As the owner of a major PR firm, I know first-hand that proper public relations campaigns can change government policies and affect real change. The recent Israeli Foreign Ministry campaign to bring the issue of Jewish refugee rights to public and diplomatic attention has the potential to be a unique game-changing campaign which can have an actual impact on Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.
More than 850,000 Jews from Arab states had property confiscated, and were forced out of Arab countries in the days following the establishment of the State of Israel. While the Palestinians have long spoken of their refugees (who in reality were not forced out of their homes), Israel raising this issue could potentially create a real dilemma for the Arab world. Can they claim the Jews weren’t kicked out? (They can’t.) The Israeli government must forge forward with plans to institute a national day of recognition for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and to build a museum to deal with this issue.
The campaign, entitled “I am a Refugee,” was launched in Geneva as the United Nations refugee agency celebrated its 60th anniversary, and will capture unique stories of people. By putting a human face to the Jewish refugee issue, it will be much more effective than an impersonal campaign. This is a real, powerful issue, and it will be hard for the media and others to ignore the claims of the hundreds of thousands who can offer their personal stories. Seeing the stories of Jews from Iraq, Morocco, and Tunisia who were thrown out of their homes – how can anyone say they don’t have rights?
The potential power of this claim can be seen in the always-PR savvy Hanan Ashrawi of the PLO Executive Committee responding so quickly. She published an article in a number of Arab media outlets this weekend saying the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands… is a form of deception and delusion.” Ashrawi speaking up so quickly shows that the Palestinian Arab negotiators realize the potential power of this issue.
Now, naturally, of course Israel will hear many reasons why the Jews aren’t refugees. When is a refugee not a refugee? When he’s a Jew…yet it’s a good public relations issue for Israel to raise.
The next battle which an enterprising MK or NGO can take on is the concept of a two-state “solution.” I often get confused when there is talk of two states – don’t the Arabs have 22 states? Doesn’t Russia maintain its claim to Chechnya – and they don’t release Chechen prisoners. There’s no “two-state” solution for Tibet, Taiwan or India and Pakistan – all nations with ample territorial dispute.
It’s another publicity campaign that can make noise and have real impact. The Jewish state can raise real issues that exist worldwide to show the double standard facing Israel.