I haven’t reviewed the Israeli government’s budget, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it invests considerable resources in hasbara: Israeli PR. That’s why Israel has an army of people who can show up on CNN & FoxNews and write op-eds. It’s why we continue to elect Bibi: right or wrong, we think he’s best equipped to tell our side of the story to the rest of the world. It’s why your Facebook feed is filled with videos from Stand with Us, The Israel Project, the Israel Video Network etc.
But, while hasbara was once an incredibly important tool led by pioneers like Abba Eban and Charlie Levine, I worry that it’s now having negative effects.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love nothing more than a good conversation. The problem is that we Jews are suckers for debate. Whether it’s rabbis in the Talmud or Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza analyzing “what is a pick,” the glowing light of debate draws us in like flies. Conversation is our kryptonite, we simply can’t say no.
But too much talking is killing us.
Take for instance the recent article in the New York Times about the Temple Mount. Did it really need a rebuttal in Tablet Magazine explaining why the Temple Mount was indeed a Jewish holy site? Why even respond to something so stupid? When you engage in debate, you validate the other side. Why do you think the Palestinians are now claiming that the Western Wall should be part of the Temple Mount? Because they know that Jews will take the bait, share the article on Facebook and flood the Internet with open letters and outrage. But the Arabs understand that the only thing people will remember is that the Western Wall is disputed territory.
We need to cut that #$%^ out.
Not only does engaging in silly debates validate the other side, but the optics are terrible. People don’t care about details, and when they see two sides arguing, they assume both opinions have merit. Do you see Putin attempting to explain his aggressive policies to the West?
When President Obama rebukes Israel more than Russia, we cry antisemitism.
Our problem isn’t necessarily that we’re Jewish, it’s that we talk too much. We’re getting annoying. But don’t take my word for it, just listen to how Louis CK describes Israel & Palestine as petulant children in the now viral monologue on Saturday Night Live.
People in sales can sympathize. Why do you think people lose a sale? Because they talk too little, or because they say too much. Well, right now, Israel is saying too much. We might be the word’s greatest debaters, but the Arabs are kicking our collective tush at sales. Sure, the majority of Americans agree with Israel, but the very fact that they’ve convinced such a vocal minority to support them is an incredible accomplishment in its own right.
Why are the Arabs so successful? Because they’re direct and to the point: “it’s our land and the evil Zionists are occupying us.” They anchor the conversation, back up their claims with action, and, like Donald Trump (the greatest salesman), they don’t back down no matter how much they are challenged on their ridiculous claims. Have you heard Abbas apologize for his comment about our “filthy Jewish feet?”
We could do well to learn from some of what the Arabs do right. Perhaps we want to simplify our hasbara to “Israel is a Jewish state, we welcome peaceful guests and visitors.”
Forget words like “moral clarity,” “restraint,” and “rule of law.” Forget discussions about whether Obama is anti-Israel or not. Those are difficult words and ideas to comprehend, but even a child can understand, “It’s mine, but I will share with you.”
Also, we might do better to invest all of our collective resources in retargeting our hasbara, not to the United States, or as Louie puts it, Mom & Dad, but to the Arabs who are living here, the very ones with whom we have an issue. Let’s spend more time and energy convincing the people we actually have to live with that peaceful coexistence is in their best interests too. Let’s tell them directly how they can have a great life here in Israel and show them everything liberty has to offer.
Maybe it’s time to stop sharing every upsetting BBC headline or shoddy piece of journalism from the New York Times — which, by the way, is EXACTLY what they want you to do. Maybe it’s time for less talking and more acting.