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
“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.
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
“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
“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
But, says Aharoni, this is precisely what we’ve been doing
Big mistake. Avid supporters of the Palestinian cause will
refuse to be convinced by our side of the story in any case.
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.
Social activism. Cultural renaissance. Scientific
innovation. Cutting- edge technology. Medical research.
energy. Water conservation.
History and archeology.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.