Yesterday, I attended several events here in Fresno with the regional Consul General of Israel, Dr. Andy David.
He discussed various topics, including one very close to my heart, the ongoing information war against Israel (my words, not his). In response to a question about how American friends of Israel can help, he said that we should do what we can to change the way people envision Israel, from a site of conflict to a “normal country.”
It’s better for people to think of Israel as a beautiful country with a high-tech economy and a cultured population than as a target of terrorism and war. Americans are simply not interested in things that they can’t relate to their everyday lives, so we should stop talking about rockets and start talking about how much fun it would be to spend a few weeks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We should send our kids on Birthright trips, etc.
There is no doubt that he has a point. For example, a college student tells me that he supports BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) against Israel because “they stole the Palestinians’ land.” I respond, “no, let me explain about the Mandate, Arab immigration into Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Mufti, resolution 242 … instant glazed eyes.
But if he had visited Israel, perhaps studied there, if he knew Israelis and understood that they are normal people with normal aspirations, it would be harder for him to accept that these people were actually vicious oppressors and thieves; he would perhaps be more prepared to listen to their side of the story.
It doesn’t help to bombard Americans with stories about terrorist atrocities, said David. They don’t relate to them, and the other side is doing the same. They are lying and we are not, but the listener doesn’t care. He tunes out.
As I said, he has a point. Nothing is more important than letting our young people see Israel for themselves, because, as he said, for a Jew or a Christian it is a powerful, sometimes life-changing, experience.
But there is another point of view. Not exactly a contradictory one, but perhaps another aspect. Orit Arfa starts with a similar premise — that Israel is losing the information war — but has a different prescription:
At almost every pro-Israel lecture I attend, someone feels compelled to ask an unrelated question at the end: “Why does Israel have such bad PR”? …
Part of the problem with Israel’s PR is the fact that we even refer to an intellectual defense of Israel as “public relations.”It’s not a matter of mere PR or image. It’s a matter of our core values and our willingness to stand up for what we believe and know is right and true, no matter what the cost. We could have exponentially more effective PR if we spent less money, but tapped into our other hidden treasures: our conviction, passion, honesty, and fearlessness.
Israel’s enemies are good because they offer “black and white” messages, using humanitarian language that makes Israel’s enemies sound like the oppressed and downtrodden. They do not sugarcoat their lies. They say:
- Israel is an apartheid State
- Israel is an occupying power
- IDF soldiers are war criminals
And how do Israel’s spokespeople—both in and out of the Israeli government–fight these lies?
- They give long, arduous facts to debunk those claims
- They assert that Israel simply wants peace
- They assert that “it’s complicated/complex”
- They boast that Israel is a leader in hi-tech. (Without Israel, you wouldn’t have cell phones!)
I’ll tell you why these strategies rarely make a dent. The general population doesn’t care about drawn-out facts, especially in this television/Facebook obsessed, fast food/fast consumption culture. We need to answer such claims with strong messages as simple and pure as the ones that Israel’s enemies use - except ours will be honest. You can’t fight lies with “it’s complicated.” You have to throw the intellectual attacks back in their court, with statements like:
- The Arab world consists of apartheid states
- “Palestine”is a made-up nation and the “Palestinians” are a made-up people
- Palestinian leaders are war criminals
Hit them hard, don’t be afraid of being called an ‘extremist’, and above all, be consistent, she says. People are not influenced by rational argument, but rather by emotion, so make your appeals powerful and emotional.
Anti-Zionists understand this. They use art, theater and even physical intimidation (I am not recommending this last, but you have to admit it is a powerful emotional tool). We present legal briefs tracing Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria to the San Remo conference of 1920, and they make up stories about ‘settlers’ uprooting Palestinian olive trees.
Interestingly, both David and Arfa point to the same phenomenon — that emotion is the key to influencing opinion. And of course there is more than one way to trigger an emotional response. So by all means, let’s continue to send our Jewish kids on Birthright trips, and make it possible for the Christian ones to walk where Jesus walked.
Arfa mentions the fact that anti-Israel views permeate the artistic and academic community. She suggests that we need to develop a “new generation of Zionist artists and academics.” For example — a particularly painful one in view of the two Israeli films nominated for Academy Awards this year — where are the Zionist filmmakers? Give them grants! And let’s fund pro-Israel academic programs to counteract the Saudi-paid “Middle East Studies” departments.
And finally — let’s not pretend that we don’t understand what our enemies are, and let’s make sure everyone knows it.