Oded Revivi

Beyond the lines

The YESHA Council of Judea & Samaria's new foreign desk will work to win hearts and minds on the world stage

Last week, we reestablished YESHA Council’s foreign desk. This decision came in wake of our realization that we cannot allow the public diplomacy of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to stop at Israel’s borders. The challenges posed to us every day mean that we must target international decision-makers and the world media and present them with the truth.

That is the role of the foreign desk — to think, explore and work with opinion makers and the media outside Israel. The range of organizations that we will work with and against is wide, and includes Christians who love Israel, on the one hand, and BDS and other organizations that support terror and call for our destruction, on the other. Naturally, not all are in our circles of interest, but we must work against organizations that support boycotts and work to undermine us.

We don’t have the privilege of refusing to talk to those who disagree with us. It is our duty to strengthen our supporters and sow doubt among our opponents. The extreme breadth of scope only serves to make our challenge that much greater.

In view of this wide range of organizations, we have created a select, professional team, which I head, that works in cooperation with the finest minds in the field in order to formulate goals and strategy. The YESHA Council board defined the areas in which we will work, and they include hosting delegations and VIPs from abroad, writing articles and appearing in the foreign media in order to convey the day-to-day reality in which the people of Judea and Samaria live, participating in conferences and giving lectures for decision-makers, taking proactive measures against boycott initiatives, the labeling of YESHA products, and so on.

There is a lot of work awaiting us in the diplomatic sphere too. The previous director and founder of the foreign desk, Dani Dayan, forged personal ties with quite a few ambassadors and consuls stationed in Israel. These ties are very important because they create the means to communicate at the highest echelon of decision-makers in the international arena. Just two weeks ago, we saw how world leaders met to discuss the French initiative without the voice of the object of the discussion — the people living in Judea and Samaria — even being allowed to be heard.

Our activities include meeting with ambassadors stationed in Israel. In recent weeks, I made it clear to them that although we have disagreements with some of their governments, a report authored by an official government representative who visits Ramallah but refrains from visiting Efrat, Ariel or Kiryat Arba will necessarily be distorted and not reflect a true or comprehensive picture.

My impression is that criticism of this kind is received with a certain measure of understanding and perhaps as a result, those official representatives will start to visit our communities and learn first-hand about the reality in and around them. This is yet another step on the way to bolstering our position in the international arena.

The methods are varied. In English, they say: “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” Based on an understanding of the situation, it is important that the method be simple, quick and easily adaptable to different scenarios, with our guiding principle being: Confuse them with the facts! We are working very hard on the planning of a platform that will not require considerable resources to operate through which we can convey messages to our supporters while at the same time confusing our opponents with facts and personal stories from the field.

People sometimes ask why it’s so important for us to get our story across outside Israel. After all, they say, everyone hates us anyway. This is an important question, but one that labors under a misconception of reality. In this global age, borders have little meaning. Since we live at the epicenter of a region that draws a great deal of international attention, we cannot abandon the stage to the other side. I often ask myself what the claims of those sides would look like had the Edmond Levy report been written in 1967, rather than just a few years ago. We lost precious years when only one side’s claims were heard and we have to work quickly.

In the past few weeks, we have managed to score a few successes. Here is one small example. The water shortage in the Palestinian Authority is well known. I was amazed that it was during those weeks when the Jewish communities in Samaria were also suffering from a serious water shortage that the PA Chairman decided to accuse Israel of a patently false blood libel — of poisoning Palestinian wells. We decided not to remain silent in the face of this brazen and deliberate lie. I sat down and wrote an article called “Poisoning the water in Judea and Samaria: The real story,” and it was published in The Times of Israel in English, and on Ynet in Hebrew. Both articles, the one in English and the one in Hebrew, were shared hundreds of times on the social media, provoking a surprising and productive debate. I was asked for my sources, where the information and data had come from and we of course provided them. It changed the discourse, or rather — we confused them with the facts. This is something we can all do. You just have to want to. We need to speak the truth and present the hard facts.

We’re not the only ones that can act in this area. Everyone can. Everyone can be a public diplomat. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The people we’re contending against know that and make endless and frequent use of images, which in some cases represent incidents that happened elsewhere or staged situations that never happened at all. Sadly, the photograph of Hallel Yaffa Ariel’s room was worth many thousands of words: a child’s room with a bunk bed, teddy bear, rug, cupboard and a lot of blood. Everyone can see how much poor Hallel’s room looks like their own children’s rooms, and no one wants blood there. That picture, as well as a picture of an Israeli ambulance team extending assistance to Palestinian accident victims, a firefighting team rescuing injured passengers from a Palestinian vehicle and more are pictures that are worth a thousand words.

We can all take pictures and share them, thereby changing the story. This is not something the government, the Foreign Ministry or its spokespeople can do. But we can, all of us, together on a large scale. YESHA Council’s foreign desk was established precisely for this purpose. We are here for our communities and the State of Israel.

About the Author
Oded Revivi is the Chief Foreign Envoy of the YESHA Council, the official umbrella organization representing the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. He is also the Mayor of the city of Efrat.
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