When a new School of Communications opens next fall at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Dean Noam Lemelshtrich-Latar expects to see undergraduate students and internationally renowned scholars rubbing shoulders with young Israeli diplomats and backpackers headed for Goa at the school's Asper Institute of Advocacy.
One of several research institutes at IDC's Sammi Ofer School of Communications, the Asper Institute will be the first academic research center to systematically study Israel advocacy, commonly referred to by the Hebrew word Hasbara.
"Our goal was to create a different kind of communications school, which would be connected both to academia and to the local and international media world," Lemelshtrich-Latar told The Jerusalem Post. "We want to teach our students to operate in the new world of digital mass communications, which has entirely changed the rules of the game."
Together with researchers at the institute, undergraduates at the school will both research Israel advocacy and initiate new advocacy programs.
"Israel has been doing "hasbara" for decades, through the foreign ministry and other government ministries, but so far there has been no thorough academic research on how to create the right kind of hasbara process," Lemelshtrich-Latar said.
In a world in which people receive information from a large number of platforms - ranging from television and radio to cellular phones, iPods and online audio-video broadcasts, each platform influences the message in a unique way.
"In order to study hasbara you must have expertise in communications, and understand the multiple factors that influence the way messages are transmitted and received," said Lemelshtrich-Latar, who began studying interactive media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as early as the 1970s.
"Today we are leaning more and more about the cognitive makeup of various target audiences, and one of our goals is to see how messages can be tailored to each one."
For instance, "Viral communication" - short, humoristic stories transmitted by email - are one form of digital communication that Lemelshtrich-Latar cites as especially effective in certain sectors.
"People have a good laugh and send the messages on to friends, and they reach very large audiences," he said. "Production costs are very low, and the humoristic aspect can have a great effect in terms of advocacy, because when people encounter humor they are less defensive against the message they are receiving."
Researchers at the center will also examine the influence of alternative, interactive means of communication on effective transmission of messages.
"When people are actively involved in receiving information, they can absorb more and are more open, and will also be more inclined to take action if they become convinced," Lemelshtrich-Latar said.
The Asper Institute for Advocacy's second goal is to educate various groups of Israelis traveling abroad about their role in representing Israel.
"It's important to us that Israelis in general, and not just young diplomats going abroad, learn about hasbara in order to help the country improve its image, and we want to give them tools to do so," Lemelshtrich-Latar said. "It could be someone traveling to Goa or a student going to study in an American university - in either case we want to teach them how complex it is to transmit messages, and that others don't always understand things the way you would like them to."
Another related goal of IDC's School of Communications is the creation of a Jewish communications hub, which will receive and transmit information from Jewish communities worldwide and bring together world Jewry by means of digital media.
In addition to the Asper Institute for Advocacy, the School of Communications will also include a center for the study of Internet psychology, an Internet public survey institute, and a center for communication awareness. The school's faculty will include Ken Goldstein, a public opinion expert and consultant to CNN and NBC, among others, who will be leaving the University of Wisconsin and moving to Israel to join the new school's faculty.
In 2007, the school also plans to launch Israel's first English-language undergraduate program in communications.
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