Allison in Israel: Day 3

by Allison Fine

Day 3 started with a long drive down to Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva in the Negev in the south and ended just a bit north of Tel Aviv at the Microsoft Building. Quite a journey in many ways!

The event at Ben Gurion was hosted by Dr. Hagai Katz the director of the Israeli Center for Third Sector Research. He and the program were very impressive. An issue that arose during the session, and that has come up a few times also, was the complexity of working in dual language environments. Many organizations are working with donors who speak English, volunteers who speak Hebrew, and other constituents who speak Arabic. Complicated stuff. But it’s important to remember that not only are the languages different, but these are also different conversations. We talked about the need to focus on the conversation the organization most wants to have with whom and that will drive the language and tool. I know it feels overwhelming to people and organizations starting with social media to add this layer of complexity, but, I hope they can find one experiment, in one language, to experiment with being social.

The Microsoft event was hosted by Matan, an organization built on the United Way model. It was a beautiful facility, of course, and a bit of a three-ring circus with translators into Hebrew working in a booth a bit like the United Nations and signers for several hearing impaired people. I tried to speak extra slowly, but, I am still a New Yorker! I was so impressed by the NGO staff at the event, most of whom were older, like the CEO of Matan herself, who are sincerely trying to engage with social media. The idea of finding a young mentor really resonated with them.

Throughout the day I kept asking people the question I was so struck by yesterday of how to advocate, particularly social media, elected officials in a parliamentary system. NGOs are really struggling with that question. At the end of the day I met with folks from an interesting organization called Reut Institute. When I asked them for a model of successful public policy advocacy, Gahl Rinat immediately said Gilad Shalit. This is a name that has come up often on my trip. Two times driving through Jerusalem, the drivers altered their route to show me the site of the protest.

Very briefly, Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in a cross border raid in 2006. Every day since, his family has sat in this tent. The family wants the Israeli government to negotiate his release, the government will not negotiate with Hamas. The stalemate continues in heartbreaking fashion and has captivated and divided the country for the last five years. Here is a summation of the tension surrounding this issue from Wikipedia according to Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor of political psychology at Tel Aviv University:

Here we see the basic dilemmas between the individual and the collective, and we see victim pitted against victim. Gilad Shalit is a victim who was violently kidnapped, in a way that Israelis do not consider to be a normative means of struggle. Therefore, one side says, he should be returned at any price. But the families of those killed in terrorist attacks and the people who were wounded in those attacks are victims, too, and they say that no price should be paid to the murderers. And it is truly a dilemma, because no side is right, and no side is wrong.

This is certainly a compelling advocacy example. However, I’m still struggling with how advocacy organizations can make their case without this kind of galvanizing story over time. I’m going to keep asking people about that while I’m here.

Allison Fine is a social entrepreneur and writer dedicated to helping grassroots organizations and activists successfully implement social change efforts. She is the co-author, with Beth Kanter, of the bestselling book, The Networked Nonprofit. Allison spent the past week visiting Israel as a guest of the U.S. Embassy’s Office for Public Affairs. Here, in a series of posts, are her observations.

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