Okay, but the next question would be: “Still, you Israelis are restricting the flow of supplies to the point where there is a humanitarian crisis.”[And my answer would be:] “It is a legitimate question. If the international community actually cared enough and was effective enough to stop these weapons going into Gaza, there would be no need for Israel to intercede. There would be no reason for the conflict that took place over the flotilla. This is an international challenge that requires an international solution. And if they won’t stand up and do something, then Israel’s military is the last resort. But let us hope that it won’t happen again.”You always get at that conclusion: a look towards the future. It is not enough just to talk about what happened five weeks ago, five years ago, or 500 years ago. The American people, and the Europeans in particular, want to know what’s going to happen next year and 50 years down the road.How problematic is Israel’s standing in America now? The Wall Street Journal had a poll that shows Israeli support is as high today as it ever has been – 61% identified with Israel, only 10% identified with the Palestinians. But only 34% support what Israel did with the flotilla, which is a record low for an Israeli policy. So at some point, if they don’t support the individual actions, it will have an impact on overall support.The other challenge for Israel right now is that they’ve never had an administration that is so vocally committed to not taking sides.One of the people I met with today correctly pointed out that Israel has negotiated directly with the Palestinians every single year for 17 years, until this year. Is this what Barack Obama really wanted? That’s the impact of his policy. It requires, in this time of great instability, Israel being even more clear and, frankly, sympathetic.And that is what I see missing from so much of the [Israeli] communication: the essence of empathy. If I believe that you have the right intent, then I will believe that you have the right policy. But if I perceive that the intent is wrong, then I will never trust you.Knowing the Obama administration as well as I do, and knowing the challenge that Israel has among Democrats in America, the more empathetic the communication, the more effective the communication. I really hope that the Israeli leadership realizes that the American political situation is not the same today as it was two years or four years or six years ago. And just as leaders have changed, the communication should change. What worked for Israel 10 years ago, would not work today...It is the order of communication that matters.And I’ve studied this now for 15 years.What you say in your first sentence determines how everything else flows. The Israeli communications strategy is to declare a conclusion and then provide the evidence. And I’m asking [the Israelis I’m working with] for exactly the opposite approach: to provide all the evidence and then demonstrate the conclusion.The evidence will bring them to the conclusion. In many cases I’m actually taking the last sentence of what they say and making it the first, and taking the first sentence and making it the last.Now you might say to me that’s so inconsequential.It isn’t. Could you imagine delivering a report where you’ve already gotten to the end before you’ve even set the context? That’s not how we take in information when we’re trying to learn.So I’m trying to demonstrate, through online and telephone polling, and through dial sessions [among focus groups, who use a dial to respond positively or negatively to footage they are watching], that if [Israeli leaders and spokespeople] merely change the order of their sentences, they will actually have a better impact on American audiences and on European audiences. And this is not a small thing.
So you have these recorded interviews and speeches...?Dozens.By Israeli leaders, in recent weeks, months...? Years.And you’ve now gone to some of these leaders and said, “Look, here’s what you said. If only you’d reversed your sequence here...”I want to read you an example. (Luntz reads, sorrowfully, from a recent government statement): “The current security regime for Gaza will be maintained.”(He sighs.) The word “regime,” to an American, is a negative term. It sounds like a Third World nation. It sounds like a dictatorship.They don’t actually mean these words. But this is what’s written (as a direct official translation, posted on the government Web site and released). So [in my suggested improved text] I’ve replaced “The current security regime for Gaza will be maintained” with: “The safety and security of the innocent families in the region must always be our first priority. No man, woman or child should live in constant fear of violence.”I’ve now humanized the approach. Then I get to, “When organizations like Hamas insist on terrorizing and attacking Israel...” So I’m doing the human component first, then I get to the politics and the organization. Israel tends to do it the opposite way. It talks about governments before it gets to people.If Israel had followed your philosophy and approach in dealing with the flotilla disaster, could it have achieved higher than 34% approval for that operation? (Adopts spokesman’s pose:) “Let this be the last time that the Israeli military has to intercede.Let this be the final time that we ever have to debate this situation. Let’s ensure that the international community is so engaged...”You’re dismissive? I’m the BBC guy: “Excuse me, but you’ve killed nine people on a boat!” And my response is: “Excuse me, but you’ve experienced this in London, you know what it is to have rockets fall on a country again and again, day after day. You understand that, it’s in your culture. And the heroism of the British people was remarkable...”You’d never get to the end of that sentence on the BBC! We’re not talking about rockets out of Gaza, Frank. We’re talking about you sending your army to intercede on a boat full of peace activists, nine of whom are now dead...“On boats that have been filled with the tools that have been responsible for the deaths of civilians on both sides of Gaza. And it has to stop. And the way that it stops is for the international community to play its role. For the Palestinian people to say enough is enough.And for the Israelis to continue the effort for humanitarian aid.”We do this live in the testing that we do. We have our 30 or our 40 people [in the focus groups] there, and they are giving us a hard time on everything. They are just as tough as the BBC, just as angry, because we tend to look to those that are anti-Israel, and we learn from that process what works and what doesn’t.Is your field a function of choice of language, choice of message, delivery... or do you seek to enable Israel more widely in its public diplomacy strategies? I exist because The Israel Project exists. And the reason The Israel Project exists is because nobody was focusing on the impact of messaging – not the delivery of it, but the impact of it. To this day there is insufficient appreciation of the impact that words, and how they are delivered, can have on audiences.The greatest challenge for the Israeli position isn’t in the media. It’s on the typical college campus. Because there, the truth doesn’t matter.There, day after day, the Palestinian advocates will say anything and do anything and these Jewish kids are totally ill-prepared to stand up and challenge.We did a session with MIT and Harvard students.The best of the best. We had 35 people in the room: 20 of them were non-Jewish, 15 were Jewish. And I didn’t tell anyone who was which. And I’d recruited them by telling them “we’re going to talk about Iraq, Iran and the Middle East,” not telling them that the real focus was Israel.Got them all into the room. It was so crowded that we had kids sitting on the floor. But that added to the intensity. They felt like they were in a dorm room. And within 10 minutes, the non-Jews started with “the war crimes of Israel,” with “the Jewish lobby,” with “the Jews have a lot more power and influence” – stuff that’s borderline anti-Jewish.And guess what? Did the Jewish kids at the best schools in America, did they stand up for themselves? Did they challenge the assertions? They didn’t say sh*t. And in that group was the leader of the Israeli caucus at Harvard. It took him 49 minutes of this before he responded to anything.The group is over. It’s a three-hour group. I then say, “Who’s Jewish, who isn’t?” At that point some of the Jewish kids got a little outraged. I dismiss all the non-Jewish kids.And the Jewish kids are there. And they’re now ticked at me for doing this, you know, “Why have you segregated us?” I said, “I’m Frank Luntz and I’m Jewish, and I’ve been working on this now for 10 years, and you all didn’t say sh*t.”And it all dawned on them: If they won’t say it to their classmates, who they know, who will they stand up for Israel to? Two of the women in the group started to cry. I got the whole thing on tape. The guys are like, “Oh my God, I didn’t speak up, I can’t believe I let this happen.” And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.And I take this tape down, this little DVD, to the Jewish community and I say, “This is what we’ve done – or not done.” It’s not just giving them the facts. It is also teaching them how to say it, when to say it, when to crack a joke, when to acknowledge someone else’s points, when not to be argumentative or judgmental.The problem that I see is that so many parents in the Jewish community taught their kids not to judge. I’m going to say something that’s a little bit ideological, but I find that kids on the Right are far more likely to stand up for Israel than kids on the Left. Because kids on the Right believe that there is an absolute right and wrong; this is how they’ve been raised.Kids on the Left have been taught not to judge. Therefore those on the left will not judge between Israel and the Palestinians; those on the Right will. I’ve now been doing this research for eight years.
Is something supposed to come out of your college work? Some new initiative? This is my goal. That’s what I want to do – to work for Natan Sharansky. To help the [Jewish Agency] “ambassadors.” They are sending 40 of them to college campuses in September.Your hope is there’ll be some ongoing work with you to create a better climate on campus and a more vocal, articulate, empowered study body for Israel? I could not have said it better. Because that will change the dynamic of every Jew in America, in Europe, across the globe. You have to create an environment where people feel free to ask questions, where they feel to challenge, and where they feel free to express their support for this country. And that environment does not exist on most college campuses.If it’s dire in America, it’s beyond dire everywhere else.I want to do Oxford and Cambridge. All of Britain is run by Oxford and Cambridge! Every prime minister [went there]. I was there for three years.Do you know where I got it kicked in the head? I went to the University of Pennsylvania.We never lost a debate. I go to Oxford and Lord Mayhew was one of the debaters. I had never heard a smart person deliver an anti- Israel statement until I was at the Oxford Union. They blamed Israel for [everything wrong in] the Middle East. This is 1986. I called home and I started to describe it to my parents and my voice started to crack. I was so upset. “Mom, there are really smart people who really hate Israel. What the hell?” And my mom said, “This is great for you. Now you’re gonna learn and it’s going to make you a better person. There are bad people everywhere.”At Oxford and Cambridge, it’s awful. At the two universities that educate more British leaders than everywhere else combined, it’s awful.And I’ve never been able to get organizations to [hire me to] do research there...(Luntz reaches into his briefcase, and pulls out a folder with some maps. He shows me one map of Israel and its immediate surroundings, in which Israel dominates the page, and another of the wider Middle East, in which Israel is barely visible.) The thing I wanted to show you is the maps. The smaller that Israel is, the more supportive people are. When Israel is shown as big on the map, it has much less sympathy.So, what do you do with this information? You get the biggest map you possibly can find, stretch it out over an entire wall. It also looks great in the TV interviews and then you invite the cameras and say, ‘Oh, can you zoom in on Israel? Because your zoom lens probably doesn’t get you close enough.”Israel is so small on these Middle Eastern maps that you can barely write the word “Israel” in it! Notice, when you look at a big map of the whole Middle East, you can’t even fit the word “Israel” in Israel! You actually have to write it in the water! This is an easy point.I’ll give you a second example. This is one that was really painful to watch. I went to The Hague for the so-called trial about the security fence [at the International Court of Justice in 2004], and it was so hard because the Israeli government brought the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and children of the people who had been killed [in terrorist attacks]. All the TV cameras were in the back and the [relatives of the] victims were going to sit in the front and talk about their situation.There was a huge banner with the individual names and photographs of every individual who had been killed. One of the [relatives] looks back and sees this. He goes closer, and so does a second and then a third. And they’re looking for [the picture of] their brother, their sister, and they’re finding it. And you would hear “uhhhhhh,” or something in Hebrew like, “Oh my God,” and they would tell each other where the pictures were, and they’re pointing, and they would hug each other.It was the most human moment I had ever seen Israeli communication demonstrate. It wasn’t staged. And the camera crews tore their cameras off the sticks and came running up in front, and that led every newscast.Why can’t Israel do that every day? Why can’t Israel demonstrate, communicate, the human dimension of all that has happened in this region? Not for 50 years, but for 3,000 years?How problematic for you today, meeting all these Israeli leaders, was the language barrier? We have a lot of people in this country who think they speak good English, but you’re communicating subtleties here. You think they got what you were saying? I know they did. Like we pointed out “regime” – don’t have that word in this document.They got it...But I do think that often that phrase “lost in translation” has real meaning here. I only wish that they could all sit with me and watch the reaction of people when they hear a word like “separation” (Ariel Sharon’s original term for his “unilateral disengagement” strategy) or “wall” or “regime” [being used by Israel]. They should see the reaction on people’s faces when they hear that language, and [watch when people] turn against Israel because of it.If this were a serious approach by serious people, which [Israel’s leaders] are, they would put in as much discipline to their public education as they do to their public defense. They would realize that language can sometimes be even more powerful than the gun or the tank.Do you have any sense at the end of your time here that anybody is going to internalize that and act upon it? Seventy percent of them take 70% of the advice. If you do the math on that, it means it’s 49% successful. I have no other client where I’m successful less than half the time.Do you know how painful that is? An example of effective communication: Shimon Peres doesn’t speak like a political scientist.He speaks like a humanitarian. And he speaks in parables that are easily understood and appreciated. And he uses stories that make the information compelling, because no one’s ever heard them before. He said [to me] today, “Don’t try to get young people to listen to opera. It may be the most beautiful music ever created, but they’re going to be mad at you.”Great line! He understands. And by the way, he’s like Reagan. He’s 87 years old and he still communicates better than anyone else with teenagers.I’ll give you one other example. These are the words that Americans would respect most in a country in the Middle East, words that came up in our dial sessions. What they want most in a Middle Eastern country is “humanitarian.”So when an Israeli leader says “there’s no humanitarian crisis,” not only is he denying what people perceive, but he’s actually going contrary to what the public wants. That word is so powerful.[Israeli politicians should also speak about] a “commitment” to progress. Israeli politicians use the word “vision”. Vision is a wish.Commitment is your personal reputation on the line.Tell me a little more about your work methods.We’ve [researched] both in surveys and in dial sessions. The power in the dial session is that it measures the reaction word by word.People have a device about the size of this [micro] tape recorder. And the dial goes from zero to one hundred. Fifty is neutral. The more positive they feel, the higher they turn the dial.The more negative, the lower it goes. The dials react on a second-by-second basis. And so we say to them: React to every word, every phrase, everything that’s done.They’re watching tape. We collect tape from the BBC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC... And I will do it with them. An example is this: “OK, everyone, I want you to live dial me now. Grab your dials, instead of watching on TV, I want you to react to me.Imagine for a moment that you live in a community that over the last seven years, almost 10,000 rockets have been fired at you. What would you do? What would you ask from your government? If these [rockets] came in from Vancouver into Seattle, or from Windsor into Detroit, would you say, ‘Turn the other cheek, ignore it?’ Or would you expect your government to do something about it? Would you expect the responsible approach of your government is to say ‘enough is enough?’” And I would test this. I’m constantly testing language. This is how I learned that the rhetorical question is the most powerful.This is how I learned that the first sentence determines the reaction to everything else. This is how I realized that certain words and phrases had such a powerful impact. And it gets me beyond that, because I can then ask, “What did you like, what did you dislike? What did you believe, what did you not believe?” And that’s how I learn.Body language is not a factor? Body language is a factor. Body language contributes to the positive or negative rating of an individual. But in the end, the best language will overcome the worst body language.
Dress, clothing. I always feel I’m looking at their tie, do I like their shirt? We judge them based on our standards of how we judge an American speaker or a British speaker. They are judged by our culture rather than their culture. Now, it used to be really easy. But the Palestinians have gotten very good in the last five years. They have learned the tricks of the trade and they are much more likely to follow [those tricks] than the Israelis.The Palestinians will say the same word, the same sentence, the same phrase, in the same way, again and again and again. And it doesn’t matter who’s saying it. They have one set of talking points and that is what they deliver in every interview, no matter what the question is. The Israelis...
Can’t even agree on what the talking points should be. We are handicapped by our democracy. They are not.What a great line you just gave me: “Some people think we are handicapped by our democracy. We relish it. We celebrate it. We celebrate the fact that my defense minister may come on and say something that’s a little bit different than what I told you. That’s what democracies do. You don’t hear that from Hamas. They have one set of talking points because they can enforce it. For us, 10 Israeli leaders, 15 opinions.”
And yet, you say, if the message is correctly crafted...The key is the intent. Another great line for Israel is to say, “We’re not perfect. Every nation makes mistakes and we have our share. The question you need to ask us is, do we learn from them? And when we learn from them, are we a better people? Are we a better country, having learned from those mistakes?” Once again, Hamas will never admit this.Israel benefits from having the potential of candor. You’re not going to go to jail. No one’s going to kill you in the middle of the night for saying you made a mistake. Hamas can never do that.
You’ve been coming here and doing this for years. Are the leaders you’re meeting with more open than they were a few years ago? If you look at the list of people that I see each time I come here, it’s a who’s who of Israeli politics.Obviously there’s an interest, or they wouldn’t spend the time to see me. Second is that Israel continues to maintain significant American support even with the challenges of the new administration. Clearly, they’re doing something right. Third is that even with the flotilla and even with Gaza, Israel has the advantage of a cultural identification with America that Hamas and the Palestinians don’t have. The Israelis are better than they were.The communicators are better than they were.Enabling Israel to articulate more effectively, do you think this can have an impact on the reality? Do you think that if the messages are clearer, it will foster a climate in which it may be possible to change minds on the other side of the divide? (To my surprise, Luntz answers without hesitation:) No. But if the Israelis fail, then they could lose the freedoms that are granted by American and Western European support, which would limit their action and limit their choices, and in the end do tremendous damage to the country. I have no illusions about the limited benefits of effective communication, but I have no doubts about the damage if and when Israel communicates badly.The No. 1 thing that we recommend is the empathy. Every mom mourns for her child, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim.The loss of any children is the loss of humanity.And so the strongest line there is “Let us work for the day when we will not bury another child.”I didn’t even understand the power of that until my father died and my mother explained to me that as awful as you feel, you don’t know what it is for a parent to bury a child.And I connected that to Israel. So I’m taking all this language that I’m learning from other places, and trying to apply it here – testing it to see whether it works or not. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.Another point is the difference between Palestinians and Hamas. I never call it the Palestinian government in Gaza, ever. Hamas says everything, communicates everything.In fact, we were working on a group in Britain, and the group was so hostile to Israel that I was really getting offended. I was so angry at how bad it was, I’d given up. An hour and a half, I’m trying every exercise, every dial test, every way to move them... Nothing worked.Who were they? High income, high education, politically connected...There was no message that resonated remotely well with them. And I finally said “to hell with it. We’ll give them the Hamas Charter.”I had taken the exact language from the Hamas Web site, word for word, edited down to one page. And I just said, “We’re gonna give it to them, we’ll do the exercise and I will let them go early.”And I handed it out to them and I went into a back room and I watched people’s body language.They’re shaking their heads. You know Brits, they don’t have a “tell.” The British population is so diplomatic and so careful, they don’t show emotion. (Mimics British child:) “Oh mummy, you won a million pounds.”(Mimics polite, thoroughly unmoved British mother:) “That’s lovely.” There’s no passion.But here, they’re looking up in dismay, they’re looking at each other, they’re looking down, they’re folding [the paper with the charter] and then they start looking at it again. Now there are 30 people in a room that should only seat 25.So they’re already a little bit agitated that they’re all crunched in there. And I wait for each one and I’m watching the physical language and I figured, this is great. I’m gonna move a third of them. [In fact, though], 28 of the 30 said, “How dare Israel negotiate with these people?” Remember, part of the British culture is diplomacy.So if they see a country that is so hostile to their culture of diplomacy, then they, even people who hate Israel, at that point said, “Do not negotiate with Hamas. You cannot negotiate with an organization that believes in this, that would even write this.” It changed everything.Then what happens? Shimon Peres [at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2009, at a panel with Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan], not because of us, reads the Hamas charter. (Peres quoted the lines from the Hamas charter branding peace efforts “a waste of time” and relating to the imperative for Muslims to “kill the Jews” in order to hasten the day of judgment.) To be clear, I’m not taking credit. He did it without us. That’s why he’s so good. At Davos, against the Turkish leader, Peres pulls out the Hamas charter! So the next time [we held a research session], we then dialed Peres’s reading of the Hamas charter. Nothing that we have ever tested has done better than Shimon Peres quoting from the Hamas charter. Here is the epitome of a great elder statesman, reading from the epitome of hate and loathing. The two of them together is communication perfection.If every American were to learn what was in the Hamas charter, Israel would never have to worry about public support, ever again. That’s how important it is. If every Israeli leader would carry a copy of the Hamas charter, I’d say to you that it’s game, set and match.