Op-Ed: Why Israel is Losing the PR War
Orit ArfaThe writer is author of "The Settler," a novel following the rebellious journey of a young woman into Tel Aviv nightlife following her traumatic eviction from her home in Gaza during the 2005 withdrawal. Visit Orit's website for more info: www.oritarfa.net.
At almost every pro-Israel lecture I attend, someone feels compelled to ask an unrelated question at the end: “Why does Israel have such bad PR”?
People offer answers—or guesses—that don’t speak to the heart of the issue:
“Israel doesn’t spend enough on PR.”
“The world is anti-Semitic.”
“We are doing just fine.”
“I don’t know.”
Part of the problem with Israel’s PR is the fact that we even refer to an intellectual defense of Israel as “public relations.”It’s not a matter of mere PR or image. It’s a matter of our core values and our willingness to stand up for what we believe and know is right and true, no matter what the cost. We could have exponentially more effective PR if we spent less money, but tapped into our other hidden treasures: our conviction, passion, honesty, and fearlessness.
Israel’s enemies are good because they offer “black and white” messages, using humanitarian language that makes Israel’s enemies sound like the oppressed and downtrodden. They do not sugarcoat their lies. They say:
- Israel is an apartheid State
- Israel is an occupying power
- IDF soldiers are war criminals
And how do Israel’s spokespeople—both in and out of the Israeli government--fight these lies?
- They give long, arduous facts to debunk those claims
- They assert that Israel simply wants peace
- They assert that “it’s complicated/complex”
- They boast that Israel is a leader in hi-tech. (Without Israel, you wouldn’t have cell phones!)
I’ll tell you why these strategies rarely make a dent. The general population doesn’t care about drawn-out facts, especially in this television/Facebook obsessed, fast food/fast consumption culture. We need to answer such claims with strong messages as simple and pure as the ones that Israel’s enemies use - except ours will be honest. You can’t fight lies with “it’s complicated.” You have to throw the intellectual attacks back in their court, with statements like:
- The Arab world consists of apartheid states
- “Palestine”is a made-up nation and the “Palestinians” are a made-up people
- Palestinian leaders are war criminals
But, people argue, you’ll only turn people off that way! Not if you’re consistent. Not if you don’t falter. The Palestinians and their friends are consistent, unified, and—worse—have no qualms about being deceptive.
It is a holy war for the jihadists, with victory in mind: the destruction of Israel. For Jews and Israel, depending on whom you ask, it’s merely an ongoing battle or “peace process.” Jihadists will die for their cause. Most Jews will at most part with some time and money for the Zionist cause.
Regarding appeals to people’s love of technology—sometimes, statements boasting of Israel’s wealth and accomplishments make people resent Israel more. Israel appears obsessed with material goods while it “oppresses” the Palestinians. Actually, we may even consider telling the world how Israel suffers because of all the Arab wars against the Jewish state, how Israel is, in fact, the oppressed, beleaguered country, with its citizens struggling with poverty, evidenced with rising housing costs and low wages.
But most Israelis and Israel-advocates are shy of these strong, passionate messages because they are afraid to fight dirty. They’re afraid to be labeled “right wing” or “extremist” or “Islamaphobe.”They’re afraid it will turn off their bosses or colleagues, and they might lose some money or friends, who don’t like them for who they really are anyway.
Here’s another reason Israel is losing. As generally rational and civilized people, Israel advocates don’t use smear tactics. A smear is not an argument, but a subtle character assassination. These include equating gun owners with murderers, Republicans with greedy businessmen, Israelis as oppressors. And no one wants to be called criminal, greedy, or oppressive.
What’s worse is that majority of Israel advocates and particularly American Jewry shun those people who actually speak the truth, who aren’t afraid to fight fire with fire, who put Israel’s enemies on the defensive. These include Jews living across the "green line" (the 1949 Armistic Line, ed.)and organizations and personalities who speak out against Islamic jihad. They’ll agree with these zealots in their hearts, but never admit it. Meanwhile, these courageous Israel defenders who speak the truth experience social ostracism.
But the main reason that Israel is losing is that Israel bashers control the culture, the arts, film, and academia. Artists and academics are the purveyors of ideas, and ideas shape the next generation. Meanwhile, the pro-Israel camp relies on booklets of facts, lengthy non-fiction books, and op-eds.
Art influences by touching emotion. Academia influences by calling forth ideas, which these days are influenced by the “black and white” messages of the jihadists and their sympathizers. If we are to win, we need to train a new generation of Zionist artists and academics. The new Zionist intellectuals.
So if you’re still wondering why Israel is losing the PR war, I ask one more thing: Look in the mirror. Think about where you could have defended Israel vigorously, but were too afraid to speak up, too desirous of being politically correct. Of messages you could have posted on Facebook, but were afraid of sounding too“political.” Of Zionist causes you could have supported, but decided to go to a party or make a business deal instead. Of arguments you could have made at a social gathering, but didn’t lest you sound too "militant" or “right-wing.”
I sure hope people will stop asking that annoying “Why does Israel have such bad PR?” question.