One question changed David Gurevich’s experience at the University of Haifa and his relationship to Israel: a tourist once asked him what time curfew was when traveling in Tel Aviv.
There is, of course, no curfew in Tel Aviv or anywhere in Israel and that interaction inspired Gurevich to create a program committed to restoring the country’s image.
The Ambassadors Online project, supported by the University of Haifa, is designed to increase the public’s knowledge of Israel using the Internet as a forum for discussion. This student-led initiative is the first of its kind in Israel.
During the semester, students of varying disciplines and backgrounds united together in an effort to counter the popular portrayal of a country encapsulated in war and fear. Of the 30 participants, two are Druze and speak Arabic and multiple have had experiences abroad.
“We discovered great students that were willing to dedicate their time and effort to improve Israel’s image,” said Eli Avraham, head of the Comper Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism and the academic supervisor of the Ambassadors Online project.
The project reflects the University’s dedication to civic engagement and encourages students to identify and address an international issue, Avraham said.
Gurevich, founder and coordinator of Ambassadors Online, said he also believes the program enhances the reputation of the University as a leading academic institute in Israel.
“The project not only allows students to engage in Israel advocacy on the international arena,” Gurevich said. “Ambassadors Online develops student leadership by encouraging the young generation to stand for their country.”
Although Avraham already taught a course concerning Israeli public diplomacy for communications students, Gurevich recognized its application for various departments. The Ambassadors Online project allows students of various disciplines to learn necessary skills to produce content that more accurately depicts Israel.
“People don’t have enough information about Israel and their opinion is what they see in the media, and what they see in the media is conflict, conflict, and war,” Gurevich said.
Nevertheless, the reality is people in Israel lead normal lives, he said.
One participant echoed this belief.
“What the public isn’t aware of is that the daily life in Israel is very much alike to the life in other countries,” Esti Cohen, a freshman at the University, expressed in her final project.
At the end of the semester, all participants, or cadets, produced a project that advanced the mission of the program. Some students produced web videos while others wrote opinion pieces or organized a conference to address media prejudice.
Throughout the semester, the cadets attended workshops to enhance their knowledge of Israeli history, media coverage of the Middle East, the peace process and public diplomacy so that they can effectively combat biased reporting.
“The idea of the project is to give the students the skills and tools to be unofficial ambassadors for the State of Israel,” Gurevich said.
Lecturers educate participants about the issues surrounding modern Israel and teach how to use new media to strengthen the discourse about Israel. Lecturers included Miri Eisen, former press adviser to the prime minister, and Neil Lazarus, an external adviser to the Foreign Ministry.
While the program contributes to the students’ education, they volunteer outside of their curriculum and do not receive academic credit for their involvement. Instead, patriotism inspires their participation.
Gurevich said he hopes to expand the program and engage more Arab students next year.
Ambassadors Online is supported by Dean of Students’ Office, Student Union and Comper Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism.