Dreaming the wrong dream

We don’t need better hasbara, or “public diplomacy”; Improving a message that doesn’t work won’t make it work; But we do need different hasbara.

Dome of the rock and Israeli flag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Dome of the rock and Israeli flag
In one of the best scenes (the prison scene) in one of my favorite movies, Blow, Diego says to Johnny Depp: “You had a dream, yet you failed. Why?” To which Depp answers: “Because I got caught.”
Diego: “No. You failed because you had the wrong dream.”
And so too with our Jewish dream. We are failing. And each and every time we fail, we are astonished. Something happens in Israel. Within hours the world media is filled with split screens of Israelis and Palestinians sparring with each other and news anchors over questions and accusations.
The scenario plays out the same virtually every time. The journalist asks or accuses; the Israeli responds clearly and factually, seemingly unassailable, and the Palestinian responds off-topic, erroneously and irrelevantly. And then our jaws drop as we watch the anchor give equal weighting to the two responses, or just blow the Israeli response off.
And we are astonished. Again.
We take to Facebook, posting the absurdity of it all, as our like-minded friends “like” and forward the post in agreement. Yes, they post, the world is insane, the media is against us, the Palestinian sounds ridiculous, the news anchor is an idiot or an anti-Semite, we clearly won that debate, and so on.
Now, the fact is that the Arab respondents in these forums do appear detached from reality, and their responses frequently seem to have nothing to do with the subject matter. And yet amazingly, somehow these responses frequently resonate better than ours.
Why? Because when it comes to the international court of public opinion, the Arabs understand the root of the question or accusation, and are responding to the real question, not the one on the surface. They are speaking the same language as the rest of the world.
And although this language may sound unintelligible to us, it makes sense to everyone else.
In fact, it is us who are speaking an unintelligible and unfathomable language when we engage with the world, irritating both us and them as we each fail to respond to each other satisfactorily.
Because of this we fail to understand the root of the question or accusation when we speak with the international community – and therefore our responses are inadequate and fall upon deaf ears.
We need security. We have only one country. We don’t want to rule over anyone. We embrace life, they embrace death. We’re the only democracy in the region. They have broken every agreement.
They attack, while we defend. We have the right to exist. We’re no bigger than New Jersey. We have the right to defend ourselves. The US agrees with us.
Any other country would do the same or more. I think this pretty much covers our vocabulary. And on and on. This endless recycling of the same old factoids and tired rebuttals that have been heard thousands of times. And they don’t resonate with anyone. These, our responses to the world, are actually the ones that are off-topic and irrelevant.
That’s because the Arab narrative the world hears can be boiled down to a one sharp, simple point: That we arrived here recently and displaced them. This is their message. Whether it is exactly true or not, it is true enough. And this is always the elephant in the room standing next to every question or accusation under discussion when we speak with the world. And the world’s question is always the same. How do we answer this factual accusation? The reason this question never ceases and is of such importance is that its answer determines how we deal with the reality of two people in one land.
Two states? Annexation and a binational state? Annexation and a Jewish state? The approach and justness of precisely how we conclude settling in the Land of Israel stems from this answer.
To this question there is really only one response that is just and makes sense.
Any other, such as the ones we tirelessly regurgitate, just don’t cut it. That response is, yes, we have displaced them.
Never mind that we fought a defensive war. No one cares. Never mind that we have no other land. No one cares. We have displaced them. But we have done so because this is our land (this includes the West Bank) which we have returned to. It is ours by biblical right, and we are commanded to live in it. After 2,000 years, the ingathering of the exiles has gone from quaint Bible story to unprecedented reality, which everyone can see.
We’re back. We’re home. We embrace one of God’s most frequent commandments in the Torah – to live here. And we accept the challenge of building a unique, model nation of justice and righteousness – the very reason we are commanded to live here.
We don’t need better hasbara, or “public diplomacy.” Improving a message that doesn’t work won’t make it work.
But we do need different hasbara. After almost 70 years, it’s time to stop dreaming the wrong dream.
The writer is the co-founder and former CEO of Sirius XM Radio, America’s largest radio broadcaster. Nominated by Harvard Business School as Entrepreneur of the Year, and inducted into NASA’s Space Technology Hall of Fame, he now lives in Israel with his wife and family.