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ADVOCACY TRAINING

StandWithUs staff Michelle Rojas (Left) and Dani Klein (Right)
By Miriam Mogilevsky,
Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
BEAVERCREEK — Suppose you are an Israeli teen, the only one at your school. Suddenly, war breaks out in your home country, and your classmates are looking to you for information and perspective. What do you do?

Luckily, I was scheduled to attend a weekend retreat in early January with my group that went to Israel last summer.

The reunion, designed as an Israel advocacy training retreat, was held just one week after the fighting in Gaza began.

We began with a Jeopardy-style game to test our knowledge of Israeli history, culture and politics. The game was called "Israel is NOT in Jeopardy."

Michelle Rojas, a representative of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy organization, spent the weekend with us.

For the first activity, three people from my group pretended to be well-known anti-Israel speakers. They sat in a panel and the rest of us were challenged to stump them, asking questions that they couldn’t answer.

Rojas pretended to be a moderator who supported such speakers, and would often stop us from asking questions she deemed "disrespectful."

We saw how difficult it can be to get straight answers from anti-Israel speakers.

We would ask questions such as, "Why is it OK for Hamas to resort to terrorism when other groups protest peacefully?"

The speakers would reply that there is no other way for Hamas to make its needs known.

Rojas said we had experienced something similar to an anti-Israel panel on a college campus, complete with a moderator who stopped us from asking difficult questions.

She stressed the importance of asking yes-or-no questions that forced the speakers to answer.

The speakers returned and we phrased our questions differently. One girl asked, "Do you support suicide bombing, yes or no?"

As we’d expected, the speakers could no longer answer clearly. To say "no" would be to abandon their true beliefs, but to say "yes" would immediately bring them under fire for supporting an action deemed deplorable by most of the world.

My favorite session was "Toning Your Debate Skills" with Dani Klein, also from StandWithUs. He spoke about the importance of challenging anti-Israel speakers for the sake of informing the audience rather than arguing with the speakers.

"We have to assume that 10 percent are pro-Israel, 10 percent are anti-Israel, and 80 percent don’t know enough to have an opinion," Klein said.

When asking a question of an anti-Israel speaker, it is vital to try to de-legitimise what he or she is saying, Klein said.

This can be done by asking yes-or-no questions that show what the speaker really thinks, or pointing out something the speaker purposefully left out of the presentation.

For instance, if a speaker tries to denounce Israel by blaming it for civilian deaths of Palestinians in Gaza, asking, "But hasn’t Hamas been proven to use civilians as shields?" would help discredit the speaker’s claims.

Klein told us not to sit in large groups with other pro-Israel students; moderators will soon stop calling on people sitting in our area.

As for answering questions directed to us, Klein offered a tip you may recognize from speeches made by various public officials.

"Always include the word ‘peace’ in your answer," he told us. "If the Israeli side says ‘peace’ more times than the Palestinian side says ‘peace,’ we will win the PR war."

I realize this advocacy training is heavily pro-Israel. This is a criticism I often receive when people see that I read the Jerusalem Post and materials from StandWithUs. People say, "How can you be fair if all you read is pro-Israel stuff?" But I’m fine with that because I already know what I believe; I just need the tools to defend it.

Miriam Mogilevsky is a senior at Beavercreek High School. She has been accepted for early admission to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

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