Keep Dreaming: The Amazing Mr. Jones

Concerned about the impending UN resolution on Palestinian statehood? September in New York isn’t the issue. Next summer in Tel Aviv is. It’s time to change the conversation.

By
September 2, 2011 16:58
September cartoon 521

September cartoon 521. (photo credit: Michal Cohen)

Mr. Jones walks into the room unobtrusively, dressed in an average sort of way, and looking rather ordinary. Rate his likability on a scale of 1 to 10. If you’re the typical observer – in the absence of any other information – you’ll give him a 5.

Enter Mr. Smith. He launches into a tirade lambasting Mr. Jones, “who’s just moved in next door and is simply awful, lording himself over the rest of us who have lived here forever, trespassing on our property like it’s his own.” Chances are you’ll lower your estimation of Jones to a 3, even before giving him a chance to defend himself. Which he promptly does.


“Look, here’s the deal,” Jones says, “and the deed. The land in question is mine,” and he goes on to convince you that the problem is not with him, but his unwelcoming neighbors. You move him back to a 5.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” protests Smith in astonishment, who then goes on to refute everything Jones has told you.

Now imagine that every time you see either of these two gentlemen, which happens to be rather frequently, all they do is blame one another for their respective troubles. Who are you going to end up believing? Correct. Neither. In fact, you’re going to begin doing everything you can to avoid them both. It’s their own problems they’re obsessed with, not yours, and if at first you might have been sympathetic to one side or the other, you quickly tire of the entire matter and want nothing to do with either of them. Their arguments fall on deaf ears.

I heard this metaphor of Israel’s advocacy efforts from Ido Aharoni, the consul- general in New York who, prior to this posting, headed the Foreign Ministry team charged with developing a strategy for enhancing the country’s image. He has another analogy.

“What’s the objective of a first date?” he asks a group of more than 50 representatives of 27 organizations gathered in New York last week under the auspices of the American Zionist Movement. The mostly young and largely unattached crowd has a number of ready answers: “To make a good impression. To create the option for a second date. To entice the person to spend the night with you.”

“Good,” says Aharoni. “So here you are in a restaurant and even before you’ve said a word about yourself that might in any way pique the interest of the person sitting opposite you, you lean across the table and say in an unnecessarily loud voice, ‘Listen, just in case this should work out and you end up coming back to my place tonight, I want to tell you that I’m having a horrific fight with a dreadful neighbor who’s likely to attack us even before we get inside the door. But I promise you that none of his aggression has anything to do with anything I’ve done.’” Right. Not the best way to start a relationship.

But, says Aharoni, this is precisely what we’ve been doing for years.

Big mistake. Avid supporters of the Palestinian cause will refuse to be convinced by our side of the story in any case.

Those who already support us indeed need the facts, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they have them, but the vast majority of those out there with whom we want to make friends are completely disinterested in our conflict and even less interested in our narrative of it.

If we are to engage them, we first have to worry about making ourselves attractive to them.

Not a problem. We’ve got plenty to flaunt, and with a little bit of grooming we should be able to do that. We just have to change the conversation. Environmentalism.

Social activism. Cultural renaissance. Scientific innovation. Cutting- edge technology. Medical research.

Alternative energy. Water conservation.

History and archeology. Entrepreneurship.

The pioneering spirit. International cooperation. A dozen things and more we can talk about on that first date that would define us far more suitably than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

THAT WAS a key message of this seminar sponsored by the World Zionist Organization, the objective of which was to bolster the participants in their determination to reclaim and reframe Zionism so as to be better able to communicate to their contemporaries what it’s really all about: the energetic undertaking of a long dispossessed people to return to its historical homeland and create there an exemplary society not only for its citizenry, but for the world at large.

You’re invited to join us in the discussion.

“That’s great in theory – and if you can afford it,” complains one of the participants.

“But the tent cities that have gone up this summer, the protests all over the country. How do we explain that the Zionist dream has become a reality the average wage earner can’t buy into?” “What about the discrimination against Israel’s Arabs, not to mention the Palestinians?” asks another. “How can I talk about Israel making the world a better place if there’s this kind of injustice going on at home?” “Never mind the Arabs,” chimes in a third. “Non-Orthodox Jews are also discriminated against in this Jewish state of ours. What are we supposed to say about that?” I don’t dismiss these questions. We need to be able to respond to them – for ourselves and for our bewildered supporters at least as much as for our detractors.

And while the issues and answers are extraordinarily complex, the bottom line is that Israel is very much a work in process, a dynamic and evolving society full of vigor and vitality driven by an exceptionally large number of indomitable individuals who are highly ideologically motivated and determined to set things right. (For those of a mind to delve deeper, click the Education and Advocacy button at www.wzo.org.il for an annotated list of resources available in cyberspace.) But, I remind those with whom I am speaking, this is a conversation – important as it is – that you can only have with a tiny number of people. I’m talking about a different conversation altogether.

The impending United Nations resolution on Palestinian statehood is a case in point. There is precious little any one of us can do about it, but there is much that we might say to the many millions around the world who don’t even know that such a proposal is in the offing. Or don’t care. Hard to believe for those of us in Israel whose lives are so caught up in such events, but ask the average person on any street in the Western world about the upcoming vote at the UN, and he or she is likely to be clueless.

So change the conversation. September in New York isn’t the issue. Next summer in Tel Aviv is. If you want that metaphorical first date to be among the tourists who show up, check out www.BlueStarPR.com and www.Israel21C.com for some original pick-up lines. If enough of us do that, the next time you spot Mr.

Jones and start crossing the street to avoid him, don’t be surprised if he calls out, “Wait, I want to show you this new app I came up with.”

Suspiciously you’ll ask him about his feud with Mr. Smith. “Oh, forget about that,” he’ll respond with a smile. “We’ll work that out ourselves. This is far more interesting. Look. This is what it can do. And this is what I do.”

The amazing Mr. Jones.

The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency executive. The opinions expressed in this column are his own.


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