It’s not every day that a renowned American pollster and “message maker” comes to Israel to discuss some uncomfortable subject matters with high school students.
“Part of the struggle for those who advocate for Israel is that we need to respond to simple questions and accusations with really complicated answers, because the truth itself is so complicated. To get to the truth, it is important to understand every narrative and point of view of events that happen in Israel. Without a full understanding, you can’t argue anything.”
Those are the words of Dr. Frank Luntz, known to many a political campaign in the U.S. and internationally for his intrinsic insight and digestion of complex matter which often results in an audience or client quickly seeing how a message can be delivered in a totally different inoffensive way. Here, at the Hod HaSharon campus at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF), he shared ways to talk about Israel to a group of Jewish American, Australian, and Columbian students, opening his workshop by presenting a rapid-fire series of hard-hitting and politically charged questions to the students.
“I found myself fumbling for an answer to Dr. Luntz’s questions,” says Maor Ziv-Kreger, an 11th grade student from Boston, MA, and a current Academic Fellow at AMHSI. “With my mind racing for a reasonable response, I knew deep down inside that I have learned so much over the past three months studying at Muss. I have done well on tests from our Israel Studies Curriculum, but these questions were different than what we typically saw on exams,” he further explained.
The students’ feeling of confusion, followed by frustrated in trying to find the right words to express their love and support of Israel, was both natural and expected.
Initial struggles to find the appropriate language and bumps in the students’ responses were exactly what this program intended to bring forward and iron out. After all, the workshop was created with the purpose to better prepare students for some unpleasant questions they may encounter by peers when they arrive on college campuses. For his part, Luntz designed the seminar—in conjunction with the school’s Israel Advocacy studies unit—to successfully train the next generation of advocates with the essential tools to speak positively about Israel. By the end of the evening, AMHSI students were able to positively promote Israel with diplomatic answers and follow-up questions to create a healthy dialogue with those questioning Israel’s legitimacy.
Students taking part in this seminar have been on the campus, just outside of Tel Aviv, for the entire Fall 2016 Semester. All AMHSI students complete the school’s Israel Studies Curriculum, a survey of 4,000 years of Jewish and Israeli history, with interactive educational techniques that use the land of Israel as the classroom, in addition to continuing their general studies from home.
AMHSI’s study abroad programs are part of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Israel Continuum, a series of curriculum, programming, and training to create advocates for the State of Israel that begins in early childhood and extends through the years and onto university campuses. And, on this November evening, the students were learning Israel Advocacy from the person who often crafts techniques and trains the Israel government and Jewish organizations around the globe.
Once the questions were over, Dr. Luntz presented the group with examples of his own answers, and provided tips for the students to remember when they depart for college. “It’s okay to admit Israel has made mistakes,” Luntz explained. “Israel is a democracy and it’s not perfect, so you should give reasons for why Israel makes the difficult decisions that it does.”
Ziv-Kreger found this workshop thought provoking, and helpful. He mused: “Since beginning my studies at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I have intensely studied Jewish and Israeli history. In learning about a historical event, my class travels to where that episode took place. Now that I am nearing the end of my stay at AMHSI, it is time to put all this knowledge to use. Dr. Luntz’s talk marked the beginning of this journey. There are many misconceptions about Israel and its people. I know that when I eventually get to college, I may experience anti-Semitism or misconceptions of Israel. Now, I look forward to continuing my education and sharing what I have learned here with the world, debunking one misconception at a time.”