Dear Israeli Press members whining about the Peres Birthday Bash:
Sit back. Shut up. And for God’s sake, try to enjoy yourselves. (There’s coffee onsite, and it’s delicious.)
I get that it’s part of our national character to be cynical and to complain Yes, there is a lot wrong with this country – of course you know that. You
read write the news. Heh.
But you are seriously missing the point behind the Peres birthday extravaganza:
Straight up? Hasbara sucks. It just isn’t working. Anti-Semitism – let alone anti-Zionism – is on the rise in a big and scary way. And it’s worse, because people are now roping in the Holocaust as a weapon against us. It’s like anti-Semitism 2.0 – bigger, meaner, waaaay scarier. Hitler et al could reach thousands in a crowded auditorium, and we saw what happened there. But with the internet, any wacko with a laptop and wireless connection can press a button and spew their nasty lies and reach millions, in seconds.
Allow me to break it down for you Mark Twain style:
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Anyway. Want to know something funny? Not “funny ha ha funny” but funny sad?
A few weeks ago, I was giving a talk and I needed to reference a really vile anti-Semitic blog written by some guy living in the Mid West — a real lunatic with a scary-huge following… and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember his name. So, I do what I do when I do what I do, and I crowd-sourced like a boss:
Um, this is awkward, but I am trying to remember the name of an anti-Semitic blogger who has a huge following. I think he lives in Missouri.
Guess what. 40 responses. 40 different names.
And, there ya go: That’s what we’re dealing with.
The thing is, while hasbara assumes a defensive position (insert inappropriate joke here), advocacy is freaking awesome. And in order to be effective, you gotta reach out to the people who don’t know about Israel and don’t know that they SHOULD know about Israel.
Screaming doesn’t work – if you find yourself reaching for the antacids when you’re talking about Israel, you’re doing something very wrong.
Trolling forums is creepy and sooooo 2008.
Preaching to the choir is masturbatory – it’s a love-in, sure, but you aren’t creating a new way of seeing things.
(“Wonderful,” you’re thinking (cynically, of course.) “you’re telling us all the stuff we shouldn’t be doing, but you aren’t giving us any concrete ideas.”)
Sit back. Shut up. And enjoy the show. I’ll get to that part in a sec.
First of all, let me back up: I get that you’re journalists, and worrying about Israel’s image is probably not your thing. But for those of us who DO care about this, the Peres confab is a great way to advocate for this country.
Israel is more than a warzone. And it’s more than Bar Refaeli looking all fine and whatnot on the beaches of Tel Aviv. This is an amazing country – and when you have world leaders coming to pay tribute to a man who embodies the history of this country – a man who has lived more in his lifetime than any of us can probably ever hope to live, it’s good for Israel.
Reaching people through compassion is a good way to begin the conversation, and even the most cynical of us probably felt a shiver of empathy when a young Arab boy who successfully survived a heart transplant as a baby thanked the President for saving his life.
Reaching people through humor is another way to change the conversation about Israel and engage a wider audience.
[In England,] we have our queen. [In Israel,] you have your Shimon.
– Prime Minister Tony Blair
We are here to celebrate the last living Israeli who knew King David.
– President Bill Clinton
And Shimon Peres embodies the exquisite nuances of this country: We are a continuously renewing, future-thinking nation that doesn’t hold grudges (for too long). Bibi may have bested him, but the two embrace with genuine affection.
Sure, we never forget where we’ve been and what has happened to us as a people – never, ever. But we aren’t mired in the past. We move forward, one step at a time, motivated by hope and optimism.
And… NEWSFLASH: Israelis are optimists: Because believe you me, if we’re going to deal with the snarling traffic jams, and the taxes, and Dudu Aharon on TV (gag) and the oppressive heat that does terrible things to our hair, and – yes – the Conflict (with a capital C) then we have to be optimists. Otherwise, we’d get the hell out of dodge, and let someone else do the nasty scut work that comes with building a nation from scratch.
And guess what? Shimon Peres is helping build this nation from scratch, and has been since before Israel became a state.
Look. I really don’t care how you feel about Shimon Peres: Maybe you have his picture in the center of a big old dartboard hanging in your living room. Maybe you sleep with a picture of him under your pillow.
But show some respect for the history that this man represents. 90 is worth celebrating. Whether it’s your Saba or Safta, or the President of Israel.
And Israel is worth celebrating, too.