Pluck of the Irish helps get pro-Israel message across

Two Israel advocacy organizations 5,000 miles apart celebrated St. Patrick’s Day together.

On March 17, BlueStar in San Francisco and Irish4Israel in Ireland marked the end of a successful joint fundraising campaign for a collaborative advertising venture in Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city.

BlueStar, an S.F.-based pro-Israel advocacy agency, teamed with Irish4Israel to raise more than $2,000 in just 10 days. The money is going toward producing and putting up billboards with positive messages about Israel on bus stop shelters near University College Cork.

Posters designed by BlueStar in San Francisco will be on display in Cork, Ireland.

Ireland’s reputation for having an outspoken anti-Israel camp was one motivating factor in BlueStar’s decision to respond to Irish4Israel’s request to partner on the project. BlueStar previously had done one other collaborative project in Europe, aimed at medical professionals in Belgium.

In a fundraising letter sent out to its mailing list, BlueStar called Ireland “one of Europe’s most challenging countries for Israel.”

“We were also impressed with the Israel advocacy work that Irish4Israel has been doing, and with how quickly it has grown,” said Jonathan Carey, executive director and founder of Blue Star. “We get a dozen emails daily from around the world with requests for assistance or partnering, but Irish4Israel stood out as a serious group and the kind we’d like to work with.”

Irish4Israel was founded in 2010 by a non-Jewish student in Cork. It uses Facebook as its main platform for communication and organizing. A spokesperson for the group said it has 2,500 members on Facebook, with most of them under the age of 35.

The group focuses on challenging anti-Israel bias in the media. Members are encouraged to sign petitions and write or call media outlets and politicians to protest anti-Israel coverage and rhetoric. “We also stage Israel ‘buycotts,’ when we encourage people to go out and buy Israel-made products, and we advocate against cultural boycotts against Israeli artists,” the spokesperson said.

Irish4Israel has held only one actual meeting, in Dublin last September. Much of the group’s activity involves posting and discussing online articles and posts relating to Israel.

Carey checked with the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, which said it was well aware of Irish4Israel’s efforts and gave it a strong recommendation.

BlueStar is designing large posters that will be printed in Ireland and displayed on the side of seven bus shelters for two weeks starting on April 22.

The posters — modified versions of previously used BlueStar posters — show young women enjoying everyday life in Tel Aviv (shopping, walking in the street, eating at a café).

“To show that Israel is not an apartheid state, you don’t reiterate the negative charges,” Carey explained. “You focus on the positives. You show happy, engaging women walking down the street and a warm, open invitation to visit Israel.”

The “invitation” to Israel is an actual one, with the posters announcing a “win a free trip to Israel” contest. Entrants are instructed to write on Irish4Israel’s Facebook page why they want to visit Israel. The Israeli Embassy will help judge the entries, and BlueStar is helping to raise the funds to sponsor the trip.

Carl Nelkin — a lifelong Dubliner, an active member of  Ireland’s Jewish community and a singer whose first CD was titled “Irish Heart — Jewish Soul” — is not sure the posters are a good idea.

While he says it’s good to refute anti-Israel rhetoric, he also said, “There is a saying: ‘If you go looking for trouble, you will find it.’ Putting pro-Israel posters in bus shelters could simply serve to focus people on the issue with the likely result of an anti-Israel reaction.”

Irish4Israel doesn’t agree.

“The [Irish] Jewish community does like to keep quiet about Zionism, but Irish4Israel says you can’t keep quiet,” the spokesperson said. “Ireland is not anti-Israel, but there is a loud and vocal minority that is. We need to challenge those lies and let people know there are two sides to the story.”