Students from Emory, Kennesaw State, the University of Georgia, Georgia State and Georgia Tech were among the guests recognized for their involvement in pro-Israel organizations at the annual dinner with supportive college students hosted by Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer on Thursday, April 20.
The delegitimization of Israel on college campuses and the effective use of social media were among the topics of discussion at the consul general’s home.
“It saddens me to see efforts to delegitimize Israel, but you are our first line of defense. I was impressed to hear about the pro-Israel celebrations on every campus and thank you again for your influence,” Shorer said.
She and Hillels of Georgia’s Israel fellow, Moran Shaboo, presented awards recognizing students for their support for Israel. Emory graduate Jake Greenberg received Hillels of Georgia’s Ally of the Year award.
Addressing the need for further pro-Israel engagement on college campuses, Hillels of Georgia Executive Director Russ Shulkes explained the continual struggle Jewish students feel on campus and spoke of his own experience with undergrads.
“Most of the freshman class inherits their love of Israel from their parents, but that can be wiped out once on campus, and that scares me,” Rabbi Shulkes said. “We have students who want to be pro-Israel in a pragmatic way and make a difference, but the students here tonight only represent 1 percent.”
Rabbi Shulkes also spoke about the importance of using Israel as an inspirational platform for students to interact with others. “Find that happy place or commonality you have and bring it out. Perhaps you both study biology or are interested in science. Relay the innovations Israel has developed within that area to help others have a better perspective of Israel.”
The evening’s main speaker, Adi Luria, the digital media director at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, offered a short presentation on positive social media engagement and the ways that major U.S. events, such as presidential elections, can shift perceptions of Israel.
Luria said countries are like brands, and Israel’s brand is not attractive but is in the same class as the National Rifle Association.
Still, even though opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are widely distributed, most people don’t care, Luria said. “The perception in the U.S. about Israel is often off; it’s a myth when individuals believe Israel is just like the U.S.”
She said last year’s elections shifted U.S. citizens’ perceptions about Israel based on party alignment: Favor toward Israel increased among Republicans and decreased among Democrats.
Luria reiterated Rabbi Shulkes’ sentiments about the need to look at Israel beyond the conflict. “Pro-Israel students and individuals alike should instead mention Israeli modernizations, such as Waze, and the breadth of diversity in Israel, including that of the LGBT community. It may be very hard and take some time, but it will eventually sink in.”
On social media, Luria advised students to remain optimistic. “Find a channel that speaks to you and push it as much as you can. Tell people why it’s good content, and it will run.”
It’s important to know your audience, she said. “Relate it back to Atlanta if you have to. Know where you are coming from and who you are speaking with. Perhaps you and another student are conducting the same research. That will help you find common ground while remaining pro-Israel.”
Luria also urged students to find and understand their opposition on social media. “Don’t fight with haters on social media, but if you see an opportunity, comment with facts and history. Know your information and use it. Individuals will see the comments and will inevitably stop arguing. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many followers you have; it’s about the quality vs. quantity. Follow your opposition and listen to their rhetoric; this will also help you communicate your message better.”
Yet digital platforms are just one path to interaction. Luria said a person-to-person discussion is even better.
Shorer thanked all the students for their pro-Israel efforts. “It’s a wonderful sight to have so many students here from very diverse backgrounds passionate about Israel. Thank you for your support on campus and your involvement in pro-Israel organizations. You may not always be popular or find it an easy thing to handle yourself, but continue to show your strength and resilience.”