Author: iyarkoni

In Search of the Tribal Fire

[su_intro]This past week I participated in a five day camping / hiking dialogue seminar in the Northern Negev.[/su_intro]

Hillel created the program, Tribal Fire, in an attempt to encourage Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel to exchange perceptions about their Jewish identities. It was a an invigorating and emotional journey, spending five days in nature together sitting around the campfire and discussing our beliefs and very personal experiences. I never thought that I could create such a close bond with the Israelis I met in this short amount of time. The connection between us was immediately apparent , which allowed for some serious discussions and exchanges of opinions, thoughts and beliefs.

Over the course of our five-day experience we hiked during the day, camped in the freezing cold desert under the stars (huddling 7 people together in a small tent), spent a beautiful Shabbat in nature, slept in the sun, played guitar and introduced Israelis to American s’mores around a bonfire (which they loved). Personally, (because of a bad ankle the last day) I had the amazing opportunity to explore Be’er Sheva and Netivot with a local and learned through her experiences what life is like in Southern Israel. The final destination for the group was in Sderot, a small city on the border of Gaza that has been the victim of many rocket attacks.

As for Judaism… I had never thought much about my Jewish Identity before coming to Israel. After spending four months living here however, I have developed a greater sense of what Judaism means to me. We won’t get into all that right now, but the point is that it never even crossed my mind that Israeli Jews have a completely different way of relating to their Jewish identity then I do.

For me it was tough to express my Jewish identity growing up.

In America, it is not so “cool” to be Jewish. People would say to me things like “wow I didn’t know you were Jewish…” I would reply with “well I’m not really that Jewish…” or something along those lines. In hindsight, I am a little embarrassed about that fact that I felt the need to keep my identity hidden, not only from my peers, but also from myself. The reality for me though is that it is not quite so easy to be Jewish because in the Diaspora, as we always represent the minority.

The Israeli’s that I have become close with during our trip had a different connection with their Jewish identities. In Israel, it is easy to be Jewish because the environment in Israel is predominately Jewish. There is less worry about things like intermarriage and anti-Semitism. However, I observed that there is a struggle of identity between being Jewish and being Israeli. The two coincide with one another to become one single identity. Israeli’s don’t understand the struggle of Jews in the Diaspora because they have never been subjected to an environment where you have to go out of your way to be Jewish.

For Jews in the Diaspora, it is important to go to Israel to really experience the historical homeland of the Jewish people. Visiting Israel allowed me to become more in touch with my own Jewish identity. However, it is almost equally as important for Israeli’s to spend some time in Jewish communities in the Diaspora so that they can experience the separation and the struggle to practice Judaism in a society that is not constructed around it. This experience can lead to the understanding of the difference between Jewish identity and Israeli identity.

Jewish identity is different for every person. Whether you identify with the cultural, moral or spiritual aspects of Judaism, I believe that your Jewish identity is about finding whatever works for you. But in order to continuously grow as a person, you need to ask the right questions and search for the right answers. The most important thing is to have dialogue with others who don’t think like you. There is no way to expand your own identity without listening to and trying to understand the perspectives of others.

A Song of Ice and Fire

[su_intro]I am not sure what led me to make the decision to move to Israel except for the feeling that it would be now or never.[/su_intro]

For my 5 month internship with BOMAH– The Brand of Milk and Honey on Career Israel it is my job is to collect stories from people who have a connection with Israel. Whether they are recent Birthright or Masa program participants, olim (new immigrants) or local Israelis, it is my task to collect their stories and publish them for the world to see. Now it is my turn to share my experience. Since most of the stories I gather take place from within Israel, it is time to talk about some place different. In this blog I will talk about my experience leaving Israel and traveling to Prague.

My trip to Prague with the Jeff Seidel Foundation was an amazing three-day trip. I went with a group of 40 people from Israel (Career Israel, other MASA participants and a few Israelis).

I have always wanted to see Prague, mostly because I’ve heard from friends about the cheap beer. But spending Shabbat there and learning about the history of Jews in the Czech Republic made Prague something entirely different from what I had imagined.

We immediately covered the typical tourist attractions; the Prague Castle, John Lennon Wall, Charles Bridge, Clock Tower and a boat ride down the Vltava River. I enjoyed just walking around the city, eating kielbasa, drinking hot wine and cheap beer. Looking at the beautiful buildings, visiting museums, breathing in the crisp air, and admiring the luxuriousness of Prague. With the snow falling, the medieval buildings, and the Prague Castle looming in the background, it felt like I was in an episode of Game of Thrones.

We stayed at the Caruso hotel, two doors down from the Chabad in Prague, which was very convenient for Shabbat. It was the first Shabbat that I spent outside of Israel since my arrival in August. I never truly considered the connection between Shabbat and the Jewish people around the world, until my experience in Prague. Here we were, davening with the local congregation in a city with a historical track record of persecution against the Jews. It was from this experience that, for the first time, I really started to comprehend the strength and the resilience of the Jewish people of the Diaspora.

I never knew how strange and mystical the Jewish history was in the Czech Republic. With Rabbi Ezra Amichai leading the way, we explored the old Jewish ghetto, visiting multiple synagogues and the old Jewish cemetery. We learned about the history of the Jews in Prague, about the reorganization and deportation of Jews during the Holocaust, and listened to the legend of the Golem. What really struck home was the Pinkas synagogue, an old place of worship turned into a memorial for 80,000 Czech and Moravian Jewish victims of the Holocaust with no graves; their names were written on the walls to commemorate their death. When you hear a number like 80,000 it is hard to appreciate the reality of how many people that is. Every person’s name was hand written and the entire building was full of names and where each person was from. I saw many familiar names and even a few variations of my last name.

The reality of what happened during the Holocaust was starting to hit me like never before.

Another area of significance to me was the Old Jewish Cemetery. Dating back to the early 15th century, this burial ground in the old Jewish quarter of Prague hosts an unknown number of burials with mossy tombstones protruding from the ground in sporadic directions. There are no dates indicating the time period of the graves (except for the ones with the Kabalistic Hebrew conversion symbols). This Cemetery is the final resting place of famous scholars and rabbis including the legendary Maharal of Prague. Walking through the cemetery was like traveling back in time. I realized that Prague was a place that once had a significant Jewish influence and is one of the oldest and most-well known Jewish communities in Central Europe. I felt an outlandish sense of empathy for the Jews that once used to be a part of the culture that are now lost in time.

It was strangely fascinating that a city with such religious history including amazing synagogues and huge churches could have a population that is primarily Atheist. But things only got stranger, more shocking and conflicting, during our visit to Theresienstadt.

Theresienstadt was a transit camp and was used for Nazi propaganda as a “model Jewish settlement”. Tens of thousands of people died there, some blatantly killed and others dying from malnutrition and disease. More than 150,000 people (including tens of thousands of children) were held there for months or years, before being sent by rail transports to their deaths at Treblinka and Auschwitz extermination camps.

While preparing for our visit to the concentration camp, I thought it was going to be a big courtyard with some barracks, a watchtower and barbed wire. It took me by surprise, completely breaking all stereotypes for what you would think a concentration camp to be. It was like a ghost town, a very eerie atmosphere with large streets and buildings, creepy trees and a foreboding ominous presence. Yet people still live their daily lives there like the Holocaust never happened. Our tour guide mentioned that most people who live there see no problem with their residency there and don’t even acknowledge that their home may have also been the home to victims of the Holocaust. It was hard for me to believe that such tragic events could be so easily brushed aside like it never happened.

The museum at Terezin was full of artwork, music, journals, poetry, theater and memorabilia from Jews that were living there during the Holocaust. I found myself asking; what would I do in that situation? What method would I choose to express myself during that miserable time of oppression? If and how would I survive?

The hardest part of Theresienstadt was going inside the crematorium. There we were, a group of Jews coming from Israel, standing in the middle of a Central European concentration camp, in a place where the most unimaginable things happened not so long ago. It all started to become too real. We each lit a candle and sang Am Yisrael Chai and Hatikvah together. I was overwhelmed with emotions that I have never felt before; sorrow for the history, optimism for the resilience of my people, appreciation for everything I take for granted, and the drive to live my life to the fullest every day.

What I found amazing was that despite all the death and misery prevalent during life in Theresienstadt, Jews still found a way to keep their faith. Buried deep in the middle of the old fortress, there is a hidden synagogue that was used during the Holocaust. On one wall of this obscure, cramped shul in the middle of a WWII concentration camp is a faded Hebrew inscription of the prayer “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning”. We closed our eyes and prayed. It truly was a moving and spiritual experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Overall, I can confidently say that I learned more about myself, my religion, and the history of my people than I had originally expected.

The trip made me appreciate the State of Israel as a home for all Jews.

I gained respect and admiration for the ambition and resilience that Jews have exhibited throughout history and the extraordinary lengths in which people have gone to preserve their Jewish identity and the practice of religion during times of turmoil and in the face of death. As I reflect on my experience in Prague I feel a void has been filled related to my knowledge about my Jewish Identity and myself. However, there is always room for growth and this experience is just one fraction of self-enlightenment I have felt since I have been living in Israel.

6 Ways Your Story Can Change Israel’s Image

[su_intro]What happens when you type into the Google search query, “Does Israel”?[/su_intro]

Originally posted on

As you can see, it’s not so pretty. Of course, it is no surprise to see that Israel does not have the most positive image on the internet and online communities. With things like anti-Israel divestment campaigns and “apartheid weeks” on campuses across the nation, the negative Google results only continue to grow.

As with any negative, there is a positive. Post these 6 ways in to action online and we guarantee you are one step closer to turning that Google-frown upside down.

1) Tell Your Story

It all starts with you. Personal stories have proven to be the most effective strategy to positively re-brand Israel through social media outlets. Naturally, we are accustomed to empathizing with others rather than through common marketing tactics. A personal story builds a growing relationship between the reader, allowing audiences to finally be exposed to a personal and lasting connection with Israel which allows for that gradual shift in how people view Israel.

2) Share the Right Content

Finding content to post about Israel is easy if you know where to look. Instead of posting mainstream news articles about Israel, find unique content to share with your online community. Start now, search for these types of categories:

  • Heritage and Culture: History, authenticity
  • Quality of life: Personal stories and blogs
  • Tourism: Photos of travelers in Israel, articles or events in Israel, food in Israel.
  • Entrepreneurism: Technology/start-ups, medicine from Israel

3) Keep It Real

When finding a topic, it is important to try to find a common ground with your audience. Share relevant updates with friends that you know share these interests. Remember not to sound like you are trying to “market” Israel, this is personal storytelling strategy; just be yourself and keep it real.

4) Show And Tell

To be most effective and appealing, tell your story visually. Using photos or short videos are an incredible way to get your audience engaged. When posting, make sure to “tag” so you can engage a greater audience.

5) Find the Right Audience

Using the custom audience selectors (such as the friend option on Facebook) gives you the ability to choose which audience you want to see your post. Be selective by sharing with specific people, groups or networks that you belong to. You can even set up friend lists and send your post directly to them.

6) Get Personal

It is important to remember that though social media is an incredible innovation, it serves a basic human need that has existed for centuries – the need to communicate.

Taking the time for personal engagement with those posting away in your social media community is one of the most overlooked outreach tactics. Thank your followers, reply to their comments, show your appreciation, and ultimately build your reader’s loyalty.

Stay tuned to learn how to take the BOMAH storytelling strategy to the next level. In the next article, we will continue to discuss how to further engage your audience and give you the ultimate strategy on how to get people to like and comment on your stories.

What Happens on Social Media – Stays on Google

[su_intro]As part of my internship for Career Israel as the Social Media Manager for BOMAH – The Brand of Milk and Honey I attended the CIC Public Diplomacy Workshop at Bar Ilan University.[/su_intro]

The CIC is a prestigious program that trains outstanding students in the fields of public diplomacy and spokesmanship, and provides them with the skills necessary to represent Israel in the international sphere. The topic of the workshop was “How to Positively Rebrand Israel.”

The first speaker was Dr. Raanan Gissin, a former senior advisor for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His presentation focused on methods to combat the de-legitimization of Israel against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) and Israel apartheid movements. The tactics that Dr. Gissin suggested involved changing the image of the Arab / Israeli relationship through Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s), Media and International Institutions.

The key takeaway seemed to be that by sharing positive images and promoting Israeli good deeds to the public (e.g. Humanitarian Aid in the Philippines) would facilitate a re-conceptualization about Israel. Dr. Gissin also believes that a constant flow of positive media, with the rapid spread of technology to uneducated populations will enable the upcoming generations to conceptualize Israel through more than just one lens.

The second speaker was Itzik Yarkoni the founder of BOMAH – Brand of Milk and Honey. Itzik’s presentation focused on using Social Media to combat anti-Israel publicity and teaching the BOMAH strategy of storytelling to connect people to Israel.

Itzik began his presentation by asking a volunteer from the audience what finger she would use to ring a doorbell (drawn on a whiteboard). As you might have guessed she used her index finger. Itzik then explained how youth today are so engaged with technology (smart phones) that when asking a young person the same question, the most common answer was the thumb.

This concept coincides with the idea that the Internet and Social Media are now the most relied on sources of information for our youth and the next generations. Instead of doing research at the library people can simply use Google Search for all the information they need.

The point to be made here is that Israel is losing the battle on social media. The majority of content that appears when people search about Israel is skewed information that leads to a negatives perceptions of Israel.

During the workshop a young woman asked the question, “So what is the message?” According to Itzik the message is that stories peak a genuine interest from your followers and by sharing your experiences you allow people to see Israel in a unique and different light, from your perspective. Storytelling is an extremely powerful communication tool that publicly illustrates the personal aspect of Israel, a technique that is not reflected on the media.

Another participant answered,

“That’s the magical thing, this is your message. Nobody is telling you what message to convey, it is what ever you want to tell.”

Itzik gave examples using the storytelling strategy to combat BDS, apartheid week and other anti-Semitic actions on Social Media and explained why positive content is more effective than negative content. “People want to know what you think and what your personal feelings are about your experience.”

BOMAH offers a new strategy for the pro-Israel online community by using storytelling on Social Media. The goal is to reach new audiences through storytelling so that they can experience the personal side of Israel.

The workshop concluded with an activity where everybody worked in groups of two with the task of brainstorming an idea for a post that would combat anti-Israel content on Social Media using storytelling. There were many creative ideas that were presented; I especially liked one that played off the BDS creating the BBS – Bountiful Beer for Students organization.

It was a very special and rewarding experience to be able to participate in the workshop. I had the opportunity to meet and brainstorm with graduate students that understand the necessity and are passionate about re-branding Israel.

The tools are there for everyone who wants to spread awareness. The battle against the de-legitimization and boycott against Israel can be fought though being proactive, staying positive and sharing your story.

Social media diplomacy workshops with Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor program

[su_intro]BOMAH is pleased to have run a social media workshop with the Erwin & Martha Samson CIC Public Diplomacy Workshop & Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor and AICE earlier this week.[/su_intro]

We discussed how to engage both students and community, as well as methods for sharing information and spreading awareness about Israel through social media.

The Visiting Israeli Professors program has played an instrumental role in spurring the growing support for Israel studies on U.S. campuses. It has brought more than 60 professors to 40-plus U.S. campuses, offering more students more opportunities to study Israel through a variety of lens including the environment, history, immigration, literature, law, media, medicine, political science and sociology, among others. Participants at the conference this year included Hanan Alexander, AICE Advisor Board, Sharon Aronson-Lehavi, Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor, Shlomo Avineri, AICE Advisory Board, Mitchell Bard, Executive Director, Boaz Mismuth, Foreign Affairs Editor, Anat Gilboa, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Eitan Gilboa, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Leah Kinberg, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Moshe Ma’oz, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Tikva Meroz-Aharoni, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Adi Portughies, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor Professor, Maurice Roumani, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Zach Scheinerman, Publicity Director, Yuval Sinai, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Michelle Stein Teer, Media Trainer, Gerald Steingberg, CLSFF/AICE Advisory Board, Miri Talmon, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, Joshua Teitelbaum, AICE Advisory Board, Israel Waismn-Manor, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor,. Michael Widlanski, Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor, and our own BOMAH Founder Itzik Yarkoni.

The visiting scholars program provides “greater insight into the legal, cultural and educational impact of this unique history that blends East and West, religious and secular and traditional and modern. These different perspectives on Israel will bring a new dimension on the Jewish State to the students and faculty on U.S. campuses, as well as those interested in Israel and the Middle East in the greater campus communities.”

It was a pleasure to work with these professors on how to use social media to further their stories, both inside and outside the classroom. We give the tools to tell an Israel story, now all you have to do is experience one and share it with the world!

[stag_button url=”” style=”light-blue” size=”small” type=”square” target=”_self”]AICE Conference Participant Bios 2013-2014[/stag_button]

On the frontline: Jewish activism at UC Irvine

[su_intro]It is just another year at UC Irvine – the Muslim Student Union (MSU) recently finished their “Hate week” and the Hillel is preparing to launch IFest, the university’s week-long celebration of Israel[/su_intro]

UC Irvine has been in the headlines many times over the past few years related to anti-Israel activities such as the infamous walkout on Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, but not often have the headlines been about issues that demonstrate a positive attitude toward Israel or the Jewish student body. It is a welcome change to see a more balanced environment developing as a result of the anti-Israel hate events that have been held on campus.

“The situation on campus is both negative and positive” said Jonah Balakhaneh, President of the group Students for Peace in the Middle East. He continued, “It has had a magical effect on many Jewish students who have now gotten very active on campus and focused their efforts on learning as much as possible about Israel.” This is a quite different story from impressions of UC Irvine as a hotbed of anti-Semitism where Jewish students are made to feel uncomfortable year-round. In fact, based on what I have been hearing, things are changing rapidly for the enthusiastic Jewish community.

When Itzik Yarkoni, the new Israel Fellow, arrived at UC Irvine in 2010, he came prepared for a high level of anti-Israel activism and focused his attention on how best to effectively combat it and advocate for Israel. Yarkoni, who was born in Bat Yam, spent several years living in Sderot and helped to run the Sderot Media Center before coming to the UC Irvine campus. In considering the situation, Yarkoni said, “I took my experiences in Sderot and brought them here.” Yarkoni noted that as a student at Sapir College in Sderot, he faced rocket fire and bomb shelters on a daily basis. “I realized that there are two ways to deal with a situation – to either walk away or to stay and fix it.”

The second choice is the one that Yarkoni chose as he became very active in the Sderot Media Center. “Instead of running away from the rockets, we chose to stay so we could document the attacks and present the situation that we are facing to the general public with social media.” This formula, which has been successfully used in Sderot for several years, has now been implemented at UC Irvine, where students are actively working together on a social media team. Through monitoring what is happening around the campus and providing accounts of events, straight from the students, the UC Irvine Social Media team has already paid off. Students have described seeing increased attendance at their events and also have gained a lot personally by learning more about themselves as Jews and becoming supporters of Israel.

The social media team at UC Irvine has responsibility for blogging, photography, and creating videos to document what is happening on the campus. According to Cathy Shutaya, a member of the social media team who manages the group’s blog, “It is important to show that there is a vibrant Jewish community at UCI and that it is not a terrible, anti-Semitic place, as people often describe it.” Shutaya continued, “Beside for one time of the year, during which ‘hate week’ takes place, I cannot feel the tension on campus and that is important to note.” This was a feeling echoed by all students that I spoke with who are active in Jewish life and Israel advocacy.

Similar statements were made by Ari Friedman, a freshman in charge of photography for the social media team. Friedman said, “UC Irvine is a great place for Jewish students interested in discovering themselves and their Jewish identity.” He went on to say, “By being faced with situations throughout the year, it gives students a chance to stand up and represent themselves, as well as a cause that is greater than them.” Along with the day-to-day encounters on campus, students have also been privileged to learn about Israel from Yarkoni and to attend different events and conferences that educate on different aspects of Israel.

Unfortunately, not everything on the UC Irvine campus is totally positive. The MSU just finished up their “Palestinian Awareness Week,” entitled “Palestine: an Invisible Nation.” “Hate weeks” in the past, have provided an opportunity for the MSU to hang inflammatory items around campus, such as bloody Israeli flags, and to bring in speakers, such as Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who during last year’s “hate week” publicly stated his support for terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and called Jews “the New Nazis”. Jewish students felt a bit of relief this year since MSU did not re-invite Ali for an annual return or hang bloodied flags around campus, but still, the week was problematic for several reasons.

This year, “they toned it down a little bit” exclaimed Jonah Balakhaneh. He continued, “Still, they don’t get credit from me because it was supposed to be ‘Palestinian Awareness Week’ and all we found was Israel bashing.” The week of activities included speeches from extreme anti-Israel activists, such as Yisroel Dovid Weiss, head rabbi of the radical Neturei Karta group, UC Berkeley’s infamous anti-Israel professor Hatem Bazian, and fanatic political activist Alison Weir, who over time has promoted slanderous theories, such as that Israel is involved in “organ harvesting.”

“This year they used more Israeli and Jewish speakers than in the past,” said Yarkoni, “but what they’re not telling the public is that these Jewish and Israeli speakers represent an incredibly small minority.” Additionally, they did not tell students that speakers, such as Weiss embraced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran or that Bazian once provoked a crowd at UC Berkeley saying, “How come we don’t have an intifada in this country?” In addition, materials found on campus did not recognize Israel’s legal existence as a state. On the “wall” set up on campus meant to depict Israel’s security barrier, a map was posted for the public to view that did not recognize Israel. Instead, Israel’s creation in 1948 was referred to as an “occupation,” which shows exactly where the MSU stands on the conflict.

With all of the efforts that have been made to demonize Israel, it is encouraging to see the Jewish students at UC Irvine standing up for Israel and being proud of their heritage. With the ongoing social media initiative and other activities taking place, it looks hopeful that the Jewish groups on campus will continue to flourish. As many of the students said, UC Irvine can be a wonderful place for Jewish students to study, as well as learn more about themselves and what it means to be a Jew. It certainly appears that the students will no longer tolerate the hate speech on campus or branding of their university as “anti-Semitic” – instead they hope to grow their movement to ensure a positive experience for all students.

Silence your gun before it backfires: Lessons from the Brooklyn College BDS debacle

On Feb. 6, New York’s Brooklyn College found itself entangled in a fiery free speech fiasco that not only brought to arms both sides of the fervent debate on Israeli-Palestinian relations, but a public and somewhat personal statement by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement—which advocates an academic and commercial boycott on Israel as a means to brand it a criminal nation—was granted approval and funds by Brooklyn College’s political science department to host a panel delegitimizing the Jewish state, thinly veiled as a discussion of their movement’s mission.

Lectures and panels denouncing Israel as an apartheid state have frequently popped up on university speaker schedules across the country for years, so why did this particular event heat up the campus’s political climate and capture the public’s attention in such an unprecedented way?

The meritless BDS movement, which has been debunked as indefensible under international law, is most definitely not reaching a mainstream audience. Rather, a public relations win for BDS is a direct result of generally flawed tactics employed by the other side. In their continued attempt to combat anti-Israel hate speech, the pro-Israel community shouts when it should strategize.

Highlighting the whole affair was Bloomberg, who said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the BDS movement. Even more significantly, the mayor pointed out the ironic publicity BDS enjoyed was the very result of prominent Zionists speaking out.

Highlighting the whole affair was Bloomberg, who said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the BDS movement.

“What the protesters have done is given lot of attention to the very idea they keep saying they don’t want to people to talk about,” Bloomberg said. “They just don’t think before they open their mouths.”

Had Israel supporters taken a more subtle approach, the initially low-profile BDS discussion may have attracted fewer anti-Israel sympathizers.

The first pro-Israel response came from Jewish intellectual Alan Dershowitz, who asserted Brooklyn College’s approval was very much a result of internal bias, and not derived from a love of free speech. Then came members of the New York State Assembly and City Council, including mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, who threatened to cut Brooklyn College’s funding if the event proceeded. Assemblyman Dov Hikind warned of a “second Holocaust”. Within a week of the scheduled event, the media was awash in opinions from both sides, and the modest lecture was transformed into a divisive international issue.

Then came the protestors. While philosopher Judith Butler and Palestinian rights activist Omar Barghouti spoke in the student center, the chanting could still be heard. Dozens of police officers were stationed outside, checking attendees for weapons and monitoring the overflow. Though members of the press weren’t allowed inside, they questioned people on what they thought about the BDS movement. Most never heard even of it—until the vocal attempts to suppress it garnered worldwide attention, that is.

As a former Israel activist at UC Irvine, a campus that suffers from rampant anti-Semitism, I (Itzik Yarkoni) recall a case when pro-Israel leaders effectively responded to a similar event using restraint. “Israeli Apartheid Week”—the annual week demonizing Israel on campus that comes with heated protests and counter-protests—provides plenty of fodder for sympathetic media outlets. But one year, we chose to simply ignore it. No counter-protest, no megaphones, no crowds, and most importantly, no press.

Our muted response was in contrast to years past, when combative pro-Israel groups brought massive attention to UC Irvine, which served not only to increase numbers for the anti-Israel audience, but with the help of a biased media presence, warped the pro-Israel message into something altogether unintended.

After the BDS discussion at Brooklyn College, had campus Israel activists waited patiently to appeal to sympathizers leaving the event, they could have shared the truth about BDS’s origins as a hate-fest and ultimate path towards the destruction of the state of Israel. This would possibly change minds, or at least introduce them to a rational opposition.

This strategy—called “individual appeal”—can be effectively used with “soft-Zionists,” those who identify as supporters of the Jewish state, but lack proper historical context. The BDS website speaks for itself. Their mission statement, if carried out, logically leads to the disenfranchisement of the Jewish people without any clear indication of how it would create a lasting peace.

The other major battlefield in this war of words is online, being waged on social media platforms. Israel supporters need to ask: Who is really controlling the dialogue? Pro-Israel identifiers may be the Jewish state’s most vocal defenders on the Web, but when the message communicated is Israel’s role in the context of the BDS debacle, what that ultimately amounts to is even more PR for the BDS cause, and the tarnishing of Israel’s brand.

During the week of Feb. 6, there were thousands of Facebook messages and tweets concerning the Brooklyn College event and its associated controversies. That same week, plenty of positive news broke about Israel, hardly any of which was shared across social networks with the same intensity. Just a few examples: New York real estate firm Pinnacle Group sold $400 million NIS in Tel Aviv Bonds, the European Union denounced any calls for boycotts against Israel, and Birthright announced skateboarding and hip hop themed trips to Israel.

Even if they aren’t aware of it, Israel supporters are choosing how their country is being presented to the world: either proactively in the context of positive, productive and truthful news, or via defensive, emotionally triggered reactions to the activities of anti-Israel organizations.

It’s critical to understand that the success enjoyed by anti-Israel movements in demonizing the Jewish state is often a direct result of Zionist groups whose impassioned race to the soapbox can serve to pique the curiosity of latent audiences for hate groups. With the implementation of simple ground-level reforms, we can remind Israel haters that without our help, no one is listening.

Ariel Nishli is a journalist living in Los Angeles.
Itzik Yarkoni is a former Israeli fellow for UCI Irvine, and now lives in Jerusalem.