BALTIMORE – There’s no predominantly anti-Israel sentiment on most American
campuses – rather apathy is the true danger facing the Jewish state, according
to an Israeli diplomat.
“There is no prevailing anti- Israel sentiment.
That’s not the winning narrative on campus,” Ido Aharoni, Israel’s
consul-general in New York, told a rabbinical group gathered as part of the
Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly here.
biggest problem we have on campus today is apathy,” he stressed. “The real
danger is for more and more Americans, Jews and non- Jews, that develop the
inability to relate [to] Israel.”
Aharoni, who frequently visits colleges
and universities as part of his diplomatic outreach, said that Israel advocates
on campuses have wasted time using a flawed strategy.
“For many, many
years, we worked on the wrong assumption that the purpose of human
communications is to win an imaginary argument,” he said. “Now we know that the
real purpose of human communications is to build relationships.”
consul-general said that Israel needs to build relationships first, and only
then ask for help with challenges the country faces.
He argued that the
way to build those relationships is to find ways to engage people with Israel
that moves beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly through
Israel’s creative contributions.
Aharoni pointed to hi-tech, agriculture,
dance, fashion and TV programs as just some examples of fields where Israeli
creativity can be inspiring to international audiences.
He noted that the
Foreign Ministry is no longer referring to such efforts as “branding” Israel
because of the connotation of manipulation that the term conveys.
task at hand is to broaden the conversation about Israel. The current
conversation is very narrow, and it’s limited to Israel’s problems,” Aharoni
said. “If we do not broaden the conversation, we will not be able to compete for the attention of the next generation.”
“Making sure that
people remain engaged [with Israel] is certainly an ongoing concern,” said
Conservative Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, chair of the JFNA’s rabbinic
He said that concern led the cabinet to put the issue on the
agenda. Of the more than 3,000 lay leaders and Jewish activists in Baltimore for
the GA, Weinblatt estimated that some 60 of them were rabbis, representing the
range of Jewish dominations.
“We have to realize that we have an
important role to play, and that’s to motivate people to care about Israel,”
Weinblatt said of congregational rabbis. •