After an initial appalling failure, Israel seems to have pulled off another military success – as far as is possible. But it’s clear that it, and we (the Jewish communities overseas) have failed significantly in the battle for public, cultural, political and intellectual opinion. The reasons for this are many, but they needn’t concern us here, because going forward we need to begin with a blank sheet of paper. And we need to be smart, not clever.
This entails accepting a number of uncomfortable truths. The first, and perhaps the most important, is that we are a tiny minority. Our enemies are far more numerous and far better resourced. The second is that we are battling deeply-held, embedded prejudices that are centuries old. The third is that our history – including the Shoah, which happened eighty years ago – is irrelevant, unknown, ancient history to most people. (In 1945 itself, how many people were aware of, or cared, what happened in 1865?). The fourth (and I will stop here, although the list is much longer) is that we have to be both aggressive and subtle in our advocacy – carefully choosing our methods, our messages, and our media. But allow me a fifth – no more ‘nice guys’!
So – aware of the space limitations here – some thoughts:
Messages – the most difficult challenge. What image do we want – or, better, need – to transmit to the world about ourselves? Currently, to be antisemitic is to be fashionable, especially among the young. This is a truly horrific situation. How on earth do we turn this around? Do we want to be positive about ourselves; or negative about antisemites? Or both? Should we highlight as racism an obsession with Jews and Israel? What about Israel? What is our central message? Whatever it is, our message/messages should be powerful, contemporary, compelling – short and clear. And consistently stated. We should be very aggressive on Campuses.
Methods – the media is the method. Our organizations should devote resources to online advocacy; both in spreading positive messages online, challenging adversarial activity by others – and challenging those responsible for media (the corporations which own them) when they are acquiescing in allowing anti-Jewish postings. But the stress should be on being proactive, not reactive. One resource which we do not seem to have mobilized so far are the Jews in academe – whose personal and professional status is in serious danger of being delegitimised. We also have to systematically seek out allies. (Much more difficult than it sounds; but we have to take long-term strategic perspectives.) Over the last three or four decades our enemies have placed themselves in institutions and organizations of every type; the success of ‘intersectionality’ has been at our expense. Did we really change after Durban?
Media – utilize every available avenue.
In short – we have to thoroughly politicize ourselves and our communities. Israel has to put its house in order.
Take out your blank sheet of paper, and start planning. Now.