A pro-Israeli fortune cookie

International university students are encouraged to think out of the box at hasbara fellowship program.

fortune cookie 88 (photo credit: )
fortune cookie 88
(photo credit: )
Think out of the box, was the message former consul general to New York, Alon Pinkas, had last week for a group of 150 international university students who were graduating from a hasbara fellowship program. The student activists, who spent the summer learning about Israel advocacy from the StandWithUs organization based in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, presented Pinkas with six potential projects chosen out of 140 proposals. They included putting pro-Israeli messages inside fortune cookies and making a YouTube video promoting Israel, but Pinkas, who praised their energy and initiative, was intentionally blunt with the groups, preparing them for the harsher world of diplomacy. While he said the students had done "a brilliant job," he added that all of their ideas had been tried before by the Foreign Ministry and failed. "All I intended to do was to put them in an out-of-the-box frame of mind away from the Foreign Ministry's conventional apologetic approach. I purposefully said I would be blunt as to make them think beyond cliches," he said. The six projects that were chosen covered a wide spectrum. Participants who spent their fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem established a dialogue between European NGOs working in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to show them other sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meanwhile, the fellows from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev approached high schools in Israel's periphery, distributed disposable cameras, and asked the students to take pictures of what Israel means to them. Fellows from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya created a program called "Always an Ambassador," which seeks out visiting delegations or Israeli delegations going elsewhere and gives them basic tools to use abroad when advocating for Israel. At Bar-Ilan University, the fellows put together a pamphlet called "Passport to Israel," which will target non-Jewish tourists arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport. The theme of the pamphlet is "Israel is a place to..." and each page completes the phrase with a different concept, such as "learn." The Bar-Ilan project has piqued the interest of The Foreign Ministry, which has agreed to fund a pilot. Noam Katz, director of the Information Department at the ministry, said, "I don't want to speak at the moment on half-baked projects, but we agreed to go a test... with these passports. We don't have the approval yet of the Israel Airport Authority." Currently, the StandWithUs International fellows are planning to hand out these passports themselves. Pinkas said that StandWithUs International was a worthwhile organization, teaching the students valuable tools which will help them become better pro-Israel advocates. "Especially at a time when Zionism looks like a part of history and being involved in public service is percieved to be second to a career in business. Thinking of this instead of how to make a fast buck... is nothing less than heartwarming," he said. The fellows are the "human face behind the headlines... and they shatter hundreds of stereotypes," said Tanya Stern, Internships and Delegations executive for StandWithUs International.