Israeli Delegates Set Out to Counter Apartheid Week Campaign

With the BDS campaign broadening its reach - last year 97 cities participated in Israeli Apartheid Week activities - Israel has created a new program to counter the movement.

New York City native Avi Abelow is leaving his job, his wife and four children in Efrat to visit the state of California for 10 days. His plan - and that of nearly 100 other Israelis who are boarding flights this week to 20 cities in Europe, Africa and North America - is to talk. And to talk a lot.

"This is definitely a very unique situation," says Abelow, a 37-year-old movie producer and independent advocate for Israel, whose "Israel Straight Talk" Facebook page boasts nearly 14,000 "likes." "I don't know how many other countries can have this phenomenon of people basically leaving their lives, not getting reimbursed for the time lost, and taking the time to talk about their country."

Avi Abelow - Courtesy - February 2012

Abelow and his colleagues have been designated the "Faces of Israel" in a Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry initiative, which is deliberately timed to coincide with the eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week in support of the Palestinian Civil Society's call for "Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions." A press release issued Wednesday by the ministry called it "anti-Israel Hate Week."

Delegates will find themselves thrust onto contentious college campuses and into communal settings, from churches to synagogues. With the BDS campaign broadening its reach - last year 97 cities participated in Israeli Apartheid Week activities - it would appear Israel has some catching up to do with this program, now in its second year, supported by the Foreign Ministry.

The participants underwent 40 hours of "confidence workshops and personal training" for what the ministry predicts will be a "complex public diplomacy mission." The rest will be up to the hand-picked participants, whom the ministry describes as "settlers, Arabs, artists, national security experts, gay community representatives, new immigrants and Ethiopian community representatives."

"We can say whatever we want and we're not parroting any policy," insists Abelow, who will visit Los Angeles and San Francisco with nine colleagues. "The goal is for each of us to tell our personal story and why Israel is important to us, so that people can better understand that Israel is a diverse and vibrant democratic society."