The biggest question surrounding the State of Israel is why it is so hated. The
conventional wisdom is that the world remains hopelessly anti-Semitic and is
therefore deeply biased against the Jewish state. No doubt there is some truth
to this assertion.
But to absolve Israel and the Jewish people of any
involvement in this monumental failure to communicate strikes me as convenient
and allows us to blame others for our shortcomings.
In truth, while the
State of Israel was asleep the Arabs pulled off one of the great propaganda
coups in global history. They somehow convinced the nations of the world that
six million embattled Jews, with a deep commitment to democracy, human rights
and religious pluralism, were the aggressors in a war with hundreds of millions
of oil-rich Arabs, whose governmental commitment to women’s and religious rights
is tenuous at best and appalling at worst. The Palestinians in particular
demonstrated a black belt in PR by convincing the world that amid their
rejection of every peace deal ever offered to them, including the 1947 UN
Partition plan, it is Israel that has no interest in peace.
anything else ours is an age of media. Those who master media rise to
great heights while those with contempt for PR most often fall. In 2000 Barack
Obama lost in his run for Congress. Eight years later he was the most powerful
man on earth. Why? Because in that time he mastered the media, wooed radio and
TV producers, and won over op-ed columnists with his vision for America. Agree
or disagree with this policies, his meteoric rise is a demonstration of how
mastery over the organs of communication ultimately leads to mastery over the
opinions of the people.
Yet here we are, a nation with a biblical charge
of serving as a light unto the nations, that is simply terrible at
Perhaps we Jews feel that we will never be understood
anyway, so why try. Or perhaps it’s that Israel’s cause seems so self-evidently
just that it requires no explanation. Or maybe it’s that we find PR to be trite
and superficial, all form with little substance. No matter the explanation, we
have ceded the PR ground to Israel’s enemies.
The price paid is steep.
What good is having Apache helicopter gunships, or Merkava tanks, to defend your
citizens against attack if you can’t even use them because the world thinks
you’re always the aggressor? Indeed, in the recent war in Gaza Israel did well
in the PR battle precisely because it was using a defensive weapon – Iron Dome –
which the world, amid its bias, could not possibly construe as an offensive
But the people paying the biggest price for Israel’s often
deplorable PR efforts are Jewish students on campus the world over. It is at
universities, which are, for the most part, great bastions of liberalism, that
PR attacks against Israel are the most strategically coordinated and most
I remember as rabbi at Oxford how well funded the Arab student
organizations were, while we struggled to convince donors of the importance of
influencing impressionable young minds with pro-Israel
Inevitably, the haphazard Jewish response by mostly volunteer
activists on the world’s campuses is no match for the well-coordinated and
well-funded efforts of anti-Israel campaigns that have become de rigueur on
campuses throughout the world.
It is for this reason that at
universities, more than anywhere else, there must be an effort to galvanize
Jewish student leaders who are naturals at PR. And they must be cultivated from
an early age.
THE NEWS stories this week that Ron Dermer, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser, may be tapped to be Israel’s next
ambassador to the United States, is a case in point. If the news is accurate,
American Jewry can look forward to an electrifying few years of pro-Israel
arguments on the American airwaves with little previous parallel. Michael Oren,
Israel’s current ambassador, is already one of the greatest communicators ever
to occupy the role. As a world-class historian prior to taking the post, he has
further distinguished himself as an eloquent and magisterial defender of the
Cut from the same cloth, Dermer will take this to the next
level. In my experience, Ron is quite simply the most capable and erudite
advocate for Israel alive today.
From the time that he arrived at Oxford
in the mid- 1990s as a brilliant political science superstar from the University
of Pennsylvania, he shone as a leader and as one of the university’s most
At the time, the battles we faced in making the
case for Israel at one of the world’s premier universities was intense. Oxford
receives a great deal of Arab philanthropy and each year graduates the sons and
daughters of the leading Arab families of the Middle East. In addition, the
university has long had a romantic history of Arabism and Lawrence of Arabia was
one of Oxford’s greatest 20th century products.
But what Ron brought to
the table when he became president of the L’Chaim Society Student Organization I
established was a stirring Jewish pride that was matched only by his limitless
love for Israel. Amid a ferocious determination to defend Israel with
interminable scholarship and erudition, Ron maintained the closest of
friendships with many Arab and Muslim students who respected him deeply for his
warmth, integrity and convictions.
Over the years I have continued to
witness Ron mesmerizing professional audiences with his ingenious and factual
arguments as to the righteousness of Israel’s cause.
There are many
potential Ron Dermers at the world’s universities today, if only we can nurture
their gifts in their formative years.
I believe that one of the Jewish
community’s foremost priorities should be the establishment of an institute that
selects great talent from a pool of students nationwide and trains them, over
the course of a year and as part of a special scholarship, in the art of media
and PR mastery. While promoting Jewish values and wisdom in the popular culture
would be an integral part of the coursework, learning how to make Israel’s case
methodically and effectively would be its first calling. In so doing we might
just cultivate a new generation of young Jews that not only reverses Israel’s
reputation but allows Judaism and the Jewish people to emerge as a light unto
The writer recently published his new book, The Fed-Up Man
of Faith: challenging God in the face of tragedy and suffering.