On Thursday, August 16, Ono Academic College hosted the closing event for a very special Israel activism event.
This year, a group of 24 students from Ben-Gurion University were selected to participate in the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship, a public diplomacy program that aims to improve Israel’s global image through education. Over the course of the program, the students learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way that various individuals and organizations use the international news media and social media platforms to defame the State of Israel. To combat this ongoing vilification, the group of student activists created FITogether, a project that brings influential social media voice, specifically athletes and sports trainers, to experience the real Israel and share their first-hand encounters with their followers.
The StandWithUs Fellows chose social media superstars Austin Dunham, Brendan Myers, Brian Decosta, Emily Abbott, and Jorge Rosado, who boast a combined 4 million followers, for the first FITogether delegation. After participating in training sessions and lectures about health and sports, visiting the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports, sampling some of Israel’s best cuisine, and visiting the country’s most beautiful sites, the FITogether delegation met with the StandWithUs Fellows at Ono Academic College, a model of inclusive undergraduate and graduate programming and education-based social reform, to discuss what they had learned on their trip.
Former Israeli Olympic swimmer Adi Bichman, Head of Ono’s Sports Therapy Department, joined the group to teach them about Ono’s goal of creating a multicultural microcosm that nurtures interaction and engagement with multiple Israeli narratives through the inclusion of students from Israel’s minority populations, such as Ethiopians, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), Druze, students with cognitive and physical disabilities, and Bedouin, Christian, and Muslim Arabs from Israel’s northern and southern peripheries. This interaction added an exclamation point to an incredibly informative and successful tour that introduced the social media influencers to an Israel they never knew existed. We are so grateful to have been included!