Fundamentally Freund: Time for Hispanic ‘hasbara’

Organizations such as AIPAC devote more resources to building relationships with Latino communities.

Soldiers Mexican flags 370 (photo credit: Tomas Bravo/Reuters)
Soldiers Mexican flags 370
(photo credit: Tomas Bravo/Reuters)
It has been little over a week since America went to the polls, and much of the post-election analysis has centered on one rather stark subject: demographics.
More specifically: the soaring number and increasing power of America’s Hispanic population has captured center stage on the political scene. Indeed, for the third presidential election in a row, Hispanic Americans played a decisive role in determining who would be the leader of the Free World.
In 2004, George W. Bush succeeded in garnering 44 percent of the Latino vote, while Barack Obama won 67% of Hispanics in 2008 and 71% in the latest balloting.
As pundit Juan Williams noted in a column last week, “In the battleground states of Florida, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada there is no question, based on exit-poll surveys, that Latinos made the difference for the president.”
And it seems certain that they will continue to do so for many years to come.
In 2012, Latinos constituted 10% of the US electorate for the first time, having added four million new registered voters in just the past four years. It is no wonder, then, that various Republicans are now racing to figure out how to win a larger share of the Hispanic vote in the future.
Israel, too, needs to pay more attention to the Hispanic wave that is sweeping the American political world. In light of their growing clout, the Jewish state must take proactive steps to reach out to Latinos and enhance their familiarity and knowledge of Israel.
To put it simply: we need to launch a comprehensive and coordinated hasbara, or public diplomacy, campaign that makes Israel’s case to Hispanics directly and “en Espanol.” In a democracy, demographic dynamism translates into political strength, and it won’t be long before we see a slew of Latinos rising through the ranks to the heights of decision-making power in Washington.
According to the US Census Bureau, Hispanics are now the fastest growing minority group in America.
In just the past 20 years, the number of Latinos in the United States has more than doubled to over 50 million.
That means that one out of every six Americans is now Hispanic, and they account for nearly a quarter of all those under the age of 18.
Their influence is being felt in nearly every state in the union, including America’s heartland, the Midwest.
Over the past decade, the number of Latinos in Iowa and Indiana jumped by 82%, while in Nebraska and Minnesota it grew by more than 70%.
As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, “Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in the Midwest swelled 49%, more than 12 times the 4% overall population growth there, according to the census.”
Clearly, the face of America is rapidly changing, and so too should Israel’s hasbara.
A number of important initiatives have been launched in recent years with this aim in mind. Organizations such as AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange have been devoting more resources to building relationships with Latino communities.
Last November, for example, Project Interchange brought a delegation of prominent Hispanic leaders to Israel. They participated in a special week-long seminar which highlighted issues that resonate strongly among American Latinos, such as immigration and integration, and diaspora-homeland relations.
And Israeli consulates in various parts of the US have also been expanding their outreach work to Hispanic communities.
But a great deal more needs to be done, from identifying and engaging with up-and-coming Latino leaders to focusing more energy on the Spanish-language media in the United States. Israel is blessed with a large number of immigrants from Spanishspeaking countries, so there is no shortage of people with the requisite language skills and knowledge to man such a campaign.
In doing so, it will be important to recognize that Hispanics are not a single monolithic group. To lump together Mexicans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans is to ignore many of the subtle cultural and social differences among them. Programming and materials need to be tailored to each community so that they speak to them and connect them with the Jewish state.
Thankfully, Israel is blessed with solid support from American Jews and pro-Israel Christians. But moving forward, we cannot and must not rely solely on these groups alone. A financial portfolio is strongest when it is diversified. So too must Israel’s base now branch out to include Hispanics as well.
For, as we should know by now, when a vacuum exists in the world of hasbara, it does not remain empty for long. Our foes will almost certainly fill it, unless we move quickly to do so. And if the numbers are correct, the key to ensuring long-term US support for the Jewish state may just lie in the answer to a very simple question: Habla Espanol, Israel? For the sake of Israel’s future, the answer had better be, “Si.”