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The Other War We Are Fighting

Credit: Natasha Konstorum

I am not a military expert, but it seems that Israel’s war against Hamas has gone relatively well in the first 90 days.  Hundreds of Hamas leaders and thousands of Hamas terrorists have been captured or killed, and Israel has destroyed many of the tunnels and ammunition storage locations that have been built by Hamas. And while we all pray for the safe return of the remaining hostages, Israel has not allowed that deter it from its stated goal of completely eradicating Hamas, once and for all.

However, there is another war out there, which unfortunately we are not winning.  It’s the war in the media … the war of words and photos.  Even though intellectually and rationally there should be no good explanation for reasonable people to justify the rape, mutilation, beheading, burning alive, torture, and kidnapping of more than 1,500 men, women, children, elderly and babies, these folks seem to be blind to Hamas’s stated goal of eliminating Israel from the Middle East map and repeating the unspeakable atrocities of Oct 7th until no Jews remain.

And it’s not only in Europe.  I don’t have to tell you what’s happening on college campuses across America today.  Even here in our idyllic community in Stamford, there was a small rally in support of the Palestinians, and one of our Senators in Connecticut who has generally been supportive of Israel has modified his stance to be more even handed in his position on the war.

Public opinion is critical of Israel, despite Israel’s unprecedented regard of Gazan civilians, and unfortunately, a barrage of falsehoods is effectively shaping a distorted view among large sections of the international public. Global antisemitism is on the rise, and democracy and freedom are in clear and present existential danger.

That’s why a small group of us in Stamford have decided to fight the media battle with a local effort of our own, organized by Natasha Konstorum and sponsored by the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien.  I’ve been privileged to work on this committee, along with about a dozen other volunteers.  We have daily WhatsApp conversations about new ideas on how best to counter the pro-Palestinian efforts in the media, with everyone participating in different ways and focusing on their strengths.

“Our digital campaign group was created in November 2023, in response to the removal of hostage posters, carried out either by those opposing the movement or city sanitation workers fulfilling their street-cleaning duties,” said Konstorum.  “I was inspired by a billboard I saw in Chicago.  Billboards are impossible to be taken down, so we came up with the idea of creating our own local billboard.”

A message from UJF went out to the entire Jewish community about the billboard project, and several hundred residents contributed money to pay for the campaign.  In just two days, the group raised over $4,000 for the first billboard.

The digital billboard is now visible on I-95, strategically located in Bridgeport, CT.  It’s getting over 500,000 views every week and can rotate different messages.

“Everything happened so quickly,” said Konstorum.  “From the original idea to the time we went live with our first billboard took us only six days! This was a group effort that showed us that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.”

The group is trying to differentiate itself from other pro-Israel advertising.  Other Jewish groups running ads often display an Israeli flag in their background, with a message to support Israel.  The ads created by the Stamford group always display both an American and an Israeli flag in the background, in order to demonstrate the shared values of the two countries.

“We’re not targeting specific demographics,”said Konstorum. “Our goal is to capture everyone’s attention with our messages. We live in a world now where the sound byte matters. I grew up in the former Soviet Union, where we were constantly bombarded with slogans and messages.  We understand the power of this type of communication. Our billboards convey straightforward messages that tap into American pride and patriotism – and that are easy to understand and remember.”

For example, one of the messages on the billboard is “Anti-Zionism = Antisemitism = Racism.”  Since Israel is the only state for Jewish people, who are a distinct minority in every other country, opposing the right for Jews to have a state is antisemitism. Such racist views are fundamentally anti-American, the message that should emotionally connect with the American population at large.

Another message being used in the billboard campaign is a series of different “Stand With Israel” ads.  For example, “Bullying Jewish students?  That’s antisemistism. Stand with Israel.”  And, “Putting civilians in the line of fire?  That’s Hamas. Stand with Israel.”  Other messages highlight the absurdity of siding with Hamas and the importance of standing with Israel by calling attention to Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields and pro-Palestinian support for bullying Jews on campus.

Social media and digital content is another area in which the group will be focusing its efforts, especially video testimonies provided by real people.  The idea is to get the videos to go viral, and create an emotional connection with the audience.  Supporters of the Palestinian cause have been very successful in using TikTok and other social media platforms to their advantage, and a more concerted effort by Jewish groups to counter their message desperately needs to be implemented.

“We just started this campaign, and for many of us, it’s the first time we are diving into political issues at this level,” said Konstorum.  “Success is multifaceted, with the ultimate goal being the complete eradication of antisemitic activities in our country.  A large part of the group is represented by Jewish “refugees” who were raised in societies in which antisemitism and hostility towards Jews were part of day-to-day life. We want to prevent this from happening here in this country.  Our vision is to contribute to the future where being antisemitic is considered a shameful stance.”

These are dark days in the history of the Jewish people. And during such days, it is especially important to do what we can to spread a small amount of light.  We are hoping that our local effort will be able to change the narrative just a bit – and help open the eyes of our fellow citizens to what is really happening both here and abroad.

The website that our group has created is stopantisemitismnow.org … and to make a donation to our campaign, please visit ujf.givingfuel.com/billboard-for-israel.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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