‘Devastating’ turn against Israel by Jewish students in US

1st article, from Times of Israel, is fairy neutral about the results of the Brand Israel Group survey. 2nd article is JPost in full defensive mode – American children should be brought to Israel before they are old enough to grasp the criticisms.

Protest in New York City, August 2014, photo by Jed Brandt

‘Devastating’ survey shows huge loss of Israel support among Jewish college students

Brand Israel Group raises the alarm on a widening gap in the US between older supporters and the increasingly pro-Palestinian next generation

By Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel
June 21, 2017

More than a decade ago, a diverse focus group of Americans was asked to describe a typical Italian house. Words like “lush, food, cooking, maternal, welcoming” quickly rolled off the tongue. The same group was asked about an Israeli home and a very different vibe was described: “concrete, strict, ultra-religious, middle-aged ultra-Orthodox men.”

This 2005 focus group was commissioned to explore the underlying image of Israel in the American psyche. The unanimous perception was a conflict-driven country filled with religious fundamentalists.

Not exactly a country they were keen on visiting — or supporting.

The loose consortium of volunteer marketing and advertising executives who commissioned the study now falls under the Brand Israel Group (BIG) rubric. While each member of this heterogeneous Mad Men coalition had his or her own reasons for wishing to change Americans’ innate view of Israel, for Fern Oppenheim, co-founder of Brand Israel Group, her tipping point came after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks.

The child of Holocaust survivors, Oppenheim said she awoke from her sense of Jewish security that day. “I never thought I’d smell smoke living in New York,” she said in Jerusalem this week.

September 11, 2001.  The attack on the World Trade Center frightened American Jews who assumed the US meant safety. Photo by Daniel Hulshizer/ AP

Her safety bubble popped, Oppenheim decided to throw her support — and skills — behind Israel. With her extensive marketing and management background at such companies as Kraft/General Foods, Oppenheim began to use her professional prowess to help the Jewish state, which she calls “the canary in the coal mine.”

The team had a revolutionary approach: instead of the Jewish community’s typical “shooting from the hip,” said Oppenheim, the high-level marketing execs “rolled up their sleeves to get a research-based understanding” of mainstream Americans’ perceptions of Israel, and only then to create a strategy based on their research.

Since its initial coalescence in 2002, Brand Israel has commissioned a large-scale segmentation study in 2010 and a followup in 2016. For anyone with the slightest Zionist impulse, the downward slope of Israel support is disturbing.


Fern Oppenheim, L,  used marketing skills to get evidence about attitudes to Israel with ‘devastating’ results.

While in Israel to present the recent 2016 BIG segmentation study, “Sounding the Alarm: The American-Israeli Relationship,” Oppenheim repeatedly used the word “devastating” — each time without hyperbole.

In sum, the gap between Israel-supporters and detractors is widening. The current Israel advocacy programmes are not working, and Jewish college students are the leading defectors from Israel support.

‘The future of America no longer believe that Israel shares their values’

Mainstream Americans are not starting from a neutral perspective on Israel; rather, they begin with misperceptions and negative assumptions. This creates “fertile ground” for delegitimization, said Oppenheim, who also spoke this week at the prestigious annual Herzliya Conference.

The more the study participants knew about Israel, the less favourably they felt about the country

The 2016 segmentation study’s data shows that the current campaign of depicting the Israel beyond the conflict — specifically, highlighting high-tech achievements — is not effective. In fact, the more the study participants knew about Israel, the less favourably they felt about the country.

According to the report’s executive summary, since 2010, claimed knowledge of Israel has increased 14 percentage points nationally (from 23% to 37%) and is up among every demographic group (except for college students, where it is down 16 percentage points, from 50% to 34%). These increases, however, have not translated into increased favourability, which is down 14 percentage points (from 76% to 62%) nationally and by large margins across the board.

Fern Oppenheim, the co-founder of Brand Israel Group, ‘The paradigm of Israel beyond the conflict is not the right paradigm for capturing hearts and souls.’ (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

“The paradigm of Israel beyond the conflict is not the right paradigm for capturing hearts and souls,” she said.

The key is to emphasize common values. To change an attitude about Israel, the camera needs to be pulled back to show the full face of the country and its people, she said. When Israel is an issue, and not a country filled with an incredibly diverse population, the field is open for boycott campaigns and other delegitimizing efforts.

“Shared values have been the bedrock of the American-Israeli relationship. Without this connection, the future of the alliance is in jeopardy,” claims the BIG group. And the biggest value gap is between core Israel supporters — basically older, wealthier, more conservative, whiter Americans — and those who are labelled as “at-risk” — younger, minorities, liberals.

The picture is even more dire when looking at the next generation of potential Jewish leadership. Between the 2010 and the 2016 surveys, Jewish college students dropped 27 percentage points on the question of whether they lean towards the Israeli side.

This is explained, said Oppenheim, by a perceived lack of shared values between the ultra-liberal Jewish college student and Israel.

On December 15, 2015, more than 300 Jewish activists in Boston marched for the Black Lives Matter movement, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo by Ignacio Laguarda/Wicked Local

“The future of America no longer believe that Israel shares their values. This is huge! Devastating,” she said.

Much of this change she blamed on the rise of “intersectionality” on campuses. There is no longer nuance in campus conversations about Israel, she said. Instead, the “atmosphere is oppressor versus victim. Israel is just another symbol of this.”

Despite the plethora of organizations, campus advocacy does not appear to reach these students’ hearts. Using a morbid example, she said, “No one didn’t think that [Nazi “Angel of Death” Josef] Mengele wasn’t a brilliant scientist. But he was a monster. We need to drill down that Israelis are people” — not just high-tech geniuses.

“We are allowing Israel to be defined by its detractors,” she emphasized.

Instead of stating dry facts, professionals must highlight Israel’s decency, morality and the diversity of the Israeli society in general — and in the context of the conflict — to be heard.

To give one example, former head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh sent his granddaughter to Israel “because Israel is too decent to turn her away. People need to know this,” said Oppenheim.

In terms of practical solutions, Oppenheim suggested increasing the number of people who visit Israel at a younger age, and even starting prophylactic Birthright-Taglit trips before university.

“The sands under our feet are shifting,” said Oppenheim. “It is clear that the divide in our community is here for the next generation.”

Protest by Students for Justice for Palestine, University of Minnesota, Novemeber 2015, tweeted photo

‘Massive drop in US Jewish college students’ support for Israel’

As anti-Israeli fervour intensifies in US colleges, researchers warn against losing the next generation.

By Danielle Ziri, JPost
June 22, 2017

NEW YORK – Support for Israel has dropped 27 percentage points among Jewish college students in the US since 2010, a study released by Brand Israel Group at the Herzliya Conference this week revealed.

According to the research, in 2010, 84% of US Jewish college students leaned toward the Israeli side of the conflict with the Palestinians. But in 2016, only 57% did, believing Israel falls short with values such as human rights, tolerance and diversity.

In addition, Jewish college students grew increasingly supportive of the Palestinians, with a jump from 2% in 2010 to 13% in 2016.

Brand Israel Group originally commissioned the study in 2010 and at the time found even unaffiliated Jewish college students had very positive attitudes toward Israel.

But since 2010, the American- Israeli relationship endured some rough patches, including major policy disputes on subjects such as the Iranian nuclear deal, Israeli settlements, tensions between former president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a rise in anti-Israel initiatives on US campuses.

The updated study in the fall of 2016 sampled more than 2,600 Americans from key demographic groups, including Jewish college students.

Researchers found that although since 2010, claimed knowledge of Israel has increased by 14 percentage points, the public is still not more favourable to Israel. On the contrary, favourability decreased, especially with the general college student population, among the most hostile to Israel.

In 2016, 54% overall expressed views in favour of Israel, compared with 73% in 2010, a decrease of 19 percentage points. For Jewish college students specifically, 82% held positive views of Israel in 2016, compared with 95% in 2010. The same trend was noted for African-Americans, Hispanics and Democrats surveyed.

These numbers are not much of a surprise considering the place Israel occupies in the typical US campus environment.

Thirty-six percent of US college students said they have witnessed anti-Israel activity on campus, and most students, 77%, say the subject of Israel either rarely or never comes up.

When asked the same questions, Jewish students seemed more attuned, with 48% saying Israel comes up in discussions on campus and 62% saying they have seen anti-Israel activity. In addition, 31% of Jewish students have experienced antisemitism. More than half of those said it was related to anti-Israel attitudes.

“Current communications approaches are not stemming the negative trends,” researchers wrote. “They generally focus on ‘the conflict or beyond the conflict’ and set up the wrong paradigm. Neither approach targets the people we need to reach with the message that will overcome their issues with Israel/ Israelis.”

The study acknowledged a solid base of core support for Israel comprised of Jews, evangelicals, older Americans and the political Right, but noted that college students overall, Jewish college students and minority groups are populations that Israel is at risk of losing.

“We need to reach out to at-risk groups who largely don’t care about the details of the conflict, and we need to address their concerns about the decency and morality of the Israeli in general and in the context of the conflict,” the report said. “At-risk segments represent the future of America and American Jewry.”

To turn these trends around, Brand Israel Group suggested making sure messages about Israel were unanimous and to push back against charges of immorality. As far as Jewish students are concerned, the researchers believe pro-Israel efforts should target them even before they reach college by considering starting Birthright programmes earlier or exploring ways to connect bar and bat mitzvas to Israel.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017