Would we say it in public?

It is one thing describing Cast Lead as a legitimate action to a confidential Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey. It is another to state so boldly and unreservedly in the workplace.

By SHIMON COHEN
July 21, 2010 23:11
4 minute read.
IDF Operation Cast Lead

IDF Operation Cast Lead. (photo credit: AP)

Last week’s survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research into British Jewish attitudes to Israel was greeted with a sense of communal relief. Some 90 percent of respondents had visited Israel. Similar numbers regarded it as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people – a historical no-brainer but reassuring nonetheless. Our “bond with Israel is strong as ever,” bellowed the front page of the Jewish Chronicle. However, it would be premature to start cracking open the sparkling Israeli chardonnay.

Only 29 percent surveyed regard Israel as central to their Jewish identity.

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What’s more, the survey of sympathetic attitudes did not reflect the levels of knowledge and understanding of Israel within Anglo- Jewry. I fear, we are regarding it on the one hand as a holiday destination, and on the other through the prism of the conflict.

GROWING UP, Israel was at the very heart of my Jewish being. Not identifying as a Zionist was out of the question. My parents and grandparents carried living memories of Jewish statelessness – discrimination, pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust.

As their generations diminish, so does our appreciation of what it was to be a Jew in a world without Israel.

As a child in 1960s Wales, I was inspired by the miracle of Jewish redemption in our ancient homeland.

My bedroom was adorned with posters of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. Unlike most British Jewish children today, I had never set foot in Eretz Yisrael. But I knew its geographical features and landmarks as well as I knew my local neighborhood.

Its heroes were my heroes. Its achievements were my achievements.

At my Cardiff state comprehensive, I stood out among Huws and Gareths. Yet with every feat of Israeli audacity, from the raid on Entebbe to Eurovision victories, I was the toast of the school. My pride in Israel was boosted by my non-Jewish classmates. A child in the same position today would paint a different picture.

TODAY’S KIDS are bombarded with images of a powerful Israel pouring out its wrath on weak, beleaguered civilians. It is a far cry from my enduring image of the Yom Kippur War – of Ariel Sharon’s tanks encircling Egyptian forces, but ensuring that convoys of food and water reached the enemy troops.

Since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel’s standing within the British media and public opinion has been in decline. British Jews face the fact that it is not perfect. My knowledge, understanding and belief in Israel proved strong enough to withstand this realization, but many in the Jewish community lack the tools to cope with negative press. Fed a media diet of Israel’s failures, we are losing our ability to appreciate its successes. As every action Israel takes to protect itself is condemned, so our pride in it becomes muted.

It is one thing describing Operation Cast Lead as a legitimate defensive action to a confidential Institute for Jewish Policy Research survey.

It is another to state so boldly and unreservedly in the workplace.

Our Zionism is blended with our Britishness – our slightly awkward, “don’t cause a scene” Britishness. It is scarcely surprising that the first chief rabbi to adopt a more openly passionate Zionism was Lord Jakobovits, a German Jew. Or that one of our few lay leaders capable of galvanizing Jewish support for Israel today is a South African, Mick Davis.

Visits to Israel have increased.

Knowledge of it has declined. The story of Israel is one of the greatest tales of human endeavor, but we have stopped telling it. It is time that we took stock of how much the community knows of its achievements.

How much awareness is there that Israel is the only country with more trees today than in 1900? How much do British Jews appreciate that our daily life is conducted with microchips and software developed by Israelis? In terms of university degrees per head, Israel is the most educated nation, spending a greater proportion than others on research and development. Groundbreaking agriculture, medical excellence and economic creativity should be a source of pride, regardless of the complex politics of the region. But when we survey our attitudes, they don’t even register as a footnote.

Talk of rebranding is not before time, but any product launch or relaunch must be meticulously prepared.

Advertisers and marketers must know the product inside out.

With the right depth of information, they can cope with the occasional bad review or product recall.

The Jewish community contains thousands of potential sellers of Israel’s unique brand and must not be overlooked. But we are failing to equip ourselves with the tools of the trade. Grumbling about “bad PR” is fast becoming a cliché, but Anglo- Jewry needs to ask whether we are pulling our weight. We remain a Zionist community but the time has come to remind ourselves what that means, update our pride in Israel’s achievements and cast off our British reserve in sharing that pride with the public.

Then, I’ll be the first to raise a glass of Galilee bubbly.

The writer is a media relations and reputation management specialist who has advised a wide range of clients ranging from multinational corporations, to public and voluntary sector organisations.


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