Earlier this month I embarked upon a new career path, becoming the Senior Director of Israel Advocacy at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP). Much of my advocacy education was cultivated during my tenure as the Director of Speechwriting at Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
The past few years were a tumultuous time to be on the frontline for Israel. My colleagues and I worked through faltering peace talks, the collapse of Middle Eastern nation states, the kidnapping and murder of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, the ensuing 50 days of war with Hamas in Gaza, nuclear negotiations, and countless heartbreaking terror attacks in Israel and around the world.
Despite the profound challenges that we faced, I was immensely proud to spend my days (and nights) standing up for Israel. Working with Israelis is demanding, loud, exciting, maddening and endlessly rewarding. I worked with some remarkable champions of Israel and the Jewish people. Here are a few of the lessons that they taught me about being an effective advocate.
Think big. Now bigger.
Israel is home to just 0.1 percent of the world’s population, comprises 0.0035 percent of the planetary landmass and is only 68 years old. Despite its small size and young age, the Jewish state has left its mark on just about every area of progress made in the modern world, from agricultural advancements that help feed entire communities, to medical breakthroughs that are saving lives, to technological innovations that have revolutionized global communications and commerce. Per capita, Israel produces more scientific papers, has the largest number of startup companies, and the highest ratio of university degrees of any nation. The country may be small, but its contributions are enormous and its possibilities are limitless.
You can and must repeat your message. Repeatedly. And often.
I had the profound privilege of working for Ambassador Ron Prosor, one of Israel’s most effective and engaging diplomats. Ambassador Prosor is known for many things – his biting humor, his Cheshire Cat smile, and his predilection for quoting Winston Churchill. One of his favorite Churchill quotes is, “Never, never, never give up.” This quote embodies the tenacity and perseverance needed to advocate for Israel. More often than not at the UN, we worked from a point of disadvantage, confronting decades-old institutionalized bias and modern-day prejudices. Rather than retreat from the myriad challenges, Ambassador Prosor pushed us to think more strategically, pursue new avenues, forge new alliances, and repeat our messages at every opportunity. If you’re proud of Israel, don’t stop telling people why.
Israel is not fragile.
In its 68 years, Israel hasn’t known a single day when it hasn’t had to defend its security from terrorist organizations, its economy from global boycott movements, and its legitimacy from prejudiced organizations. The unrelenting onslaught has made us hypersensitive to criticism of the Jewish state. We often forget that Israel is much tougher than we give it credit for and there is room in the tent for a vast array of opinions. There are certain red lines that shouldn’t be crossed — those seeking to undermine Israel’s legitimacy or security should not be indulged. But at the end of the day, if we want to have meaningful and productive conversations, we must listen to divergent views and endeavor to see Israel through other people’s eyes.
Sometimes it is a laughing matter.
The Jewish people have given the world the comedy of Groucho Marx, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason, Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman. Nonetheless, when it comes to Israel, we seem to quickly lose our sense of humor. Israel has been ranked the 11th happiest country in the world for three years in a row. Israelis aren’t encumbered by the country’s many challenges; they focus on family and friends, enjoying the country’s outstanding food, its stunning beauty and its remarkable culture of innovation. We should take a page from their book and allow Israel to make us feel energized, engaged and optimistic.
Walk tall and proud.
Some of the best advice that Ambassador Ron Prosor offers is to walk tall and proud. Israel is one of the freest and most democratic nations in the world, and certainly the freest and most democratic country in the Middle East.
Israel isn’t perfect. No country is. But in a region known for repression and intolerance, Israel is unmatched in its commitment to freedom, democracy, and equality. This commitment means that the burden of condemnation often falls disproportionately on Israel. After all, journalists and human rights activists aren’t clamoring to report from Baghdad, Beirut or Damascus. Former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak once said, “A democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back. Even so, the democracy has the upper hand.”
Despite all of its challenges, I look at Israel and see a country in which women have presided over each of the executive, legislature, and judiciary branches of government; where members of minority groups freely express themselves in the country’s boisterous parliament and sit on its independent courts; where a free press can openly criticize government policies; and where every citizen can benefit from the state’s open economy.
I look at Israel and see a country aspiring to elevate its citizens, its society, and its global contributions. In my eyes, Israel isn’t just a country, it’s the embodiment of values – values I am proud to represent.