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Where is our Documentary?
By Howard Handler
As Israel recently exercised its inherit right to self-defense in Lebanon,
once again she came under condemnation from the international community.
However, it is not criticism from the Arab world that surprises me.
What troubles me the most is the anti-Israel mind-set that pervades the rest
of the world. Of course, historically, there has always been extensive
prejudice against the Jews and later Israel. And there is no doubt
anti-Israel sentiment is often anti-semitism in disguise. Though, it must
also be assumed that much anti-Israel bias can be attributed to plain
In this dynamic world, global conflicts each day compete with the likes of
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for attention on our 24-hour news cycle. The
typical world citizen does not or, to be generous, cannot thoroughly learn
about the world around them. According to a recent Zogby International
poll, seventy-four percent of Americans could identify the Three Stooges
while only forty-two percent could identify the three branches of
government; politicians understand this too well and are compelled to dumb
down complex public policy into 30-second sound bites. When it comes to
foreign policy, the picture is bleaker. For instance, consider the crisis
in Darfur. Are you familiar with the history behind the conflict or know
the key players? Probably not, but it’s likely that you have formed, based
on very casual observations, the generic opinion, albeit correct opinion,
that the genocide must be stopped. Your anecdotal evidence on Darfur
conceivably was derived more from the grassroots, stop-the-genocide
movement, which was largely driven by the Jewish community, than from a
detailed, personal examination of the issue.
Much of the worldwide opinion on Israel is also formed through a similar
bottom-up approach. Far left-wing activists have adopted an unabashedly
anti-Israel agenda. Yet, I have zero doubt that the vast majority of
left-wing activists, who seize every opportunity to condemn Israel while
remaining silent on the corruption, oppression and human indignities that
permeates the Arab world, maintain little historical and factual knowledge
of the Arab-Israeli crisis. New, unseasoned activists are indoctrinated
early with this anti-Israel agenda with little to no alternative viewpoint
presented. Sadly, many young Jewish activists have blindly adopted this
anti-Israel platform as well. Nonetheless, these activists create noise,
make news, and unduly help shape worldwide public opinion.
Additionally, low-budget, unconventional marketing campaigns by anti-Israel
propagandists have successfully influenced public opinion. Via websites,
blogs, petitions, rallies, flyers and other dubious sources, these groups
have been able to mold public opinion by disseminating lies and
misinformation. An hour and nineteen minute anti-Israel documentary
entitled, “Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land,” circulating the internet
climbed to Google’s list of top-100 internet videos. This ugly documentary
spews a poisonous potion of misrepresentations, lies, and classic
anti-semetic rhetoric in a manner that appears candid and well researched to
the unknowing. Certainly, this video, for a certain sub-set, preaches to the
choir, but just as you may have been educated about the crisis in Sudan by a
petition or a rally, these tactics effectively influence opinion. As the
well-known dictum goes, “repeat a lie often enough and the people will
believe it.” Unfortunately, this dictum works so well, even Jews supportive
of the Zionist cause believe such falsehoods that Jews usurped Arabs from
the land to create Israel.
The mainstream media too, as you know, has become an instrument of
misinformation with well documented biases toward Israel and the tendency to
often assign a moral equivalence to terrorist organizations. Couple that
with mind-boggling double-standards the United Nations and other world
leaders apply to Israel, its no wonder the teeming masses fail to comprehend
Israel’s morally superior position.
Yes, the State of Israel and many wonderful organizations have worked hard
to combat this prejudice against Israel. We, the Jews, often see our case
well articulated by an Israeli diplomat on CNN or in a letter-to-the-editor
by AIPAC, and unquestionably our political muscle in the United States is
strong. However, where we fall short, in my opinion, is two-fold.
First, Diaspora Jews are grossly ill-prepared to advocate on behalf of
Israel. Many Jews, young and old, do not know the very basic history or
facts surrounding Israel’s struggle for survival. At academic
institutions, workplaces and social settings, Israel comes under attack,
often from well meaning but uninformed individuals, and Jews too often miss
opportunities to educate their contemporaries about Israel’s position
because they too are miserably uninformed. We must arm ourselves with the
facts before we expect the world to do the same.
Second, while an excess of websites and blogs effectively distort Israel,
the Jewish community has failed to duplicate our mainstream media public
relations efforts in non-traditional mediums. You can find great facts and
lengthy position papers on the websites of the American-Israeli Cooperative
Enterprise (AICE) or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) –
websites that will surely not attract the non-Jewish community. Like a
politician, we must dumb down our message and present our talking points in
a clear and simple manner. We need a unified, eye-appealing,
straightforward website that concisely tackles the major issues and dispels
the most common myths of the Israeli-Arab conflict; this website should be
marketed worldwide and available in numerous languages. We need an
organized “truth squad” to scour the internet and immediately counter bogus
anti-Israel blog postings. We need to employ more structured guerilla
marketing techniques such as distributing flyers throughout urban centers.
And where is our documentary?
Essentially, we need to move beyond traditional public relations efforts,
and fast. We need to take our message to the gentile community, because
they will not come to us. We need to change attitudes and moderate views
not just of the fringe of society, but the views of the mainstream masses
that piece together their opinion on Israel from fragmented sources.
Opinions can be changed, I know, because I have, myself, converted or
moderated a number of people who held on to erroneous notions about Israel
and its policies.
And we must do this to ensure Israel receives worldwide support now and for
future generations. Changing the mind of one person has an exponential
affect, as that person will share their beliefs with their friends, family
and most importantly their children. However, we will fail if we do not
quickly adapt to the changing world around us, and recognize that your
common college student will not read Alan Dershowitz’s excellent book, “The
Case for Israel,” but might watch on his laptop, while sitting at Starbucks,
a three minute video that his friend, who found the video’s link on a blog,
forwarded to him, which explains why Israel is not an apartheid state.
Howard Handler is Chairman of the Jewish Political Alliance of Illinois and
works in the government and political sector. He earned a degree in
Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is completing a
masters program in Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern
University. He can be reached at email@example.com
from the November 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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