The Jewish Hasbara’s Strategic Error

For so many years Jews throughout the world have been, and still are, subjected to the aftershock of Israel’s policies. Every major action by the Israeli government or any Israeli recognized institution implicates almost directly on antisemitic fluctuations in other countries.

In the United States the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been producing an annual report on antisemitic incidents since 1979, showing local surges in the graph amidst, and following, major Israeli political and military actions such as Operation Defensive Shield, Operation Cast Lead, the Mavi Marmara incident etc, as well as major peaks around the first Israeli-Lebanese war in 1982 and twenty years later in the second Intifada.

This correlation is clearly visible in other parts of the world as well, namely the drastic surge in antisemitic incidents across Europe after Israel’s endeavor in Gaza in 2009, as testified by Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to the European Union.

This op-ed does not aim at criticizing Israel’s policies and actions but rather to illustrate the sometimes harsh implications those have on Jews in Diaspora communities.

In most of the times this action-reaction phenomena in which Jews in other countries suffer the consequences of criticism towards Israel, which is sometimes manifested violently, has nothing to do with their own individual take on Israel’s policies. It is simply because they’re Jewish that they are instantly and instinctively linked to Israel and perceived as supporting its actions regardless of their own views and beliefs.

This situation is certainly not justifiable but it is understandable given the unique nature of Israel, festively declared as home of the Jews, whoever and wherever they are, and the bilateral relationship Israel has with Jewish communities around the world.

But this is also due to a strategic error made by the Jewish Hasbara array that leads to automatically linking Jewish communities and individuals to Israel’s doings; those in charge of Hasbara efforts aren’t doing enough to differentiate their own people’s views from Israel’s policies.

Too often campaigning traditional Israeli public diplomacy comes instead of campaigning for interfaith tolerance within local communities.

This is a tricky situation. On one hand Israel is pretentiously the patron of all the global Jewry, and rightfully so; on the other hand not every Jewish person can, or should, agree with Israel’s policies and actions. This is the essence of democracy and Israel, being the only democracy in its region, is devoted to retaining its freedom of speech. Paradoxically enough, this variance in opinion is expected inside the Israeli society, but not as much in the Jewish Diaspora as many expect Jews to back up Israel in any scenario.

This predicament calls for a new strategy to be taken by the global Jewish Hasbara. A new dual approach needs to be adopted, in which Hasbara organizations continue advocating for Israel’s sake, but at the same time drawing a line between the individual’s point of view and government decisions, saying “Yes, we support Israel, nevertheless we are independent thinkers who believe in democracy and we reserve the right to agree or disagree with every decision made by Israeli policy makers.”

Here are a few ways in which this approach can be executed:

1. Establishing Israel as a non-monolithic country: Israel is often perceived in the world as a single-opinioned entity where all Jewish citizens are unified behind the ‘occupation’ and back up every governmental decision. Not only this isn’t a loyal claim, but this idea also suggests that all Jews, wherever they are, support Israel’s every move. Establishing that Israeli Jews are divided in opinion and often disagree upon public affairs can refute the comprehension that all Jews stand behind Israel’s policies.

2. Emphasizing the difference between state and religion: The notion that Israel is the only Jewish state implies to many that all the Jews “are Israel”. Acknowledging that this isn’t a reciprocating relationship between state and religion can part the two, thus untying the compelling knot, leaving Jews with religion, but not necessarily tied to a state.

3. Separate bodies to campaign for separate causes: A lot of times when Hasbara bodies attempt to convey numerous messages the different themes funnel into a medley of messages that blurs the uniqueness of each one. Assigning different lobby groups, or ad hoc teams within the groups, to campaign for Israel’s right to exist and for Judaism separately can scatter the cloud and clarify the difference between Judaism and Israeli policy making.

There is no specific course of action preferable over another in this strategy, it is all a question of which people or country is addressed. And of course there is no ‘complete list’ of ideas. As long as those at the helm successfully communicate to their target audience that there is the state of Israel, beloved as it may be, and there are independent Jewish communities that aren’t to be taken accountable for Israel policies, this action-reaction chain will break, leaving Jews in the world feeling safer and perhaps not being tempted to give up their Jewish identity for peace of mind.

Aaron Kalman contributed to this piece.

About the Author
Yuval Canfi (יובל כנפי) is a lecturer for new media public diplomacy, a political activist and former Director of ISCA (Israeli Students Combating Antisemitism). Yuval holds a degree in Business and Marketing from the Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).