“My name is Joe, and I’m tired of people bashing Israel on campus,” the YouTube video begins, as a teenager fresh from a summer Birthright trip speaks into his video camera. These words may seem like the start of several videos posted by a young Israel activist looking to spread his message through online media, except for one detail: Joe is fictional.
Joe, an animated college character, is the face Joe’s Israel, an online project designed to respond to the delegitimization of Israel by engaging college-aged students in fostering their connection with Israel. The campaign is narrated by Joe, who explains that the impetus to start the project came after his recent Birthright trip.
In the middle of one of Joe’s introductory videos, a video chat request pops up from user “VP_Lieberman2000,” AKA outgoing Senator Joe Lieberman, who is sitting at his desk in DC.
“Hey Joe,” he interrupts. “It’s me, the other Joe. Do you got a minute to talk about Israel?”
The campaign is among the first of its kind in that it takes on a participatory, social media-based strategy to bring Israel activism to a demographic that is comfortable using technology to share and exchange ideas, particularly with regards to activism. The site is divided into three sections: “Presenting Israel,” for visitors to the site who want a general overview of Israel’s 3,000 year history; “Catch the Connection,” presented from a law-based perspective from Joe’s older sister Sarah; and “The Rant,” which encourages dialogue. Visitors are invited to respond to these videos, submit their own, and to interact with each other on Joe’s Israel’s YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook pages.
“The inspiration for Joe's Israel was the conclusion that Jewish students don't always understand or appreciate the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel,” explained Mitchell Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), who brought the effort to life. “We want to go back to first principles and show that the Jewish people are actually an aboriginal people whose roots are in Israel and who have legitimate rights to the land where they have lived without interruption for more than 2,000 years. We also want to reclaim the word Zionism, which is an expression of this relationship between the land and the Jewish people and the right of Jews to self-determination in their homeland— Israel.”
In addition to AICE, the World Zionist Organization, Hillel, the Israel on Campus Coalition and StandWithUs have also partnered on the project.
According to a blog post from Andre Oboler, who created the project, Joe’s Israel hopes to “empower student leaders, selected by our key partners, as moderators of the discussion. Partners across the world are using social media to engage in discussion about the direction of the campaign. This is not a campaign with a Facebook page tacked on to it, this is a campaign designed on a social media philosophy. This is where the future of activism is going.”
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