Better together: Pro-Israel groups convene to collaborate
In 2022, one of our coalition’s most significant challenges is the blurring of lines between on-campus and off-campus activism. As our adversaries invest their most substantial resources to influence the U.S. Congress and the American campus, we must be proficient in both theaters. We must also recognize that online activism is the thread that ties these domains together.
Last week, more than 150 professionals from over 25 leading pro-Israel organizations gathered in Denver for the Israel on Campus Coalition’s (ICC) Field Professional Retreat (FPR), co-sponsored by JNF-USA. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first time that ICC had been able to hold the convening since 2019. At the FPR, attendees had opportunities for professional development, networking, and interactions with some of the leading voices in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship. As challenges to pro-Israel Americans proliferate, our community is strongest when we maintain powerful bonds and smooth coordination between organizations.
In 2022, one of our coalition’s most significant challenges is the blurring of lines between on-campus and off-campus activism. As our adversaries invest their most substantial resources to influence the U.S. Congress and the American campus, we must be proficient in both theaters. We must also recognize that online activism is the thread that ties these domains together. One track of the FPR involved our partners coming together for the first in-person meetings of our coalition-wide Digital Activism Working Group, focused on cooperating to address the dynamics of the current environment, where threats and opportunities first emerge online.
To put a finer point on our new digital-first reality, a rising college senior has never experienced a “normal,” pre-pandemic academic year on campus. The virus disrupted life, including on campus, in early 2020, when a current rising senior would have been a first-year student. Later, the rise of the Delta and Omicron variants brought further upheaval. In the meantime, in May of 2021, Jewish and pro-Israel Americans, on and off campus, faced surging antisemitism and a coordinated social media harassment campaign during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
With our coalition’s professionals facing a sustained and draining set of challenges, the FPR made a conscious commitment to equipping our professionals with adaptable skills for psychological response to pressure. The world-renowned Mayo Clinic ran a two-hour workshop on its Stress Management and Resiliency Training, or SMART, program. This training offered our coalition professionals essential psychological tools and strategies to cope with the stress and negativity that we are sometimes forced to confront.
Attendees also enjoyed professional development opportunities, including various Learning Labs and an in-depth briefing on ICC’s latest polling data and message research. Rabbi Peretz Chein, chief content officer of M54, offered an inspiring session on “Finding Spirituality, Meaning, and Connection in an Overwhelming World.” There were also training modules on protecting oneself from cybersecurity threats, being a healthy professional, tailoring one’s message, and telling stories that resonate. Attendees also networked and strategized in breakout sessions by region and functional area.
The FPR featured significant viewpoint and background diversity among our attendees and speakers. Participants heard inspiring words from Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International. The professionals heard from powerful progressive voices, like Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, as well as from notable thinkers like former member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh and Bret Stephens, editor-in-chief of SAPIR. We had presentations from legal experts like Yael Lerman, director of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, Benjamin Ryberg, chief operating officer and director of research at The Lawfare Project, and Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
While the FPR was in progress, participants received a boost as President Biden signed the historic Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration–building on the normalization of the Abraham Accords and rejecting the antisemitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In the text of the signed declaration, “[t]he United States and Israel affirm that they will continue to work together to combat all efforts to boycott or de-legitimize Israel, to deny its right to self-defense, or to unfairly single it out in any forum… While fully respecting the right to freedom of expression, they firmly reject the BDS campaign.”
The threats to America and Israel are only growing. But there is hope. In the face of escalating challenges, our coalition has never been stronger, more united, or better prepared. The courage, creativity and competence of ICC’s coalition partners were on full display last week. Our coalition left Denver feeling optimistic and determined – our time together was a welcome reminder that our respective organizations truly are better together.
Jacob Baime is chief executive officer of ICC.