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July 2, 2014 6:38 pm

Why Israel Must Reach Out to the Jewish Media

avatar by Richard Ferrer

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Jewish Media Summit. Photo: GPO.

Despite star turns from Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, the loudest spontaneous applause at last week’s Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem was bestowed on a panelist who accused Israel of ignoring the Jewish media. You could almost hear the organizers’ groan. The dissenting voice was that of fellow British delegate Jenni Frazer, who noted with irritation that Israeli government ministries rarely return calls or answer emails from Jewish newspapers or websites.

When they release a major story for a U.K. audience, it’s invariably found buried in the inside pages of a broadly anti-Israel national newspaper like the Guardian rather than splashed on the front page of other newspapers like the Jewish Chronicle. The prevailing mood among the 150 delegates was that while there is a healthy reciprocal relationship at an embassy level, the higher you go, the lower the expectation of a positive response.

Israel’s top brass simply does not view the Jewish media as useful or relevant. Which begs the question why? Do the State’s ministries feel they would be preaching to the converted? Or is this malaise symptomatic of its feeble wider reputation for public relations?

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. The Jewish State lost the public relations war long ago, largely because it didn’t even realize it was in a fight. It didn’t know it needed to explain basic moral rights and wrongs to right-thinking people. It didn’t know it had to explain to the U.S. and EU that radical Muslims cannot be allowed to get their hands on nuclear weapons; that Hamas is a tragedy for Jews and Palestinians alike; and that the Middle East’s only democracy must be loudly and proudly supported when its population is targeted by psychopaths.

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Israel lost the PR war because its Western allies would rather blame the region’s ills on the only country where liberty, equality, and diversity means a jot – because the alternative reality of an expansionist, aggressive Islamist empire on the rise is too alarming for Barack Obama to accept. If Israel is to blame, there’s no need for the United Nations, United States, and European Union to confront Hamas, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan summed up this self-delusion in one morally bankrupt soundbite: “How can the whole world be wrong and Israel right?”

No other democracy is so bereft of friends and considered so universally wrong. So rather than reach out, Israel decided to go it alone – dumping many of its steadfast friends among the diaspora as collateral damage. Israel forgot that the most important communication in times of trouble is with each other.

United we stand, divided we fall is the key lesson of Jewish history. There isn’t a European Jewish community that hasn’t felt the malevolence of delegitimization campaigns – of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against the Israel. Any PR adviser knows that when a company is under attack, it should reassure its stakeholders. So the state is duty bound to present the moral case for its actions at every turn – particularly to those who support it. If the Jewish media is not advocating for the Jewish State, how can Israel expect anyone else to?

To paraphrase cultural commentator Anna Blech: “If the world has even a chance to hear, the Jewish media must shout.” The Jewish Media Summit saw Jewish journalists from Moldova to Mexico listen intently to what Israel’s government ministries had to say. Israel’s government ministries would be well-advised to return the courtesy by rebuilding reciprocal relationships with those who have its best interests at heart. Just a bit of goodwill would be a good start.

The author is editor of the Jewish News and jewishnews.co.uk in London and a columnist for independent.co.uk. He can be e-mailed at richardf@thejngroup.com.

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