Diplomacy: Taking a more nuanced look at Israel
Israel’s consul-general in New York Ido Aharoni advocates shifting Israeli advocacy on campus from angry confrontations on the quad to showing Israel’s relevance in students’ lives.
PRO-ISRAEL STUDENTS take part in an advocacy event at the University of Texas. Photo: (Courtesy Israel Campus Beat)
NEW YORK – Spend any time at all in the US speaking with pro-Israel American Jews and one theme constantly emerges: Israel is losing the campuses.
If it is distress over the annual anti-Israel “Apartheid Week,” annoyance over Palestinian students disturbing high-profile Israeli speeches, or votes in student government bodies about disinvestment, the overall impression is that American college campuses are a beehive of anti-Israel activity. The concern expressed by many pro-Israel supporters in the US is simple: Tomorrow’s leadership cadre is being trained today at America’s universities, and they are being poisoned by a virulently anti- Israel atmosphere.
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Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul-general in New York, who spends hours upon hours on American campuses, has a much more nuanced – and as a result more sanguine – view of things.
Indeed, Aharoni has a whole different idea of what needs to be done on the college campuses: less trying to outshout radical Palestinian supporters on the tree-lined quads, and more quietly trying to make Israel relevant for the vast majority of students for whom the Middle East is distant and far down on their agenda.
“In today’s tech environment it is not about winning debates, but building relationships with people with influence and relevance, people who matter,” Aharoni says in his spacious office just off New York City’s 42nd Street. “The public debate on the quad is not where the battle should be waged. Fighting the fight and arguing the argument will never produce the leapfrog effect for Israel.”
While Aharoni does not discount the need to fight against moves such as divestment votes at the University of California at Berkeley, he maintains that crisis management should not take the place of a long-range strategic outlook. And that long range strategic outlook on campus should focus not on winning debates about the “conflict,” but rather on making Israel relevant.
A generational shift is taking place among Israel’s supporters in the US, and is changing the way people look at Israel, Aharoni says.
“Jewish kids are connected to a different kind of Israel. A cool Israel, an Israel of opportunity. They have a relationship with Israel different from their grandparents – not victimhood and survivability. The conversation needs to be in a different context, of a place where they can express and fulfill themselves, can start a business, can have a good time.” Without mentioning any names, Aharoni – a seasoned diplomat – discounts arguments by those like Peter Beinart and J Street, who say that young American Jews are turned off by Israel because of its right-wing political tilt.