February 26, 2006

IsraelVotes educates about Israel’s vibrant democracy in an interactive wayIn order to be an effective pro-Israel activist it is crucial to have goals, be creative, leverage resources, think strategically and, most importantly, to have a little chutzpah.

As co-founder of Upstart Activist, a Jerusalem-based Israel educational organization that is focused on Israel education and inspiring students, we are always looking for the ultimate educational campaign or message.

As activists, our goal is to inspire and motivate young people on campuses to learn more about the key issues in order to be effective advocates on behalf of Israel. This is on-going challenge but as experienced former campus activists, we know that creativity, relevance and timing is crucial to success.

On March 28th, Israelis will vote in critical national elections that will have international implications. On over 100 campuses, tens of thousands of students will be voting in a special web based mock election called IsraelVotes.com.

IsraelVotes is a powerful educational tool which not only allows students to ‘participate’ in Israeli elections but also includes an array of information on Israeli political parties, the Israeli electoral system, key political leaders and backgrounders on key issues.

The elections are sponsored by various Israel advocacy organizations including Caravan for Democracy, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Hasbara Fellowship of Aish Hatorah, Jewish Agency for Israel, World Union of Jewish Students, and the Bureau of Jewish Education Rhode Island and will each have access to sites customized for each campus and/or group.

IsraelVotes was created in January 2003 as an opportunity for students to experience Israeli democracy first hand by voting in mock elections. The idea of holding mock elections has been around for a long time but never has it been taken on-line to offer students the unique opportunity to vote and learn more about the issues. My colleague, Eric Esses, and myself were former campus activist during first intifada (1987) and the first Gulf War (1991), when US campuses were a hotbed of anti-Israel propaganda.

This initiative was launched as an ‘off-line’ campaign when we were activists and now has been refined to meet the needs of today’s students who depend largely on the Internet for communication and information. The off-line element is still an important aspect of any educational campaign and will be implemented by students through speakers, flyers, tabling and workshops.

In 2003, the project was a huge success, and thanks to ISRAEL21c’s outreach, generated a great amount of press (Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and many campus, Jewish & Israeli publications). More than the press coverage, our statistics page showed that approximately 20,000 people voted online. All this was achieved in spite of the bad timing for the campus community (Jan 28th, with students just returning from winter break).

Remember this was also during the height of the second intifada and students were facing many challenges on campus. Israel Votes in 2003 provided students with the opportunity to set the agenda on campus and to talk about the positive message of Israel in a proactive way.

Now we’re gearing up to run IsraelVotes.com for the 2006 elections. This is an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to thousands and educate them about Israel and the issues. The educational benefits of educating about Israel’s vibrant democracy are tremendous.

Our goal is to make IsraelVotes.com of 2006 the single biggest pro-Israel advocacy event in history. The IsraelVotes 2006 campaign was launched on February 7 at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in New Jersey, in which over 50 students took part in the IsraelVotes mock election initiative. The feedback was tremendous and the students had the opportunity to interactively gain a better understanding of the Israeli parliamentary system and various party platforms.

As we head to the polls soon – whether in Israel or through IsraelVotes.com – we have the unique opportunity to educate and inspire others about Israel’s vibrant democracy in an interactive and meaningful way.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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