For the first time in Hasbara Fellowships’ 14-year history, the non-profit student organization has hired a Canadian director to lead students across the country in Israel advocacy.
Robert Walker, the Canadian director of Hasbara Fellowships, an Aish International initiative, is responsible for leading and overseeing the student group’s expansion into Canada through fundraising, brand building, and recruitment.
“Hasbara Fellowships approached me and said they were looking to expand into Canada and they’d never done that before. They’ve been around since 2001 in the United States but they’ve never been here, so I jumped at the chance,” Walker said.
He said there has been Hasbara Fellowships programming on Canadian campuses for the past few years, but it was completely independent and student run.
“Obviously, the students are the bedrock of all our efforts, but right now this is the first time we’ve had a permanent staff presence,” he said.
Ariella Daniels, a fourth-year York University student and the president of Hasbara at York said that in the past, there was a feeling that much of the advocacy work in North America was focused on the United States and that Canada was put on the back burner.
“A lot of us felt that Canada was put on the side, so now we feel that finally, we are being focused on and we can actually be given more customized advice, specifically to the issues in Canada and Canadian campuses,” Daniels said.
She said that while they did receive guidance from an American Hasbara staff person, it doesn’t compare to having someone available to them on a local level.
“He was an American and he had more knowledge about American campuses, and the dynamic in Canada is very different. Not just the anti-Israel groups but also the pro-Israel and Jewish clubs on campus,” she said.
Walker said his goal is for Hasbara Fellowships in Canada to continue to work with other pro-Israel campus groups to advocate effectively for the Jewish state.
He talked about a Hasbara Fellowships program called Impact Planning, which offers grants to other pro-Israel campus groups to help them achieve their goals.
“My goal is to have universities across Canada getting involved with Impact Planning and applying for these grants and meeting particular goals, whether it is building coalitions on campus or whether it’s [getting involved with] campus government. Whatever they choose to focus in on, my goal is to have, within a year’s time, probably 20 or 25 schools across the country doing that,” Walker said.
“Our whole philosophy is to take a strategic approach with university students. Our opponents, the anti-Israel groups on campus, have been successful because they’ve been good at a number of things – one is creating strategic partnerships with other groups, building coalitions on campus, infiltrating student government and being involved with campus media,” Walker said.
“Our philosophy is that it is all about the students. My role is to facilitate, train, and equip them with the best resources and strategies, but ultimately my role, is not to be doing the programs myself. Because our approach is such that it has to be the students themselves who work on these strategies.”
In addition to on-campus programming, Hasbara Fellowships also runs advocacy training tours in Israel for North American students four times a year.
He said that last month there were 10 Canadians from across the country on a Hasbara trip to Israel.
He said the reason Hasbara organizes student trips to Israel is because they want students to “build narratives” based on their personal experiences in Israel.
“Nobody has ever been convinced of Israel’s virtues because of the facts alone. They need stories. And that’s ultimately what Hasbara means. Hasbara is explanation, Hasbara is more that just the facts. So when people come back from Israel and they have these personal narratives, it’s indisputable. No one can challenge that and say it’s wrong… It is the most effective way to advocate for Israel on campus.”
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