It’s not every day that a renowned American pollster and political adviser comes to Israel to discuss some highly sensitive subject matters with high school students.
“Part of the struggle for those who advocate for Israel is that we need to respond to simple questions and accusations with really complicated answers, because the truth itself is so complicated,” public opinion guru Frank Luntz told a group of Jewish American, Australian and Colombian students last month at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). “To get to the truth, it is important to understand every narrative and point of view of events that happen in Israel. Without a full understanding, you can’t argue anything.”
Luntz, who has had strong ties to Republican politicians, is known to many American and international political campaigns for his intrinsic insights and ability to digest complex subject matters, often resulting in an audience or client quickly seeing how a message can be delivered in a totally different way than what they expected.
At AMHSI’s Hod HaSharon campus in central Israel, Luntz opened his workshop by presenting the students with a rapid-fire series of hard-hitting and politically charged questions.
“I found myself fumbling for an answer to Dr. Luntz’s questions,” said Maor Ziv-Kreger, an 11th-grade student from Boston and an academic fellow at AMHSI. “With my mind racing for a reasonable response, I knew deep down inside that I have learned so much over the past three months studying at Muss. I have done well on tests from our Israel studies curriculum, but these questions were different than what we typically saw on exams.”
The students’ confusion — followed by frustration from trying to find the right words to express their love and support of Israel — was both natural and expected. In fact, it was exactly what the program intended to highlight. Luntz’s workshop was created with the purpose to better prepare high school students for some unpleasant questions they may encounter when they arrive on college campuses.
Luntz designed the seminar, in conjunction with AMHSI’s Israel advocacy studies unit, in order to successfully train the next generation of advocates with the essential tools to speak positively about Israel. By the end of the workshop, AMHSI students were able to promote Israel with diplomatic answers and follow-up questions, simulating the creation of a healthy dialogue with those questioning Israel’s legitimacy.
Students taking part in this seminar were on the AMHSI campus, located just outside of Tel Aviv, for the entire fall 2016 semester. All AMHSI students complete the school’s Israel studies curriculum—a survey of 4,000 years of Jewish and Israeli history, with interactive educational techniques that use the land of Israel as the classroom. The students continue their general studies from home.
AMHSI’s study abroad programs are part of Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) “Israel Continuum,” an educational series that seeks to create Israel advocates, with the training beginning in early childhood and extending all the way to the college years.
Once the questions were over, Luntz presented the group with examples of his own answers, and provided tips for the students to remember when they depart for college.
“It’s OK to admit Israel has made mistakes,” Luntz explained. “Israel is a democracy and it’s not perfect, so you should give reasons for why Israel makes the difficult decisions that it does.”
Boston native Ziv-Kreger said that the workshop will help him practically apply AMHSI’s intensive Jewish and Israeli history curriculum.
“In learning about a historical event, my class travels to where that episode took place,” he said. “Now that I am nearing the end of my stay at AMHSI, it is time to put all this knowledge to use. Dr. Luntz’s talk marked the beginning of this journey. There are many misconceptions about Israel and its people. I know that when I eventually get to college, I may experience anti-Semitism or misconceptions of Israel. Now, I look forward to continuing my education and sharing what I have learned here with the world, debunking one misconception at a time.”