All gone to look for America, part III

Our supporters must be reminded time and again why we are here, while our detractors must understand why we’re not going anywhere.

By JEREMY RUDEN
May 22, 2011 23:22
Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval Office

Obama, Netanyahu meeting in Washington GALLERY 465 (R) 2. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)

 
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In previous columns, I discussed the growing rift between Israel and American Jewry, and some ways we can repair it. In this, the last column I will devote to this topic, I’d like to bring up Israel’s constant attempt to create an image, and how it is driving a wedge between us and Jews from the Diaspora, especially from the United States.

When it comes to many things, Israel is and has been a success. We are indeed a country of miracles. Out of swamps and deserts, Israelis created a vibrant country, rich in everything except natural resources. This was done despite overwhelming opposition by those who claim we have no right to be here. These enemies fought and lost conflict after conflict all the while Israelis had one primary concern – survival. Those who lived here for the first 30 years always lived in fear of the day when there would be another Arab attempt to invade, overrun and destroy the country.

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For many Jews living abroad, the determination to support Israel was unshakable. A homeland for the Jewish people was simply the right thing to do, but it was the atrocities of the Holocaust made Israel a necessity. We swore “Never again,” and this country is a realization of that resolve. Diaspora Jews took it upon themselves to help the budding Zionist movement in many ways, including by lobbying and fundraising. These facts were a major factor in Israel’s media development. For a long time there was very little media here to speak of .

There was the government-controlled radio via the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the newspapers, most of which were channels for political parties. Only in 1968 did the IBA start a TV channel, the only one in the country until the “experimental” broadcasts on Channel 2 in 1986 and the rise of cable TV in 1990. It was only in 1993, when Channel 2 started broadcasting full time, that we first saw commercials on Israeli television.

The lack of media outlets also meant there was little demand for media experts. As professions, the trades of public relations, mass media marketing and advertising were woefully underdeveloped for decades. I remember looking for a university or college where I could get a bachelor’s degree in media studies.

There were only two, and we’re talking about the early ’90s! I eventually graduated from a school that taught communications as a dual major with management studies.

While there were some efforts by the government to encourage tourism, Israel’s image was primarily left in the hands of Diaspora Jews, who organized drives to raise money. Our elected officials didn’t consider international media a priority, certainly not as far as explaining our positions. Diplomats were there to clarify Israel’s actions to foreign governments, but not to their peoples.

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THE FIRST sign of change came with the first Lebanon War. Israel went on the offensive for the first time, and our enemies began to ratchet up the anti-Israel rhetoric across the globe.

The lies began to spread, and for the first time, there was major opposition back on the home front. Israel, still closed to international media, was not able to see its own reflection in the mirror, so it stood by and did little to counter these efforts.

The turning point was the intifada; when Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza started their uprising, we had no idea how to handle it from the media point of view. Israel said one thing and the Palestinians said another, but as the world loves an underdog, the Palestinians got the coverage they wanted while in Jerusalem, we scratched our heads. It was also around this time that the term hasbara entered the public lexicon. The term itself showed just how unimportant the international community was considered, as it has no real English translation.

This is also where the rift began with international Jewry. It became more and more difficult to “sell” Israel as David compared to the Arab Goliath. Jews overseas thought twice before contributing to the country as they witnessed supposedly heavy-handed actions by the Israeli military against a seemingly civilian population. Indeed, the years of the intifada saw a drop in international contributions, not to mention a crisis in the tourism industry from which it took years to recover.

The Arab world understood that it had finally found an Israeli weakness, and took full advantage of it. They couldn’t match us militarily, so they took the fight to the international media and defeated us time and time again while undermining the previously unshakable support of international Jewry.

They staged demonstrations, falsified events, concocted injuries and massacres, and blatantly lied to a naïve international press, knowing full well that we did not have the media knowhow to counter their claims. This practice continues today.

At one point, Israel decided to fight back on the media battlefield, with various government offices and agencies taking up the challenge of rebuilding the country’s image. The problem is that it was done so poorly that the efforts became an embarrassment. Does anyone remember the initiative to market Israel as a hitech powerhouse? How about the campaign using Israeli children telling the world how many good things there are about Israel? I’m sure many people recall the uproar over the Maxim photos of female Israeli soldiers in scanty bikinis. Did anyone even think how these promotions would make Jews in the Diaspora or any international supporter of Israel feel?

ONE THING we must understand, and quickly: Our supporters must be reminded time and again why we are here, while our detractors must understand why we’re not going anywhere. We must constantly be ready to counter any attack in the international media that says we have no right to be here. Hard proof must be delivered to show how our enemies lie, and we can’t pull any punches.

Despite some major mistakes, Israel is on the right side of history. We are a story of tragedy and redemption the likes of which the world has never seen. We want to settle the grievances against us and live in peace as a Jewish state. The challenge is in portraying that through the media, in a streamlined and effective manner.

The writer is an independent media consultant and former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York. Jeremy@jeremyruden.com

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