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Free Online course for supporters of Israel
The Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com) has an in-depth story on a new online course launched this week by the Jewish Agency, the Israel Foreign Ministry and a private firm called AwesomeSeminars.com.
"Hasbara" in Hebrew means "Explanation", and it is basically the act of explaining and defending Israel's actions and her right to exist.
Unfortunately, "Hasbara" also has a bit of a pejorative connotation, meaning "Propaganda" in the view of many Israelis. That's one of the reasons Israelis are not very good in explaining themselves, and her Hasbara is considered less effective than the Palestinian rhetoric.
This course will help anyone who wishes to speak up for Israel, giving "ammo" of arguments to fight Palestinian lies and Anti-Semitic attacks.
""We're trying to provide people with more information on Israel, as well as the tools to get their message across effectively - writing letters to the editor, making use of sound bites and buzz words, organizing pro-Israel campaigns, " explains course lecturer Neil Lazarus, director of AwesomeSeminars.com, an Israel advocacy firm and partner in the new venture"
I copy the full article below.
It's a war - of words
Leora Eren Frucht finds out why a new hasbara course on the Internet is attracting virtual students who want to speak up for Israel
Tired of seeing Israel outflanked in the media by smooth-talking Palestinian promoters? Dismayed by the onslaught of anti-Israel activities on your campus?
Stop complaining, and do something about it. We'll teach you how.
That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind an ambitious new interactive e-learning course launched this week by the Jewish Agency, the Israel Foreign Ministry and a private firm called AwesomeSeminars.com.
"The goal is to empower people to be Israel advocates wherever they are," explains Stephanie Glick, one of the originators of the Community Ambassador training course, a four-week interactive program developed at Kiryat Moriah, the Jerusalem-based educational center of the Jewish Agency.
Those who enroll - some 360 have done so in the last week - access the course material on the Internet. In addition to required reading, there are interactive lectures, discussions and assignments - at the end of which successful graduates receive a diploma, conferring upon them the status of "ambassador of Israel."
"We mean 'ambassador' in the advocacy sense," Glick hastens to add, dispelling any illusions of joining Jerusalem's diplomatic corps.
"We're trying to provide people with more information on Israel, as well as the tools to get their message across effectively - writing letters to the editor, making use of sound bites and buzz words, organizing pro-Israel campaigns, " explains course lecturer Neil Lazarus, director of AwesomeSeminars.com, an Israel advocacy firm and partner in the new venture.
"People are always saying we have a problem with hasbara [the art of making Israel's case]. We say: so what are YOU doing? It's easy to criticize the State of Israel But how many times have you written a letter to the editor?" asks the British-born Lazarus, who gives seminars on Israel advocacy to students, community activists and diplomats. "Hasbara is not just the role of government spokespeople. It's the role of the Jewish people."
The demand for such a course came in response to Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF's incursion into Palestinian cities to rout out terrorists.
"When the battle started, many people felt a need to be more active on Israel's behalf. They expressed the desire to do more than go to demonstrations," says Eitan Eliram, who runs the Jewish Agency's Contact Center, which developed the course and oversees it.
"Emissaries from all over the place approached us. They said the people in their communities were hungry for some more effective means of making the case for Israel. We brainstormed and came up with the idea for this course." The Jewish Agency advertised the course last week on pro-Israel forums on the Net. Within a week, some 360 people from 16 countries had enrolled. "We got about 50 inquiries every morning - it was an overwhelming response," says Glick. About half the participants are students, mainly from North America and Australia. The other half are older professionals and include Jewish federation leaders and educators, a lawyer, a psychotherapist, and a veteran UN employee.
The first course, launched on Sunday, is geared mainly to students.
"Because of the high demand, we're starting a second course in a couple of weeks that will be slated for the professionals," notes Glick.
The Foreign Ministry is also a partner in the course. "We decided recently to put much greater emphasis on hasbara on college campuses. We see this course as part of that campaign," says Anat Gilad, who is in charge of both the North American desk and the campus section of the ministry's hasbara department. "We supply the message - and Neil and the people at Kiryat Moriah supply the tools."
THE BASIC on-line course consists of four weekly units: an overview of hasbara; a look at the media and media bias; recognizing and combating propaganda, and launching a campaign. Each unit includes a Powerpoint presentation (with slides and audio), a list of resources, a discussion and assignment. Participants are expected to spend at least five hours a week reading and completing assignments.
In the introductory section on hasbara, students are taught a rule-of-thumb: "Five percent of the public are pro-Israel, 5% are anti-Israel, and the remaining 90% don't know and don't care." Their assignment is to read the transcript of a speech delivered recently by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at an AIPAC gathering, pick out the "buzz words" used by the prime minister, and rewrite the speech for a "don't know-don't care" audience.
Each participant will receive individual feedback on his or her assignment - one of the reasons why the organizers have limited enrolment to no more than about 150 people per course. Students are also encouraged to exchange views and give each other feedback on the on-line discussion board.
They are taught to highlight four main messages in their efforts to defend Israel: Terrorism is wrong - it is never justified. The Palestinian Authority must be held responsible for sponsoring terrorism and the Palestinian people held accountable for the decision to resort to violence. Israel should be judged in the same moral light as any other country in the world. ("How would other countries react if hundreds of their citizens were blown up by terrorists?" asks Lazarus.) And moral equivalency between the two sides must be rejected.
Here, Lazarus recalls a recent edition of Newsweek in which the pictures and stories of a Palestinian suicide bomber and an Israeli victim - both 18-year-old women - appeared side by side, suggesting that the two were unfortunate victims in the conflict.
"This is a classic example of moral equivalency," says Lazarus. "You're comparing the firefighter to the arsonist. We must make a moral distinction here. One of those people went out to kill herself and as many people as possible. The other one went out to buy a loaf of bread."
The reading material for the site draws heavily on Foreign Ministry sources and includes the ministry's "Myths and Facts: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions." (Why did the violence begin? Why are there more Palestinian than Israeli casualties? What about claims regarding the desecration of holy sites?) There are additional stockpiles of "ammunition" for Israel's budding army of advocates: the self-incriminating testimony of a Palestinian fighter from Jenin (reprinted from the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram); lists of suicide bombers who came from Jenin; documentation of how the Palestinian Authority incites children to violence - to name just a few.
Lazarus, who just returned from a 40-stop North American college tour, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, is well aware of what Jewish students are up against. "On one university campus, students held an Independence Day celebration for Israel. Palestinians held a counter demonstration with banners that read: 'Happy Birthday Israel - Keep the Apartheid Dream Alive.'"
Lazarus has a few visual gimmicks of his own to propose to Jewish students. "Set up a long table on the campus, sit behind it, and have a big banner that reads: 'Israel is Waiting for a Negotiating Partner.' Or, display pictures of the victims of Palestinian terror attacks with the slogan: 'Israel is Dying for Peace.' Students can also wear a wrist band with the name of a victim of Palestinian terror."
That's just a sample of the techniques covered in the campaign section of the course.
THERE ARE also two televised lectures by Lazarus, in which participants from all over the world can ask questions and hold a real-time discussion.
He calls it "a marriage of hasbara and hi-tech." The hi-tech part is done at the Contact Center, the Jewish Agency's 18-month-old electronic campus and communications hub. Founded and run by Eliram, the center can link individuals and communities around the world through audio, video and Web conferences.
The facility was initially intended to provide state-of-the-art tools for promoting Jewish identity - the traditional focus of the Agency's education department at Kiryat Moriah. "With the outbreak of the Palestinian violence, we had to shift gears and focus on hasbara too."
Eliram, a veteran teacher of Talmud with a Masters degree in education, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, is clearly more comfortable with the world of education than that of sound bites.
He speaks with enthusiasm about some of the Contact Center's other projects: a course for teachers-in-training in Russia, who are studying Bialik and Agnon on-line with a Hebrew University scholar (in Russian); a virtual ulpan, in conjunction with Bar-Ilan University, slated to start next year; and an on-line training program for educators in Columbia who couldn't be trained in the conventional way because it too dangerous for them to leave their homes after dark, due to rampant crime.
"As an educator, I don't have a message that is as strict or as formal as the one that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has. But it's clear to me that there is now a strong connection between hasbara, on the one hand, and Jewish identity and education on the other," says Eliram.
Lazarus elaborates: "It's not easy to be a Jewish student on campus these days and say: I'm proud of Israel. This is where education and hasbara meet. The anti-Zionist environment on campus is making it difficult for many Jews to affiliate with Judaism and Israel. As soon as they say they're Jewish, they have to justify what's going on in Israel. They really need the tools to confront these situations."
A number of the students in the course cite anti-Semitism as one of the reasons for enrolling.
"Encountering anti-Semitism on a day-to-day basis at university, I want the knowledge and strength to stand up for what I believe in - the right for Israel to exist and determine its own destiny. I believe the Ambassador's Course is a stepping stone in this process," explains Rebecca, an arts and law student in Sydney, Australia.
"I've had to deal with vandalism of our succa and other incidents of anti-Semitism during my term as president of the Jewish Student Association," says Jack Gryn, of Ryerson University, Toronto.
"This is the first time that many of these students are encountering anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism," says Lazarus. "They are too young to have experienced the atmosphere during the first intifada or the Lebanon War.
Many members of this generation grew up in the decade of the peace process and the New Middle East. Now, suddenly the clock has been turned back 15 years, and they're not prepared."
One thing nearly all participants share is an unequivocal desire to help Israel - many are already active in pro-Israel groups but wish to do more.
Some, like lawyer Cynthia Ittleman of Swampscott, Massachusetts, are consumed by their desire to help Israel. "I found that while working as an attorney I would stop mid-day and ask what I can do for Israel. I couldn't think of anything else."
Now, Ittleman, 49, hopes to use her advocacy skills for Israel's sake. Armed with a Masters degree on Palestinian refugees, she regards this as "a professional refresher course on the Middle East and Israel - and a way to acquire new skills. I'm used to persuading a judge, but winning over public opinion requires other techniques."
Ittleman also has a deep personal connection to the conflict. During her junior year, spent at Tel Aviv University in 1972, she survived one of the first acts of aviation terror by Palestinians - the bombing of a Rome-Tel Aviv flight that exploded in mid-air. "I think I can relate to what terror victims go through."
Other participants, like software developer Jeremy Lichtman of Toronto, have organized pro-Israel rallies, assisted in launching "Buy Israel" campaigns, and contacted government and media officials to make their views known.
In that sense, the site has attracted the "already-converted" - those who need no convincing of Israel's case, just some help in stating it.
Eliram hopes to eventually reach out to a less gung-ho audience like, he says, "the left-wing Jewish student from Berkeley, who feels lonely and ambivalent when he is attacked because of Israel's actions.
"As educators, we care about him and would like to engage him - to share with him the complexity of supporting Israel while having some ambivalence about its policies."
Towards that end he says he hopes to open an Internet forum where participants could air criticism of Israel in a dignified manner and engage in dialogue. "I believe there's room for that too."
The content of the site, all approved by the Foreign Ministry - and much of it supplied by the ministry, does not reflect the debates and myriad views that characterize Israeli society. While numerous polls show a majority of Israelis in favor of removing settlements, this is never mentioned in the course material. According to the site, not only are settlements in no way an obstacle to peace, they may even have helped advance peace.
"Some topics that are controversial among Israelis are portrayed in a one-dimensional way," admits Eliram. "The message is simplistic. We're not interested in exposing these students to the complexities of issues here. We want to train them to compete with Palestinians who are saying that Zionism is racism. Complexity won't do any good in the war to win over an audience."
Those interested in enrolling or finding out more about the Community Ambassador training course should email the Jewish Agency's Contact Center at email@example.com
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Can you add the site www.hasbara.us in your links please.
It's time for Israel to develop a cohesive media communications plan that will incorporate a strong crisis communications component. Creating and implementing such a plan is a job for professionals who specialize in this area.
The task of Israel's HASBARA must be tackled not by occasional sudden sallies. To ensure the essential volume of its message worldwide, in cooperation with Jewish and pro-Israel Christian buddies, a nationwide monitoring organization must be created. HASBARA.us. is this major multi-linked database, fluently updated to by all Jewish and pro-Israel websites worldwide. As HASBARA.us continue to be populated, it will become the ultimate, most updated and reliable data source of Israel and Jews worldwide.
Posted by: david at July 18, 2002 07:04 AM
"Hasbara" (Advocacy)— the need for a united Jewish and pro-Israel website.
The principal aim of Israel advocacy is to present the most accurate and factual information. Public opinion is extremely important to Israel and to Jewish communities throughout the world.
When you think about it, HASBARA is a form of marketing. Unlike the government, HASBARA is a non-profit organization, the goal of which is apolitical and non-biased reporting, presenting an explicative media plan that incorporates a reliable crisis communications component.
To ensure a universal outreach, a monitoring organization of accurate and factual reporting must be created. HASBARA is this major multi-linked database, frequently updated by all Jewish and pro-Israel websites worldwide. As HASBARA continues to be populated, it will become the ultimate, most updated, and reliable world source of data regarding Israel, for reporters around the globe (multi-lingual) to be used in their editorials.
"HASBARA" is not just another advocacy site. It is the main data base of all pro-Israel advocacies worldwide, designed and operated by a group of highly experienced and dedicated professional volunteers. HASBARA provides extensive and elaborate material about Israel and Jews around the globe, with availability and easy access to all.
To counter anti-Israel bias, HASBARA invites you to join a public relations outreach network. Together we will explore major issues as they arise—matters of vital importance to Israel's security and economy. With your support, we will be able to share Israel's real story with the world and stand together for our rights.
Posted by: mic at September 27, 2002 05:31 PM
Good Afternoon, I am a lover and a fan of Jewish culture.
Thank you and Blessings
Posted by: Betho28 at October 29, 2007 12:59 PM
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