What if millions of college students were to rethink their negative opinions of Israel and then begin spreading that to each other?
The organizers behind the Rethink Israel initiative believe they can use social media to spread positive buzz about Israel’s fashion industry, humanitarian efforts, and its rich culture, starting with 18- to 24-year-olds.
“Our underlying theme is that Israel is such a great place that would inspire Americans if they only knew about it, yet we don’t talk about it,” said CEO Gerald Ostrov, who founded the organization with his wife, Aimee. “We want to use this opportunity to let Americans know about Israel’s innovations and diversity and coolness.”
The Rethink Israel campaign will go live on-line at rethinkisrael.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest on Oct. 15.
On Oct. 20, Ostrov will be among the panelists at the Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany (see sidebar).
Ostrov, a Long Branch resident, said Rethink Israel will employ expertise he gained as company group chairman responsible for Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide vision care and then as CEO of Bausch and Lomb.
“We have people who have worked in consumer products marketing behind this,” said Ostrov. “I brought in my own market research team, including one woman who’s worked with me over 20 years as head of my research team at Johnson & Johnson and Bausch and Lomb. We have people here who have the passion and have had long careers in the field.”
Additionally, some “young people” who worked on President Barack Obama’s successful social media campaign during the election are “sharing their talents to bring Israel to life,” said Ostrov.
“We’re going to place on a broad array of social media just really cool, interesting, fun things about Israel,” said Ostrov. “Our target is to reach virtually all college kids in this country through social media, paid media buying, and by placing ads in publications.
“It’s not political, it’s not religious.”
Ostrov said he has seen firsthand the surprising results when people get to know the real Israel.
“I have experienced bringing people to Israel and when they get there they say, ‘Oh my God, I had no idea,’” he said. “Many people think Israel is a barren desert and a militant environment. They can’t differentiate between Israel and the rest of the Middle East.”
However, since he can’t bring the majority of people to Israel, the initiative will bring a piece of Israel to them, he said.
For example, through social media, web ads, and Rethink’s own website, young people may learn that Israel became the first country in the world to ban underweight fashion models.
“College kids can really relate that Israel cares about that and might find that posted to their Facebook page or receive a Twitter message that if they’re going to be at the Tel Aviv fashion shows, they won’t find any underweight models. They might send that to a friend, who sends it to their friends, who sends it to their friends, creating an awareness….”
The initiative is partnering with many Jewish organizations, said Ostrov. Those already on board include, in New Jersey, Rutgers Hillel and the Jewish federations of Middlesex County, Monmouth County, and Greater MetroWest as well as the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Once it gets the youthful component of the initiative off the ground, Ostrov said, Rethink Israel will be expanded to reach other adult groups, such as Hispanics or Asians, in an ever-broadening spectrum of outreach.
“We’ve done the market research and we expect to reach millions,” said Ostrov. “We know Israel is not perfect, but neither is the USA. We’re trying to show that Israel is a wonderful, creative democracy.
“We want to show Americans how much they share with Israel and that Israel is a crucial strategic partner to us. We want to make sure that relationship lasts forever.”