Int'l campaigners reflect on reservists' return

Massive campaigns, slew of virtual support networks sprung up around globe since troops' abduction.

Regev Goldwasser 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Regev Goldwasser 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
In the two years since the abduction of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, worldwide rallies, massive campaigns and a slew of virtual support networks sprung up around the globe. The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization (WZO) have been working together to mobilize support for the soldiers since the first days of their capture. "During these two years, we have organized three big events in about 15 big cities- Amsterdam, Paris, Kiev, New York City, Johannesburg and many others," Amos Hermon, Chairman of Jewish Agency education committee told The Jerusalem Post. "Hundreds of thousands of people in Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile came to demonstrate and show their sympathy and their concern about the conditions of the boys." But with the soldiers now back in Israel with mixed emotions surrounding the terms of their exchange, the question of how effective these international efforts have been is significant to consider. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has been involved with organizing rallies in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban over the last two years. "I think it [the campaign supporting the abducted soldiers] has been a very strong unifying force for our community," Advocate Jonathan Silke, National President of the SAZF, told the Post. "I think we have shown the issues to the greater public. I don't say we have everybody's full understand of Israel's predicament, but certainly we have brought it to the attention of a wide public." "I certainly think that the combined effect of the efforts of Jewish community around the world, standing with Israel at this difficult time, have helped to make that effort be realized," said Silke. "But of course we are really disappointed that the soldiers were no longer alive." The United French Jewish Social Fund (UFJSF) has helped mobilize support for the soldiers return through demonstrations in both Paris and Brussels. "The most important for us during our demonstration was to mobilize people," Pierre Besnainou, President of the UFJSF and United Jewish Appeal, told the Post. "But how can we estimate the result of our mobilization? It is very hard to say [how effective the demonstrations were]." "We believe that on the issue of the propaganda battle this was not a total loss. I believe that this is one of the campaigns that we proved that if things are done properly, professionally, and with the cooperation of all the Jewish committees we can run a good campaign," commented Hermon. "I cannot put a finger on some kind of things that caused Hizbullah to agree, but we believe that the international push after the visits of the family, after all the campaigns, demonstrations, petitions, brought an end to the situation." After the Second Lebanon War, Israel was widely seen as having lost the war of the media to the Hizbullah propaganda machine. As the first fallen soldiers of the war are returned to Israel it seems that the media battle may begin once again. "The Jewish Agency and WZO are going be the long arm of Israeli [public relations] to the Jewish communities, NGOs, and human rights organizations," said Hermon. "The people in Israel will be showing sympathy, we will be one family. It is our job to give proof to everyone, and we do it through our special web." The Israel Project (TIP), an international non-profit organization, is exclusively devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel by providing journalists, leaders and opinion-makers information about Israel. Executive director of TIP, Marcus Sheff, was on site at the Rosh Hanikra crossing Wednesday morning speaking with journalists at the epicenter of the exchange. "The foreign media are aware of how hard this is for Israeli society," Sheff told the Post. "It is important at this time that they understand the Israeli perspective on what is happening today. We make sure to communicate our perspective in order to fill the [information] vacuum right way." The social networking site has also played a role in weaving a network of support for the soldiers. Immediately after the reservists were captured, groups with names like 'Free Ehud Goldwasser, Gilad Shalit and Eldad Regev' began popping up all over the site. "At that time [two years ago] there were only 400 members of the group, and now about 50 people join everyday," Amy Weidenbaum, creator of one of the largest such Facebook groups told the Post. Weidenbaum's group currently boasts a list of members which exceeds 12,500 users. "I wrote a message on there saying thank you to everyone for joining," Weidenbaum commented. "People are still joining the group today." Weidenbaum expressed her intent to continue updating the group's page in the soldier's memories.