Israel and the Battleground of Ideas
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.
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.