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May 3, 2012 2:22 pm

Israel and the Battleground of Ideas

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Former Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi at a Jerusalem Post conference. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Have you ever witnessed a bird trapped inside a room with glass windows, trying to escape? It’s an agonizing sight. Unable to identify the point of obstruction, inevitably the poor feathered creature rams repeatedly into the glass until it knocks itself unconscious. This was how I felt watching Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference panel on “the delegitimization of Israel.”

I have personal respect for most of the people that sat on the panel as genuine well-meaning individuals. Each was passionate, some in selfless dedication; others appeared less sincere and more self-righteous. What is clear to me is that while informed and eloquent spokespeople for Israel, many of those Jewish leaders charged with addressing possibly the greatest Jewish challenge of our time are somewhat lacking when it comes to grasping the fundamentals of modern mass communication and charting paths to victory in the battleground of ideas.

One panelist suggested that in order to be successful, Israel advocates need “to change the conversation,” as in, don’t focus on contentious political issues of conflict but rather try to accentuate all the peaches and cream that Israel has to offer. Among the most oft mentioned, are Israel’s hi tech and bio tech industries and the tenacity and ingenuity of its entrepreneurs made famous by the bestselling book ‘Start up Nation.’ Others favorites include Israeli art, musicians, theater and agricultural advances.

Of course, this sort of positive reinforcement and public education is important for any country, but when it comes to Israel’s dire representation in the media, this type of focus is actually largely beside the point.

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The sad fact is that whether accepted or not, Israel and the Jewish people are under assault. Against our will we have been drawn into a war or information, and corralled into the dock of public evaluation, if we do not chose to fight back and perhaps overcome our adversaries, we will find ourselves impaled on a spear of lies and hatred.

Last month, there was an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and a subsequent Israeli response that made world headlines. On the morning of March 12th if one were to type the word ‘Israel’ into the Twitter search bar, they would have been met with an image of a bloodied Palestinian girl cradled in the arms of her father, labeled with the following headline, “Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by Israel…another father carrying his child to a grave in Gaza.”  It turns out that according to Reuters – who took the picture – it was actually from 2006, and the girl died tragically in an accident.

Every day such libelous accusations are released through various media channels, and each episode amounts to a bullet fired in Israel’s direction. “Changing the conversation,” might be comparable to a soldier on the front lines showing off his physical good looks. We are being accused of killing children, who cares about Israel inventing instant messaging. So, their argument goes, the ‘Start up Nation’ pioneers are guilty of war crimes.

These matters must be addressed head on, and yes, it may be a messy business. There is no courtesy or commonly respected guidelines, and as we were not the initiators of this conflict, we can’t dictate its terms.

Another misperception is in the value placed on the virtue of Israel’s arguments. Today, it is no longer enough to be right, what is more important is that we are heard, and it is he who shouts loudest that will have an impact. Investing in mechanisms and platforms for amplifying the Jewish voice are an absolute necessity if we are to be heard, this includes building new media outlets, and enlisting the services of those who are able to influence and inform existing organizations. Superior firepower is key to being effective.

With regard to engaging youth, it is true as one panelist mentioned, that many young people have other priorities, but then again, our adversaries are faced with the same challenge. The success of the BDS movement for example is not because young adults are clamoring to participate in distorted applications of social justice principles, but that the organizers understood the power of consistency and pro-activeness. If we are to seek methods to inspire young Jews in America, Israel can’t be brought to them; they must be brought to Israel. The question can’t be, what are young people interested in? but rather, how can Israel’s message be presented in a way that will inspire their engagement?

If we are to be successful, those stating Israel’s case in a public setting must radically re-think their strategies.

The Author is the editor of the Algemeiner Journal and director of the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

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  • PERSONALITIES SHINE AT THE JERUSALEM POST CONFERENCE
    By Aliza BasMenachem
    The Jerusalem Post Conference which took place on Sunday at the Marriot Marquis, opened with former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert blaming current Prime Minister Netanyahu for not achieving peace because he makes pre-conditions, such as asking for recognition of the right for the Jewish state to exist. Olmert thinks a nation can live side by side, in peace, with a neighbor who does not recognize its right to exist. Olmert is a member of the Kadima party.
    Olmert’s presentation was followed by Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan who insisted the peace partners need to recognize our right to exist if we expect to live securely. He pointed out that it is a misconception to think the conflict is purely territorial. Now that the Jews have actually forfeited land and left it to the Arabs, we have living proof that giving land does not bring peace. The Disengagement has brought only more danger to the Jews of Eretz Yisroel. Eradan is a member of the Likud party.
    Next on the program was Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He ‘kibbutzed’ about the conflicting ideals of the previous speakers from the political parties of Kadima and Likud, and said he was thankful for the Yisroel Beitanu party, of which he is a member.
    Olmert’s presentation was full of passion. His voice was raised, his arms were swinging and when the audience responded with disapproval, also known as booing, he revealed his hostility to Jews who live abroad and do not make Aliyah. The morning schedule gave each speaker fifteen minutes. As the opening speaker, Olmert was allotted twenty-five minutes. Even when the master of ceremonies, Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, Steve Linde, came and stood beside him, Olmert would not budge. He took twice the time he was allotted.
    When Olmert finally left the stage, a change came over the packed ballroom, as Erdan’s presentation refreshed the atmosphere. Erdan’s words were sharp, informed, and passionate, but without the swinging arms and raised voice. In addition to correcting some of the factual mistakes presented by Olmert, he discussed the environment. He was the first one to mention education, a topic that surfaced often during the conference. He said it was important for the students in Eretz Yisroel to learn to love the land.
    Ayalon continued the fine tone of the conference. He is a polished speaker, a pleasure to listen to. Polished, experienced and wise. He spoke about the necessity to be loyal to your country. There cannot be subversion on the inside. He said the external challenges can be faced as long as we take care of the internal challenges.
    The line-up of speakers continued to be interesting, intriguing and inspiring. Former Chief of Staff of the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi spoke about the changing battlefield. He said that Arab Spring was incorrectly named. He said it should be called Islamic Storm. Jerusalem Post Senior Contributing Editor, Caroline Glick proved herself to be as good a speaker as she is a writer. She delivered her point of view by giving facts with added doses of sting and humor. She pointed out the dangers that US President Obama creates for Eretz Yisroel, including giving over the fresh news that he had just stiffed Congress by releasing funds to the ‘Palestinians.’ Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said that the Council of Human Rights was like having the inmates taking over the asylum. He described the difficulties he has in the UN, but then revealed that ‘under the radar’ he gets a lot of respect. Then Professor at Harvard Law School, Alan Dershowitz, gave an impeccable presentation. He may have been the only one to step down when his fifteen minutes was up. He has given a lot of thought about the role of a Jew living outside of Eretz Yisroel and he is willing to dictate to his fellow Diaspora Jews that when it comes to policies inside Eretz Yisroel, the Diaspora Jew is entitled to voice an opinion but not to dictate.
    Former Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Air Force and current President and CEO of El Al Airlines, Elyezer Shkedy, told personal stories. Fabulous personal stories with plenty of humor. His stories brought out his personal code of keeping things in perspective and being optimistic. In conclusion, this master of the skies said, “inventing Israel is an ongoing process, where the sky is the limit.”
    The morning session wrapped up with words from Former Director of the Mossad, Meir Dagan. He explained that Arabs are culturally tribal, making the conflict with Iran neither economic nor territorial. It is about domination.
    The morning session missed its intermission and ran overtime by an hour. After a break for lunch there were three panel discussions. The first one put Olmert on the stage together with Erdan and Glick, and there were verbal fireworks. The second panel brought out the importance of Jewish education both inside and outside Eretz Yisroel. An interesting point about the third panel had to do with the moderation management. In the third panel there was one woman, author and Jerusalem Post Columnist, Naomi Ragen. Ragen was telling a story relevant to the topic of the panel and the moderator interrupted her, saying her time was up, and he quickly asked a question of panelist Dershowitz. Dershowitz began to answer immediately. It was not clear if he realized what had just happened. In a day full of male speakers who ignored attempts by MC’s and monitors to keep the program on schedule, the only one to be strongly interrupted was a woman. Ragen is known for her writings about what she perceives as mistreatment of Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox Jewish women. Ironically, she accepted the mistreatment and continued to participate in the panel without objection.
    As a whole the final panel discussion was disappointing. The topic had to do with media bias. A relevant, powerful topic. The only one who really had something to say about the topic was Ragen, but she was cut off. Not long after, another member of the panel was given the opportunity to go on and on about how none of this mattered. After the preliminary discussion, members of the audience came forward to ask questions. One woman asked a significant question. She wanted to know where we should draw the line and not host adversarial, hostile spokespersons who advocate destruction. She named the BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions organization. This question was perfect for panelist Executive Vice Chairman of the CPMAJO, Malcolm Hoenlein to answer. The BDS is scheduled to march in the NYC Israel Day Parade over which Hoenlein has influence. But Dershowitz was quick to answer and the audience did not get to hear from Hoenlein. Anyway, it seems Dershowitz would have supported BDS participating in the parade. His answer was that drawing a line means to censor and to Dershowitz, censoring is evil.
    The conference was well attended. People came from across the country to participate and many more tuned in over the internet.
    It was a long day. Breakfast and lunch were ample, but past lunchtime there were no refreshments served. Luckily, Colel Chabad was one of the sponsors. They had a table in the hallway and were giving out Pushkas. Inside the Pushkas were packages of chocolate coins. They came in very handy. The chocolate, not the Pushkas.

  • noah

    So right dovid!

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