Use Crisis PR to Fight Rise in Anti-Semitism

The pandemic of recent anti-Semitism is alarming, casting Jews worldwide into crisis mode.

Synagogues are scurrying to safeguard their congregants.  Jewish day schools and camps are ramping up security to protect their children, teachers and staff.  Jewish organizations are raising funds to support the increased need for security assessments and evaluations.   And many Jews are wondering – why now and where will this toxic hatred strike next?

The problem is serious enough that 58 Jewish organizations convened in New York City this week to address the ever increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, Europe and around the world.

This discussion is long overdue, as is the need to tackle the fundamental question of what we should do about it. The oft-misunderstood world of crisis PR may offer some answers.

From the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to an escalation of anti-Semitic harassment online, in schools, on college campuses and beyond, this abhorrent wave of anti-Semitism is startling because it has shaken American Jews out of their prior complacency.

For the most part, over the past half-century the U.S. Jewish community has felt secure here. Arguably, Jews are in a better place today than at any other time in their history.  Whether rising to the top as ultra-high-achievers in nearly every field, or wielding political power as elected officials or citizen advocates, you can find Jewish women and men leading the way.

And consider for a moment the young state of Israel.  Tiny as it may be in geographic size, it is a dynamic, global technology and innovation powerhouse carrying out life-saving humanitarian work across the world. For the first time ever, Jews defend themselves by themselves in their historic homeland, safeguarded by an elite army and intelligence apparatus.

Despite these undeniable successes, anti-Semitism is back, and has once again turned deadly.  A key question is: what can be done to prevent the future escalation of anti-Semitism?

Since the community is presently in crisis mode, we must behave accordingly to reverse this unacceptable uptick in anti-Jewish violence and sentiment. A good place to start is learning the best practices of crisis PR and its strategic approach to information-sharing.

After all, anti-Semitism ultimately stems from dissemination of misinformation and ignorant stereotypes. For thousands of years, anti-Semitic canards and myths have dehumanized Jews and turned them into scapegoats for the world’s many maladies.  This peaked during the Holocaust thanks to the Nazi propaganda machine. But in that case, too, words were the foundation upon which the tanks of war ultimately rumbled.

That’s why today, during this modern-day crisis of anti-Semitism that thrives online and reaches exponential audiences en masse, we must use modern communication tools to fight back.

Crisis PR tactics are used each day to either silence stories or breathe life into them.  The role of a crisis PR expert is to manage the messaging surrounding complex situations, and to steer their direction toward optimal outcomes.

One of the most vital pieces of counsel that crisis PR experts offer clients is to convert crises into opportunities.  This is good advice when it comes to confronting and beating back the current explosion of anti-Semitism.

In our media-saturated society, at any given non-crisis time it is nearly impossible to break through; messages are drowned out amid a cacophony of competing voices.

But during a crisis, the spotlight shines especially brightly upon one individual, organization or group.  In this case, it is the Jewish community. This is a rare opportunity to be seized, and it requires smart, decisive action. During our time of crisis news outlets and the public at large are paying attention to our community.   They are focused on us and interested in what we have to say.

We can use the current climate to break through the noise, deliver strong messages against anti-Semitism and educate our neighbors. We must take advantage of this opportunity to mobilize and to debunk hateful and ridiculous accusations. Whether Jews are accused outright of having dual loyalty, or whether it is implied cynically, we should forcefully show that we are patriotic and dedicated Americans.

We must condemn with vigor those groups and movements, such as BDS, that espouse anti-Semitic hatred while pretending it is simply legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

In order to combat anti-Semitism using proven crisis management tactics, it is not enough to simply tell the truth. Instead, we must sell the truth, which means aggressively advocating for ourselves and fighting to ensure that truth overcomes lies.

Our community must seize the moment and stand up for ourselves.  After all—if we are not for ourselves, then who will be?

About the Author
Evan Nierman is Founder and CEO of Red Banyan, an international public relations and crisis management firm. For the past 20-plus years, he has helped leading companies, governments, business leaders and high-profile individuals accomplish their goals using strategic communications.