Ben Badejo's Story
I recently returned from an intensive weeklong educational tour of Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC. This experience demonstrated the importance of experiential learning and direct engagement for promoting pro-Israel advocacy, as well as the impact of educational and advocacy training programs like Fuel for Truth’s Boot Camp.
For a week in December 2016, I traveled across Israel on a study tour sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC. AIEF makes grants to AIPAC to support educational programs and funds educational seminars to Israel for members of Congress, political influentials and emerging leaders. These seminars are intensive programs in which the participants take part in meetings, briefings and tours across Israel for up to fourteen hours a day. Both the geographical setting of these activities and the expertise of the individuals we met were key to making the seminar an impactful one. During our program, we met with members of Israel’s political and military elite, including Knesset members, several IDF officials, a representative from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office and the Prime Minister himself, as well as university professors, notable journalists and business leaders. These sessions were much more than lectures – they were invaluable opportunities to ask important questions about various aspects of Israeli society, politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to get direct, unfiltered answers from the most knowledgeable sources. Many of these conversations took place in parts of the region that are of political significance but are less likely to be seen by casual visitors, such as borders with the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria, and a Jewish neighborhood a few kilometers east of the 1949 Armistice Line.
The importance of firsthand, on-the-ground experiences for empowering Israel advocates cannot be overstated. Although the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the media, on campuses and in some international organizations is often oversimplified, biased against Israel and based on misunderstandings about the history of the region, the kind of experiential knowledge offered on educational seminars in Israel can serve as a formidable counterweight. These kind of lived experiences ground theoretical debates about Israel in real-world realities, make clear that many Israeli policies are necessary defensive responses to critical security threats, and lend credibility to Israel’s supporters, many of whom are engaged in debates and disputes with critics who have not even seen Israel for themselves.
Fuel For Truth’s Boot Camp programs in New York and Washington, D.C. equip young professionals with facts about Israel and the Middle East and with communication skills needed to successfully advocate for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Having visited Israel on my own before participating in a Boot Camp and having returned afterwards with AIEF, it is clear that Fuel For Truth’s curriculum gives participants an accurate understanding of how the history of the region has unfolded and puts into a more nuanced historical and political context the people and places one encounters in Israel. The AIEF educational seminar was a rigorous program in its own right and it is perhaps the most comprehensive and effective program of its kind. Yet participating in the seminar with the tools and knowledge gained from Fuel for Truth made the experience even more insightful and rewarding.
The more firsthand knowledge Americans have about Israel, the more likely they are to use their own judgment to recognize and reject anti-Israel attitudes in the media, on campuses, in business settings and in policymaking forums – and the more likely they are to become steadfast advocates for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Organizations and programs that help individuals build personal and experiential connections to Israel are invaluable. What people learn about Israel and the way they learn it should, whenever possible, be rooted in lived experiences. In order to continue building support for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, opportunities should continue to be provided for individuals to learn about Israel’s past and present, and to be directly engaged with the realities being studied.