Allison in Israel: Day 4

by Allison Fine

Another day in Israel, more fascinating events. The first event was a packed house at Tel Aviv University’s Communications Department. This was a full-circle moment for me as I spent a semester in college at the university. I never expected I would be back for a talk on social change (I was going to say social media for social change, but who could have ever predicted that even a few years ago!)

A participant named Hadas Eyal asked a question about measuring social change catalyzed by individuals rather than NGOs. It was a great question for which I didn’t have a great answer. It turns out Hadas is doing her dissertation on just this question, the use of social media for individual activism! At every stop, I have met really smart people with stories or research to share. I’m going to have a lot to read when I get home!

From Tel Aviv we traveled north to Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel. The program was at the Nazareth Academic Institute. The Institute was started in 2003 They have thirty students at a time in the Institute studying communications, computer science and chemistry, kind of an odd mix, but it is of interest to Arabs living in that area (or they just like teaching things that start with the letter c.)

Most of the students are local and most are women, because the men are working by the time they are eighteen, or in the northern part of the country more likely looking for jobs. One very interesting fact I learned is that 80 percent of married Arab women without college degrees do not work. Eighty percent who have college degrees do work, and their families have more money and they are much more likely to stay out of poverty. That made me think of this brilliant video called The Girl Effect Lisa Colton of Darim Online presented at the Avi Chai Foundation Social Media Academy.

They do not yet have any Jewish students although they say it it one of their goals (between 10-20% of students at Hebrew University, for instance, are Arab.) It was a beautiful building and the first time they had an outside speaker for an event. The audience of about fifty people were from local Arab NGOs, a brand new community for me.

These were largely advocacy groups, the Arab community does not have a lot of organizations dedicated to direct service, they rely on government services. I asked what they were advocating for, although I had a guess, and learned that it was for Palestinian statehood, naturally. However, they are advocating to decision makers outside the country, in communities in Europe and the United States. This provides interesting language and audience challenges for them.

The presentation itself was a bit slow going. They had built for the occasion a temporary structure in the library (pictures from the St. Dept. are coming) for real-time Hebrew and Arabic interpreters to sit. However, it wasn’t soundproof. Everyone could hear me through my microphone and at almost the same time the two interpreters. It made for a very strange echo effect, actually a bit of a cacophony, that I don’t recommend any other public speakers try!

Near the end of the program a young man said he works for a Palestinian think tank. He knows his searches are being followed closely by the Israeli government, as he search requests are often blocked when he uses words like resistance. Should he be using Facebook, he asked.

Wow, what a tough question! On the one hand, we have all witnessed what Facebook organizing (at least on the front end) has accomplished in the Arab world this year. On the other hand, governments are now allowing people and organizations to organize on Facebook so they can monitor what they’re doing and saying. Of course, I’m not advocating any illegal or violent organizing efforts, however, advocates should have a right to discuss issues among themselves. But, of course, being on Facebook, by definition, means being in public. I advised great caution. Again, perhaps not a particularly helpful answer, but any social media platform they use, Google groups, Ning, are not really private just temporarily shielded from authorities and he needs to be aware of that and make choices that work for his efforts.

We also briefly discussed the Facebook page discussion called the “Third Intifada” that was recently taken down by Facebook because of it’s comments advocating violent against Israel. This was an example of poor network weaving, I think, because the conversation started out focused on civil protest and was hijacked by commenters with a different agenda. Better facilitators would have thrown the trolls out before the conversation morphed into something entirely different from where it started.

I reflected during the car ride home about talking to Palestinian activists, some of whom may not recognize Israel or supported the violent agenda of the Third Intifada Facebook page. Let me be clear, I do not know that for a fact, but it is a possibility with some of the attendees. Is it consistent with my personal views supporting the State of Israel, although in favor of a two-state solution? I can imagine some of my Jewish friends would not have been in favor of my participation today. However, my focus is on using social media to start and facilitate conversation about issues. Any issues; global warming, housing, and, yes Palestinian statehood. What purpose is served trying to keep tools or information away from anyone (which is impossible anyway.) Information about using social media for social change is easy to get online. At least, through my own efforts, I know what I am supporting; lots and lots of conversations, hopefully in the future across religious lines, about how to come to a peaceful solution to the conflict.

So much for my moral dilemma. On the way home, I also learned how sunflower seeds are harvested! On the road to and from the Negev yesterday and the Galilee today there were beautiful, large sunflower crops. I’ve never seen so many sunflowers together:

But then I wondered how do they get seeds harvested? Our Israeli driver, Dani, told me that a machine slices the flowers off, they are dried and then shaken so the seeds fall out. Another thing learned on this trip!

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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