For the last four years I was an active member and leader of Tikvah: Students for Israel. We worked to teach about and advocate for Israel and Zionism on the UC Berkeley campus. That experience helped me grown and learn a lot, and contributed to my decision to make aliya and serve in the IDF.
Since I'm stepping out of the advocacy world, I wanted to take a moment here to write a letter to my colleagues in Tikvah, and to my fellow activists around the globe.
First, and most importantly, thank you for what you do. I know it's hard, whether you're facing hostile anti-Israel activists, a Jewish establishment that doesn't support you, apathy or ignorance about Israel, or financial and practical obstacles to your work. But stay strong, and remember in the moments of difficulty that what you are doing is important, just, meaningful, and worthwhile. Israel, the Jewish people, and the world at large are better off because of your hard work and dedication.
I'd like to leave a few pieces of advice, in the hope that others can learn from my experience and my mistakes:
- Know the difference between being Zionist and pro-Israel. Israel is a state, with all the realities and complexities that come with it. Zionism is an idea: pure, simple, and beautiful. Zionism is a movement of national liberation and national renaissance, the idea that the Jewish people should live as a sovereign nation in their homeland. Zionism is the real message; supporting the state of Israel is a natural conclusion of Zionism.
- Stay focused on the message of Zionism. The peace process, territorial compromise, democracy, cell phones, and terrorism all have their place in the discussion, but without the foundation of Zionism, none of it will make sense. Explain why Israel is important in the first place, and only then explain the situation and threats it faces. Sometimes the best message is the simple line of Hatikvah: "to be a free people in our land."
- Educate yourselves, and educate your peers. Read books, read the Israeli news, discuss and debate issues among yourselves. Know when to use the sound bites, but understand that they are not enough. You will be respected by your audience for your erudition.
- Being intellectually honest requires constantly questioning your own beliefs. This is a strength, not a weakness, because the truth is on our side. If you are diligent, educated, and intellectually honest, you will find truth and you will find confidence in your conclusions.
- Know when to make compromises and when to stand fast to your beliefs: there is a time for war and a time for peace. Sometimes a compromise is worthwhile to maintain an ally, but if the compromise requested is too great, that alliance is probably not worthwhile anyway.
- Remember that most importantly of all, Jews are your target audience. This is true for its own sake, and also because where there is a strong Jewish pro-Israel community, others will hear your message louder.
- Sometimes the Jewish establishment makes mistakes. When it does, you must not follow it blindly but you must not give up on it. It is better at fundraising than fighting, and shies away from controversy; don't expect it ever to be good at activism.
- Know what works for you. The atmosphere, interests, and values of each campus or community are different. Break out of the mold of middle aged white Jewish men lecturing about the danger from Israel's enemies. Be creative, try new things, and learn from experience.
- For those of you on college campuses, four years is a short period of time, and allows for little institutional memory. Discuss what works and what doesn't, and write down the lessons learned. Educate, inspire, and equip younger activists to take your place when you leave.
- Remember that what you do is about your personal growth and the growth of your community as much or more as it is about convincing the outside world.
For the freedom of Zion,