Right of Reply: Never say cry?

As long as we communicate that Israel respects int'l law, we can cry for Sderot, Gaza civilians.

woman evacuated sderot kassam88 ap  (photo credit: AP)
woman evacuated sderot kassam88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
A citizen's need to feel comfortable with the actions of his government is not unique to Israelis. Contrary to Jonathan Yudelman's column ("Waltz with Sisyphus: Israel's impossible propaganda war," March 22), I do not view hasbara as simply "a moral need particular to the Israeli psyche." This moral need is clearly as universal as an American's (or another's) inherent desire to trust his or her own military and political decision makers. The perceived failure to satisfy that need contributed considerably to the election of US President Barack Obama and similarly to former British prime minister Tony Blair's fall in popularity following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. There is nothing inspired in declaring Israel's PR problematic. However the removal of emotion and the human face from the picture will do greater harm than good in this struggle off the battlefield. Yudelman's suggestion that tears encourage our enemies may not be too far off the mark when it comes to the tears flowing in Sderot. Obviously, this is exactly the result the rockets are intended to achieve. Much less convincing is his contention that these tears, or tears that reflect our regret at the loss of Palestinian lives, in fact "confuse its supporters". To some extent I admit finding myself in agreement with Yudelman's "no tears" approach in regard to his criticism of the film Waltz with Bashir for its failure to explain the "justice and necessity of Israel's ways." However, as a hasbara professional, I encourage advocates to publicly recognize that suffering exists in Gaza and elsewhere, and to allow themselves to express their normal human regret and sorrow for the suffering incurred by Palestinian innocents. Only by showing our natural and sincere concern for humanity can we hope to gain reciprocal empathy and understanding as we proceed to explain our legal and moral justifications for the military action. The images of Israeli tears in conjunction with powerful explanations of the context surrounding Palestinian losses allow us to harness an important tool in explaining policy. IN REGARD TO Yudelman's argument regarding the descriptions and images of the tears of our citizens in the South, I must strongly disagree. As I see it, the terrified and shell-shocked faces in towns across the southern region are our clearest justification for Operation Cast Lead. Their fear and tears in fact illustrate the "necessity." It appears to me that tears can provide focus to our supporters and strengthen their resolve. In this way, the fear and tears actually satisfy Yudelman's desire for an explanation of the "justice and necessity." From my work with Jewish students and community leaders, it is apparent that advocates and would-be supporters have tremendous difficulty explaining why 13 dead Israelis justify a fierce antiterrorist operation that will by its very nature inflict a significant toll in Palestinian lives. It is exactly this challenge that should be answered with a combination of arguments from legal, moral and political angles. Coupled with these must be the use of emotion - not emotional, unmeasured ranting and accusations - but an intelligent and appropriate account of the human toll on Israeli civilian life. True, Kassam rockets cause fewer deaths than they do injury, terror and emotional trauma, but there is still plenty of "ammunition" to be employed from that trauma. During briefings with foreign journalists, diplomats and politicians, I've presented (among others) the story of nine-year-old Osher Twito and his amputations caused by the enemy's "homemade projectiles." It is revealing to see their reactions, as if it's news (and new!) to them. When I talk to Jewish and non-Jewish people alike about 14-year-olds in Sderot who wet their beds in fear, the 10-year-olds who insist on sleeping each night in their parents' bed and the eight-year-olds who have never known a time without Code Red sirens, the nodding heads and expressions of empathy give me every reason to believe that tears and emotive stories have a role to play. IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu, arguably our most successful advocate, asks each and every TV interviewer how his/her government would react to rockets falling on kindergartens and homes in Washington, London, Paris or Sydney? How many missile strikes would it take before his/her government acts to protect its citizens? "How would you react?" can begin a process toward understanding our predicament. It may not spark immediate and worldwide support but removing the question from the talking points of our representatives (as Yudelman suggests) would do a great injustice to our cause. Tear-jerking campaigns are the norm for Hamas and the well-oiled Palestinian PR machine. It goes without saying that their task is easier than ours, and that Israel has reluctantly been forced into providing them with ammunition in this war of words. Our hasbara task is formidable, and it begins with informing and educating ourselves. As long as we communicate our knowledge that Israel's actions rest on strong foundations in international law, and that Hamas (as a matter of policy) abuses a multitude of these laws, we should feel motivated and comfortable to allow our tears for Sderot and our regret for Gazan civilian deaths to flow across the Web pages, television screens and newspapers in the homes and offices of world leaders and citizenry. I would concur with Jonathan Yudelman that Iranian ambitions and Hamas's intractability and genocidal philosophy are no doubt central to the ongoing conflict. Yet the world continues to diminish these major issues while emphasizing Palestinian suffering. We must not be ashamed to respond with our fear expressed in tears and with a sense of pride that we can also recognize tears in Gaza. Tears may not yet win Oscars, but they are an important, sincere ingredient in the hasbara recipe. The writer is a public diplomacy and Israel advocacy speaker and trainer based in Israel. www.israelspeaker.com