Public Diplomacy Studies for Israeli High School Students

Zeev Ben-Shachar

In recent years the State of Israel continually finds itself isolated in the international arena. A significant rise in anti-Israeli sentiment is evident, especially during times of political stagnation or regional instability.
At times like this, there is a tendency, sometimes justifiable, to point the finger at flawed government policy and ineffective Israel advocacy.
After delivering hundreds of lectures to thousands of students in Israel and abroad, we believe that there is another reason for the decline in Israel’s international standing.

Then Satan Said/ Natan Alterman
(translated from Hebrew)
..Satan then said:
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And talent,
And implements of war
And resourcefulness.
…only this shall I do,
I’ll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause

It has to do with the notion that we – the Israeli people – have lost conviction in the justness of our cause, Zionism. This assessment is based on the premise that Israel advocacy needs to start from within – we believe that the degree to which Israelis better understand and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, is the degree to which we will be able to represent ourselves effectively abroad.
The purpose of this proposal to the Ministry of Education is to introduce the study of public diplomacy to Israeli high schools. The public diplomacy track (The program will either be required of all students, or made optional for specialty track students) will provide Israeli teenagers with a basic understanding of the history and current status of the Arab-Israeli conflict, something that has thus far been significantly lacking from the history and civic studies tracks. It will also teach students the theory and practice of public diplomacy, and provide them with practical skills in effective communication. Throughout the program, students will be exposed to books, articles, literature and films about improving Israel’s standing in the international arena.
Contributing Team
Project Manager and Lead Author: Ze’ev Ben-Shachar, Educator and Program Manager at The David Project
Lead Researcher and Co-Writer: Maor Shani, PhD Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences
Consulting Committee:

    1. Senior Consultant: Adi Arbel, Program Manager at the Institute of Zionist Strategies
    2. Professor Asher Cohen: Chairman of Civics Studies Panel at Ministry of Education and Political Science Professor at Bar Ilan University
    3. Dr. Simcha Goldin: Chairman of History Studies Panel at Ministry of Education and Jewish History Professor at Tel Aviv University
    4. Professor Orit Ichilov: Sociologist and Emeritus Professor at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University
    5. Dr. Zvi Zameret: former Chair of the Pedagogical Secretariat at Ministry of Education and Professor at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center
    6. Ari Applbaum: Director of Israel Operations, The David Project

Contributing Writers: Adi Arbel, Ari Applbaum, Tal Bar-On, Yoni Biron, Sara Kampler, Noa Sherman-Goldfinger
Note: The purpose of this proposal is to give students a basic understanding of the conflict, provide them with effective communication skills, and to instill in them Zionist values ​​and “Ahavat Ha’Aretz” (love of the land).  At the same time, the program will strive as much as possible, to avoid taking a stand on political issues and matters of government policy. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to train and inspire young Israeli leaders to continue engaging in public diplomacy as part of their public service in Israel and abroad, and to be comfortable doing so regardless of where they are across the political spectrum.
Additionally, much public diplomacy talent can no doubt be found in the periphery, where there are as many capable youngsters as in the center of Israel. This program will be congruently by offered and developed in the periphery, with the goal of helping students overcome social and economic obstacles.

Appendix 1: Program Syllabus
The following is a sample of themes and topics that will be included in the curriculum of public diplomacy:

  1. Historical Dimension:
    1. The right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the land of Israel: historical, international and legal rights
    2. Key events and processes in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and their impact on the State of Israel today: the British Mandate, the 1948 War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Intifadas, and the peace process
    3. Historical context for central issues often discussed such as refugees, occupation and Apartheid
  1. Physical Dimension:
    1. Israel in the regional context: geopolitical maps of Israel and the Middle East
    2. Geopolitical changes in the Middle East: the 2010-2013 turmoil in the region (“Arab Spring”), tensions between “moderates” and “radicals,” the Sunni-Shiite divide, the Iranian threat
    3. Israel in the global context: between international support and opposition (boycott, divestment and sanctions).
  1. Moral Dimension:
    1. Moral dilemmas and right vs. right decisions Israel faces
    2. Where does one draw the line between legitimate allegations and Israel hatred? (using Natan Sharansky’s 3D Test for anti-Semitism: de-legitimization, demonization and double standards)
  1. Israel beyond the Conflict/ “Tikun Olam”:
    1. Innovation and technology
    2. Humanitarian initiatives in third world countries
  1. The Palestinian Narrative:
    1. The rise of Palestinian identity
    2. A national struggle
    3. The peace process
  1. Public Diplomacy:
    1. Understanding the place of public diplomacy in advancing a country’s interests
    2. Nation branding – theory, examples of successful branding, and understanding the rationale behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Brand Israel project
  1. Communication skills:
    1. Public speaking
    2. Debating skills
    3. Responding to difficult questions on core issues surrounding the conflict
  1. Leadership skills:
    1. Principles of effective activism
    2. Planning and implementing Israel advocacy campaigns in the community
  1. Media:
    1. Becoming critical consumers of the media
    2. Learning to utilize mass media to shape public opinion on Israel
    3. Using Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other platforms) to run campaigns, influence existing social networks and expand reach of message to additional social networks
  1. Tours in Israel:
    1. Visiting places and people in the heart of the conflict: security barrier, checkpoints, Sderot and East Jerusalem
    2. Getting to know Israel and Israelis beyond the conflict: high-tech companies, encounters with Israeli entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations engaged in humanitarian initiatives in third world countries
  1. Regional Conferences:
    1. Nation-wide debate competitions
    2. Continuous communication and updates through student blogs, online forums and social media campaigns

For the full position paper (in Hebrew)

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