It is rare for a newspaper column to read as a “how to” manual. But in this case, I have no choice – frustration has reached an all-time high.
We know that if Israel laid down its arms it would be destroyed, while if Hamas would drop its arms, and the Palestinian Authority would stop the incitement, there would be peace in Israel. We know that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, and the only country in the region that provides equal rights for all people regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
And yet, despite this, data presented to me at a recent meeting with one of the top polling companies in the United States shows that we are failing to convey this reality.
In the poll conducted just two weeks ago, only 39 percent of US college students said that they believe that Israel is a civilized, Western country; only 31% of them believe Israel is a democratic country; and as a result of not telling our story properly, a mere 28% of college students believe that the United States should side with Israel in the current conflict.
This is an all-time low.
But it gets worse: 21% believe that the US should side with the Palestinians! Furthermore, among a category of people labeled as “opinion elite” in the US, 38% believe that Israel is a racist country, 48% say that Israel is responsible for human rights abuses, and 45% believe Israel is practicing apartheid on Palestinian land.
Only 67% of those “opinion elite” in the US believe that Israel wants peace with its neighbors. (In Canada that number drops to 43% and in the United Kingdom it’s 36%); 46% believe that Israeli “occupation” results in more terrorism in the US; and 19% believe that boycotts against Israel are justified.
And finally, given all of the above, it is not surprising to learn that 17% of Jewish college students refuse to advocate for Israel.
We have to face facts: current hasbara tactics are not working, and we must be mature and sophisticated enough to accept a new approach.
That same pollster checked to see what makes people supportive of a country. So far we have been bombarding the world touting Israel’s groundbreaking technology. We have tried to win support by promoting the Start-up Nation with its drip irrigation, solar energy and cellular phone technology, and Waze.
But that isn’t working, and the data make clear why: only 7% are drawn to support a country because it is “modern,” a mere 6% are impressed if a country is “innovative,” and a country which is “creative” means something special to just 4%.
Clearly, our message to the world in our effort to fight delegitimization should not focus on Israeli technology and innovation.
All of the polling data – and, frankly, common sense – indicate that our message cannot be “We are right, they are wrong,” or, “We are good and they are bad,” no matter how strongly we believe this to be the case.
So, what do people want to hear about another country? Here again the data is clear: 60% are willing to support a country that “protects human rights,” 42% will rally behind a country that stands for “freedom,” 32% want to see that a country is democratic, and 30% want to know that a country promotes equality.
We must learn from this and speak the language which can penetrate the hearts and minds of those who are not on our side, and who are prone to fall for the boycott approach.
What is that specific language? The same pollster found that certain phrases and sentences must be used over and over again in our effort to gain support, or, at at the very least, to even the playing field: 1) We must stop talking about “anti-Semitism” and focus on “anti-Israel.”
2) We must emphasize that we are “eager” for dialogue at all times.
3) We must be clear that our struggle is with the Palestinian leadership and not with the Palestinian people.
4) We must repeat that the issue is “human rights for everyone,” a “future without violence” in the region, and that we advocate “mutual respect.”
Once we speak that language, according to the research, we can then focus on the following themes which resonate among those who are currently sympathetic to the Palestinian cause: 1) Accountability and corruption.
Where did all the money go? Billions of dollars from the international community have been sent to the Hamas leadership in Gaza, money that they used to fund terrorist attacks against innocent civilians and to construct terrorist tunnels into Israel, instead of to build schools and hospitals.
2) Hatred is not natural. It is taught.
Palestinian children are being educated that killing Jews fulfills religious teachings; Palestinian children are taught to see violence against Israelis as heroic. (I must emphasize that the polling data indicate that we should focus on these specific aspects of Palestinian incitement, and not on schools and public squares being named after terrorists, or that Jews are called “barbaric monkeys” and “evil” in the Palestinian media.) 3) We must repeatedly quote the Hamas Charter, and specifically these lines: a) “The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.” b) “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.” c) “Peace initiatives, so-called peaceful solutions and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”
Weaving this all together, our overall message should be clear: “For far too long, Palestinians have been trapped in a cycle of violence and despair. Their schools have been taught to teach violence.
Their leaders have been quick to preach violence. We do not blame the people of Gaza for their feelings of grief, anger and desperation. We blame the Hamas leadership which sows the seeds of hate, and tells innocent civilians to live as human shields while hiding in tunnels paid for by the international community.”
Two final effective and critical sentences: 1) “Children should be taught to live and love, not to die.”
2) “Our rockets protect our children.
Their children protect their rockets.”
Finally, aside from this precise messaging about the overall conflict, we must confront the issue of boycotts head-on, using the following two points which the polls demonstrate have the greatest impact: 1) The BDS movement does not explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist.
2) The BDS movement encourages Iran’s terrorist surrogates such as Hamas and Hezbollah to continue to work toward the destruction of Israel.
Once we make these points, the language that works best to combat suggestions of boycotts reads: 1) “Peace is paved with diplomacy and discussion, not isolation.”
2) “We seek cooperation, not continued conflict.”
3) “Solutions come from engagement, not silence.”
4) “We need real solutions for a lasting peace, not more of the divisive rhetoric. Let’s work together to create understanding, respect and peace.”
5) “Boycotts divide people, and that’s part of the problem – not a solution.”
6) “Boycott, divestment and sanctions diminish the prospect for peace because they blame only one side. We need a meaningful commitment on both sides.”
We are at war. The other side is efficient and stays on message, and we need to do the same. It is my hope that all those involved in Israel advocacy and public diplomacy will adhere to the messages which the polling data begs us to follow. If we do, I have no doubt that we will win the public diplomacy war and generate widespread support for our beloved Israel.
The author served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He is currently the director of the Department of Zionist Operations for the World Zionist Organization.