Counterpoint: Needed: A public relations blitz

It's time to end our PR incompetence.

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
I just returned from a lecture tour for Jewish audiences in the United States, where I heard one overriding plea: "Help us deflect the barrage of criticism that we face day in and day out because of the Gaza war, which we all feel was absolutely justified." This plea was always followed by an aggressive assault on Israel's complete incompetence in the field of public relations. No one could understand how Israel, which is so technologically advanced, should be such an abysmal failure in getting its story out. At first, I was defensive, explaining that Israel could readily win the public relations war if it employed the tactics of the Palestinians. Yet we choose not to show the gruesome pictures of the aftermath of a suicide bombing or a Kassam missile so as to spare our populace the emotional trauma of viewing them on television. It is difficult to combat the film clips of the destruction that was wrought in Gaza. But there can be some damage control. The only way we will gain the moral upper hand is if we come down off the moral high ground and get into the trenches. In the world of Al Jazeera, where a 30-second media bite determines public opinion, we cannot afford to pontificate about the need to maintain our "emotional purity." The world of public relations is a dirty game, and if one wants to win it, it is mandatory that one plays hardball, pumps up the language and employs every PR trick in the book. For example, the attempt by much of the Arab world to delegitimize our historical claims to Israel and Jerusalem has be undermined. We must point out the intellectual dishonesty of anyone who would believe such nonsense. We just finished celebrating Passover, where for centuries, Jews concluded the Seder with the words: "Next year in Jerusalem." Where does one see that sort of historical consistency and spiritual longing in Islam regarding Jerusalem? In fact, Jerusalem is quite low in the pecking order for Muslims, coming in a distant third place to Mecca and Medina. Now admittedly this is a rather cerebral approach. But a good documentary about our historical rights to Jerusalem, with accompanying archival material of us opening the Holy City to one and all (albeit with a security wall), and showing how it was hermetically closed to Israelis when it was under Arab control (a violation of all UN resolutions), might help the world understand our concerns about a divided Jerusalem. IN A SERIOUS public relations campaign (or is it war), "underwhelming" Israeli spokespeople in the US would be replaced by ones who can put a few coherent sentences together in decent English. With TV the medium that shapes public opinion, we have to monopolize the airwaves with our own visuals. (Expensive as it would be, we should consider having our own version of Al Jazeera. After all, The Jerusalem Post is one of the most widely read news Web sites in the world.) Every close-up of a Gazan child wounded in the recent war must be equaled by photo-montages of our own wounded children hit by rockets. We have to open our hospitals so that the world sees the people wounded in suicide bombings still languishing there. We do not need to let corpses fester until the press can snap a picture of them (as the Palestinian Authority does), but we can show the photographs of the autopsy reports of gruesome terrorist attacks on children. As the famous expression so aptly puts it, "A picture is worth a thousand words." It's the graphic pictorial details which make a lasting impression. We should juxtapose images of the public squares in the West Bank and Gaza named in honor of every Palestinian suicide bomber and Hamas "martyr" with those of the dozens of Israeli bus stops with memorial plaques displaying the names of those murdered in suicide bombings. Let the cameras roll so that the Hamas training camps for Palestinian children, barely out of diapers, dressed in black masks, holding real guns, spewing their "death to the Jews" slogans, can be beamed across the globe. During the Gaza war, we should have saturated the news with daily updates of Palestinian outrages against each other. Why does the world not know that during the war, approximately 200 Fatah members were killed by Hamas gunmen? Palestinian sob stories have to be matched by our own but with a twist. Let someone interview Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose 16-year-old son was murdered in a kidnapping. What is the twist? Frankenthal is a religious peace activist who decries calls for revenge. He also remains committed to bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict - unlike many of his Palestinian counterparts, whose commitment to more death squads and Kassams overrides their commitment to life, let alone peace. DURING THE SECOND Lebanon War, all that the world saw were Lebanese refugees fleeing their homes in south Lebanon with packs on their backs, crowding the roads to the north of the country. We should have shown our own half a million refugees fleeing their homes. Unlike our Lebanese neighbors, we did not exploit our displaced Israelis for public relations advantage. By doing so, we would have made two PR points; one, that we too had refugees, and two, that we care for our own, bringing the refugees into our homes, our community centers, our kibbutzim and hotels. We need to go on every American TV and radio talk show, from Face the Nation to Good Morning, America, from NPR to MSNBC. We have to appear on entertainment shows from Jay Leno to Ricki Lake, from Oprah Winfrey to MTV, from David Letterman to Tyra Banks, presenting attractive and alluring personalities, be they Aviv Gefen, Ahinoam Nini, Yair Lapid or Amos Oz - people with sophistication, humor and a subtle and reasoned approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will play as well in New York City as it will in Lincoln, Nebraska. We should stop parading before the cameras the usual hackneyed establishment figures from AIPAC - and certainly not Avigdor Lieberman. We have to take the Web by storm. Subtlety and sophistication rule cyberspace. We have to present user-friendly information on how Israel has sought every possibility to seek peace, but has been met by obstructionism. HAVING BUILT our case, we can then score the biggest PR coup of all. We can say, despite all this, we need to make peace. We can tell the world that it is time to end the occupation, to stop settlements, because for Jews to rule over 3.5 million people undermines the Jewish value heritage, which stresses moral standards that have always guided us as a people, and demanded of us to build a nation based on a prophetic vision of social justice, equality and humanity. Lastly, we can say, even as the world must acknowledge the fact that Jewish historical rights to this land dwarf the historical rights of Palestinians - thanks to that documentary on Jerusalem that we will have prepared and aired internationally - we still recognize the Christian and Moslem attachments to Jerusalem, and therefore are willing to share the Holy City as the capital of two separate but equal states.