Aussie students learn to be ‘diplomats’

StandWithUs training program uses lectures and site visits to equip participants to explain Israel’s case.

StandWithUs group 311 (photo credit: Michael Dickson)
StandWithUs group 311
(photo credit: Michael Dickson)
Before watching Australia’s first World Cup game against Germany, 240 Australian students gathered Sunday for a three-day conference to prepare them for conversations about Israel back home.
StandWithUs International, a nonprofit Israeli organization, has joined with a series of Australian Jewish groups to give students facts that will better equip them to defend Israel on their campuses.
“These guys can say that ‘I’ve been there and I know the issues,’ and therefore they will have more credibility,” said Michael Dickson, director of StandWithUs Israel.
A handful of New Zealanders and South Africans joined the Australian students, spending the first of three days in lectures and getting involved in hands-on activities. They journeyed to the security barrier to see it for themselves, while also hearing from some of those who planned its construction.
In smaller workshops, Dickson said, students went over the “three Ds” of anti-Israel rhetoric – demonization, double standards and delegitimization – in mock arguments.
“They can confront the biggest accusations, the biggest allegations that are thrown at Israel on campus right now,” he said. “They deconstruct them and have a ready response.”
At the end of the day, Dickson said he reminded the evening speaker, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, to conclude his remarks on schedule so that the students could catch the beginning of the Australia- Germany World Cup match.
On Monday, the students will meet with IDF soldiers, listen to accounts from Sudanese refugees who have sought asylum in Israel, and sit down for a screening of a documentary film by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Dickson said he hoped the program would one day expand, adding that StandWithUs, along with the Zionist Federation of Australia and other Australian Jewish organizations, were looking to tap into over 8,000 foreign students who spend a study-abroad or gap year in Israel annually.