeting so that you can follow up with them after the event.

Write Letters

While a face-to-face meeting is most effective, Congressional staff monitor the number of letters received in support of or in opposition to an issue. Letters on policy issues should be sent to the Member’s Washington office. Faxing or emailing a scanned copy of a letter is preferable for contact regarding fast moving legislation since increased security procedures have caused delay in mail delivery to Capitol Hill.

  • Address only one issue per letter so the letter is directed to a specific staffer.
  • Be concise and to the point. State the purpose of the letter up front.

To a Senator:

The Honorable (first and last name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator ---:

To a Representative:

The Honorable (first and last name)
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative ---:

E-mail

Congressional offices increasingly process and respond to constituent e-mail, especially if it is personalized as opposed to a cookie cutter message. Be sure to include your home address and indicate that you live in the Member’s district and use the same guidelines as you would for crafting a letter.

Phone Calls

Calls convey a heightened sense of urgency and are only warranted when legislative action is imminent. Congressional offices keep a tally of calls to gauge public sentiment in their district. Be prepared to supply your address to verify that you live in the district. Call the Capitol switchboard, (202) 225-3121, to connect to your Member’s office.

Invite Members to Speak

Members of Congress welcome opportunities to speak at community meetings or other events. Host forums and voter education/ registration initiatives with candidates to educate them about your concerns.

Reach Out to Congressional Staff

Getting to know the Congressional staff in the district and in Washington is vital in facilitating ongoing communication with the Member of Congress and impacting policy. Congressional aides frequently meet with constituents while Members are called to vote or to attend committee hearings and meetings. Not only are they the Member’s eyes and ears and help shape how a Member votes, but staffers often move on to leadership positions themselves. Staffers provide a vital link in facilitating ongoing communication with the Member of Congress. Take these meetings seriously and communicate your message clearly.

Get to Know Local Elected Officials and Candidates

The best relationships with officials are those which began in their early careers in state and local offices. Today's candidate for City Council may be tomorrow's Senator. Although these officials and candidates focus on local issues, they can be important voices in support of Israel in the community and beyond.

LOBBYING TIPS

Advance Preparation
  • Designate who will speak for the delegation. One person should introduce the group, others may take the lead in discussing the separate issues, or taking notes.
  • Learn about what the Member has done or said on your issues.
  • Prepare background material or articles of interest on the issue. You may not have time for a full discussion and should leave behind additional resources.
At the Meeting
  • Be brief. Introduce the delegation quickly, underlining the connection with the Member’s home district. Keep your presentation of issues to a minute or two.
  • Describe local support for Israel including from other allies in your community.
  • Get to the point and request a specific action of support.
  • Leave plenty of time to hear out the Member about his/her views and reactions.
If the Member Disagrees...
  • Disagree without being disagreeable. While Members may have a different view, focus on the commonality of your commitment to Israel and to finding a just and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors.
  • Stay focused. If the Member disagrees, they may try to divert the conversation onto another topic. Be sure to communicate concerns clearly.
If the Member Agrees...
  • Thank him/her for support and reiterate the importance of the issue you and to their constituents. Most letters, calls, and e-mails to Congressional offices are negative – which leaves Members with the impression that their positive actions go unnoticed.
  • Let them know you are available as a resource and to provide support for the Member’s work on the issues.
Keep Lines of Communication Open...
  • Send a thank you note to the Member and staffer with whom you met. Take the opportunity to reconfirm any commitments made. If he/she is undecided, restate your arguments and enclose additional information supporting your point.
  • Continue to correspond with your Member and invite staff to community events.

ADVOCATING TO THE MEDIA

Most Americans’ perceptions of the Middle East conflict come from the mass media. Some media – especially large-circulation daily newspapers, network television and wire services – have correspondents based in Israel and continue to devote considerable attention to the Mideast. This is not surprising considering the intensive U.S. involvement in the peace process, America’s substantial interests in the region, and the continuing strong ties between the U.S. and Israel. As the only democracy in the region with a vibrant free press, Israel is open to foreign journalists.

The news media obviously plays a pivotal role in shaping public perceptions of the conflict, and it goes without saying that effective advocacy on behalf of Israel includes an assessment of the daily stream of news coverage from the region. There are some things that you can do to become an active participant in this process:

  • Read your local newspaper every day
  • Know the facts and history
  • Pay attention to news coverage of the Middle East, and Israel in particular
  • Get involved: Respond to coverage that is unfairly critical of Israel

Assessing Media Coverage

Newspapers and newsmagazines offer a variety of forums within their pages for news and analysis. Breaking news (or “straight news”) stories are usually written on the scene and describe events currently taking place in the region. News stories are quite different from columns, editorials, and op-eds, which generally express an opinion or offer a certain viewpoint. Understanding this difference is essential.

Generally, news articles aim to present the story from a balanced perspective, meaning that more than one point of view is represented. The professional journalists who report news stories strive to uphold their profession’s standards of accuracy, fairness and balance. However, there are times when news reports on Israel may contain inaccuracies or overlook a critical piece of information that is necessary to put the story in context. While such oversights are often unintentional, they do merit a response.

Often you will see op-eds, editorials and columns that are critical of Israel and Israeli leadership. The most effective and immediate response is a letter to the editor, and/or a brief comment in the publication’s online comment section (often on the same page as the article itself). Tips for submitting an effective letter to the editor are outlined below.

If you suspect a news story misrepresents facts or contains an error, it is important to review the item carefully and check your facts before drafting a letter to the editor in response.

National and local Jewish organizations can help you to assess the accuracy of a news story and determine the most appropriate course of action.

Letters to the Editor & ONLINE COMMENT SECTIONS

Letters to the editor and online comment sections offer effective vehicles for responding to news articles, op-eds and editorials in newspapers, magazines and news Web sites. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Letters must be timely. Allowing a week, or even a few days to pass before responding to an article will greatly diminish the likelihood of your letter seeing print.
  • Write in response to a particular news item, editorial or op-ed. Newspapers and magazines are not interested in letters that do not address a story or issue discussed in their pages. In your letter, make specific reference to the story’s headline and the date it appeared. If you read the article on the Internet, many Web sites offer online comment sections where you can allow your voice to immediately be heard.
  • Be brief and address a specific issue. Newspapers generally will not publish lengthy letters that go into the entire history or background of an issue. Many only accept letters for publication of 250 words or less. Be succinct, brief and as “to the point” as possible. Review the publication’s instructions for submitting a letter to the editor.
  • Be civil. Do not personally attack the writer. If responding to an opinion column or op-ed, you may refer in your letter to the writer by name, indicate that you disagree with his or her point of view, and explain why.
  • Be sure to include your name, address and a daytime telephone number. With the exception of online comment boards, most newspapers will not accept anonymous letters; most will not publish a letter without first attempting to check the identity of the author.
  • Send your letter by e-mail or fax, or use the online comment form. When using e-mail, direct the letter to the appropriate address for letters. Do not use multiple addresses, or copy others. This will diminish your chances of being published. In addition to writing a letter for publication, you may submit a comment on the publication’s Web site, where it will appear immediately.
  • Do not sign on to mass letters or organized campaigns: Newspapers do not appreciate mass letter-writing campaigns that flood their in-boxes with nearly identical messages. Make your response unique and your own.
  • Check ADL’s Media Watch to see the League’s responses to recent issues in the news.

Many newspapers, network news outlets, and some Internet news sites have a designated ombudsman or “reader’s advocate” – a staff member whose job is to address specific grievances of readers. If you feel strongly that a certain writer or columnist continues to unfairly portray the issues or facts with regard to Israel, or see a pattern of unfair anti-Israel bias in the publication’s coverage, a letter to the ombudsman may be another effective route.

Israel in the blogosphere

Another battleground for perceptions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the blogosphere, which in recent years has grown tremendously as bloggers of every political persuasion have taken to commenting on political and news developments in the Middle East.

It is generally counterproductive to respond directly to anti-Israel bloggers or Web sites. And it is simply not possible to respond to every anti-Israel blog. If you read something you disagree with, the best course of action may be to simply ignore it. If the blogger is someone who is well-known or respected, such as a political figure, pundit, celebrity or journalist, you should consider posting your own response on the blog itself. You may want to notify ADL so that we can review the posting and respond in kind.

Social-Networking Sites

Social-networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube offer an unprecedented opportunity for direct engagement with others on the issues of the day. If you are a subscriber to a social-networking service, you should by all means use it to share articles with your friends, family and acquaintances that reflect positively on Israel. There are also an array of pro-Israel groups who are an active presence on social-networking sites.

Keep in mind that social-networking sites also offer fertile ground for abuses and spreading of misinformation, and there are as many anti-Israel pages and profiles in cyberspace as there are pro-Israeli pages. Most, however, present legitimate expressions of opinion about the conflict. But keep in mind that just as you would not attend a pro-Palestinian meeting in the real world, it is best not to engage directly with anti-Israel activists in cyberspace.

A note about Internet rumors and e-mail forwards

Every year, ADL receives dozens of e-mail message forwards from supporters of Israel asking “Is this true?” These messages often contain unverified or more often simply false rumors about anti-Israel actions, proposed boycotts, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or other issues pertaining to the Jewish state and people.

Unfortunately, the more these messages are forwarded without verification, the more havoc they can cause. In recent years some unfounded rumors, spread virally, have spiraled out of control, causing damage to the reputations of companies and individuals.

We urge supporters of Israel to always check the accuracy of any e-mail message before forwarding it on to others. If you are unable to find accurate information on an issue you receive an e-mail about, send the message to ADL for review. We will try and respond promptly. And always check the League's Internet Rumors section to see if we have posted information.

ADVOCATING ON CAMPUS

Universities are a breeding ground for ideas and change. From the Civil Rights movement, to the fight for Soviet Jewry, to the Save Darfur campaign, major political and social movements have originated on the college campus. Since the fall of 2000, debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have intensified on campuses across the country.

Pro-Israel advocacy is a particularly challenging task in today’s college and university campus environment. Many high profile academics, charismatic speakers, and influential student leaders have presented the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a one-sided manner, blaming the conflict on Israel and largely ignoring Palestinian terrorism and violence.

However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complicated issue that cannot be easily explained through one-line talking points. Making the case for Israel requires historical knowledge, current information, and a nuanced perspective on the conflict as a whole. The great majority of students (including many Jews) are apathetic, feeling no personal connection to or stake in Israel’s future. To many, the Middle East is another far-off, seemingly endless conflict similar to those found in Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere. In sum, those who would make the case for and defend Israel on campus must contend with an activated hostile minority and a potentially friendly, but generally unengaged and uninformed, majority.

When developing an effective strategy to an anti-Israel campaign on campus, always consult and coordinate with on-campus Jewish groups, particularly Hillel.

THE ANTI-ISRAEL CAMPAIGN ON CAMPUS

While most campuses do not experience harsh anti-Israel activism, the past decade has seen an increase of anti-Israel activity on campuses across North America. Today on campus, it has become common for anti-Israel activists to compare Israelis to Nazis during anti-Israel conferences and rallies. Israel’s detractors continue to invite self-proclaimed anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic speakers to campus, launch divestment campaigns and plan annual “Israel Apartheid” weeks. On some campuses, anti-Israel groups have attempted to intimidate pro-Israel advocates. There is a growing trend of audience members heckling pro-Israel speakers. In addition, anti-Israel bias has increasingly been reported in the classroom.

Anti-Israel activism was widespread on campuses throughout the 1970s and 1980s, especially during the first Intifada. With the dawn of Arab-Israeli negotiations at the 1991 Madrid Conference, and particularly with the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement, anti-Israel campaigning on campus was much diminished, although it never entirely ceased. While there were periodic flare-ups of anti-Israel activity, such as those countering the celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary in 1998, themes of peace and reconciliation symbolized by the establishment of Jewish-Arab dialogue groups on some campuses received more attention.

The outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 and the Gaza Conflict in the winter of 2008/09 led to a resurgence of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist campus activity. On many campuses anti-Israel rallies were a daily occurrence. Some crossed the line into violence, overt anti-Semitism and hate, with protesters engaging in vandalism, physical assault and hate speech. These episodes have created an atmosphere of intimidation and fear among Jewish members of university communities, and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents have taken place on campuses across the United States and Canada.

BEING POSITIVE: MAKING THE CASE FOR ISRAEL ON CAMPUS

The best strategy for students who support Israel is to be proactive rather than merely reactive on campus. Your job is to make a positive case for Israel, instead of focusing solely on refuting and counteracting anti-Israel agitation. The latter puts you in the position of always playing catch-up and acting within the parameters of an agenda that is set by others. When you move first, with positive programming, you get to set the tone and the agenda.

The people you most want to educate are not anti-Israel activists, who may never agree with you. Rather, seek to educate campus opinion leaders, potential student groups who may be allies and the general campus population who are amenable to hearing the case for Israel. Indeed, a number of your peers may become important public and private sector decision makers in the years to come after they graduate.

In making an affirmative case, you will need a long-term, though flexible, plan of action in which you identify your target audiences and come to know them well. Such a campaign requires that you develop a level of expertise on the complicated and vexing issues of the Middle East conflict. You need to know your facts, through educating yourself, Most of all, you will need to communicate to others what Israel stands for and what it means to the Jewish people.

Here are some specifics actions to consider:

  • Bring effective speakers and programs to campus to make a positive case for Israel, at least once each semester. In addition to speakers and programs focusing on current political events, consider bringing in nonpolitical speakers and programs such as artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and environmentalists, Israeli academics on sabbatical in the United States are often available for speaking engagements. When on campus, these academics should not only be used for evening, extracurricular events but also as guest lecturers in appropriate courses as well. In addition, set up an interview for speakers with a reporter from the campus newspaper and schedule an appearance on campus radio (and TV if available). Always reach out to the campus media and invite them to cover your events.
  • Provide concise, well-written and researched letters, op-eds and longer articles to the campus media. Submit items on a regular basis, but do not overdo it. These submissions should not always come from the same person or small group.
  • Have a supply of literature on Israel on hand and seek to distribute it widely. Download and post such material on your group’s Web site.
  • Present an image of Israel beyond the conflict. Engage students through music, literature, films, scientific research, business development and other elements of Israeli society.
  • Take the lead on campus-wide campaigns that connect Israel to the mutual interests of other student groups. For example, Israel has a long history of providing equipment, financial resources and volunteer assistance to countries and people in crisis. By working on a campaign to help victims of natural disasters, or promoting awareness about HIV/AIDS, you will find common ground and potential allies.
  • Utilize Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and popular campus blogs to distribute positive messages about Israel to your peers.
  • Be in regular contact with local and national Jewish organizations and your local Israeli consulate, who can be a source of timely information, literature, speakers and programs.

RESPONDING TO ANTI-ISRAEL CAMPAIGNS

While positive programming is preferable, there are situations where it is essential to react directly to anti-Israel incidents and rhetoric. Certainly, any anti-Semitic incidents cannot be ignored. When reacting to such situations it is also imperative to think strategically.

It is important to consider the following:

  • Jewish groups on campus should maintain routine contact with appropriate personnel in the university administration (i.e., Student Affairs) and campus security. Keep them informed on a regular basis of national trends in anti-Israel activity (e.g., divestment campaigns, acts of violence, interruptions of Israeli speakers, harassment, etc.) that should concern them. If an emergency situation arises, an already established relationship will provide you with easier access to the administration. Consider appointing one individual or a small group to serve as designated liaisons.
  • While anti-Israel protests may be protected by free speech rights, the protests cannot disrupt normal school functions, obstruct student access to school buildings, create pervasive, severe, or persistent harassment of students, or physically intimidate or threaten individual students. When the protests violate these parameters, alert the university and ask administrators to take action. ADL’s publication Fighting Back: A Handbook for Responding to Anti-Israel Campaigns on College and University Campuses can provide guidelines to dealing with these scenarios.
  • Respond with accurate information in a succinct fashion to specific anti-Israel sentiments in the campus media. It is most effective to do so in the form of op-eds or letters to the editor. Generally submit a response once, as continued back and forth gets tiresome to most readers and can prove to be counterproductive.
  • In some situations, counterdemonstrations may be an effective and appropriate tactic. Keep the counterdemonstrators separate from the anti-Israel demonstration so as to minimize the possibility of physical confrontation. Always be civil and come prepared with written statements for the campus and local media. Have a supply of literature that refutes the standard anti-Israel arguments available for the general public. Be sure to frequently cite unbiased sources in your arguments; using only overtly pro-Israel sources invites criticism and allows readers to easily dismiss your arguments.
  • When an on-campus panel discussion excludes knowledgeable speakers supportive of Israel, make the case to the administration and to the general campus community that this event violates the accepted standards of fairness and balance. This point is especially vital when such events are sponsored/co-sponsored by academic departments or by the university itself. Your efforts in this regard will prove to be persuasive when you are able to affirm, rather than to challenge, the basic shared norms of the academic enterprise.
  • Research anti-Israel speakers before they arrive on campus. Come prepared with pointed questions and to challenge inaccuracies.
  • When anti-Semitic materials and/or rhetoric appear, you should publicly condemn them and seek to educate the administration and the general campus community to the dangers of hate on campus. Campus administrators and leaders should be urged to strongly denounce such bigotry. Keep in mind that not all anti-Israel material is anti-Semitic. When in doubt, contact Jewish organizations for guidance. ADL’s advocacy manual, Israel: A Guide for Activists, can be used as a reference for understanding when criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitism.
  • If you feel intimidated or discriminated against by your professor in your classroom because of your viewpoints or beliefs, you should follow established academic procedures and discuss the matter first with your instructor. Do so in a calm and non-polemical fashion. If this does not lead to a satisfactory solution, you should next bring your concerns to the department chair, dean, or whoever is the appropriate follow-up at your university. If such appeals are mounted, be sure to have documentation of your claims: include statements from other students, detailed class notes, the course syllabus and assigned readings.
  • Be careful with the language and rhetoric you use. It is easy to fall into arguments concerning “us” and “them” and to generalize about Palestinians when you are actually only referring to specific groups, political organizations, terrorist organizations, and so on.
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complicated topic. In order to strategically respond to the anti-Israel campaign, you must educate yourself and your peers on the nuances of the issues.

SOME LONG-TERM CONSIDERATIONS: BUILDING COALITIONS, PARTNERS AND RELATIONSHIPS

  • Find common ground with other student groups on campus and work to build personal relationships with their membership. These may include college Democrats and Republicans, African American, Asian American, LGBT and Latina/o student groups. Often, when Jewish groups publicly support issues of concern to other groups, those groups will, in turn, support Jewish issues (or at least remain neutral.)
  • Encourage pro-Israel students to be active in key areas of student life such as student government, public affairs forums, campus newspapers and other media.
  • Demonstrating vocal support for Israel should not fall on too few shoulders. Get many involved and pay attention to developing leaders who can continue the effort when their older colleagues leave the campus.
  • Encourage Jewish and non-Jewish students to travel to Israel to gain a firsthand perspective. Once they return, encourage them to share their experiences with their peers.
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