[This guest blog was written by Tabatha Caplan, creator of the A Jew With A View blog. Tabatha is a freelance journalist living in Britain. She is also a strong supporter of Israel with a keen insight into Israel's standing among the Gentile nations. Be sure to check out her blog.]
I almost got lynched last week. My crime? I dared to defend Israel in public. I even — brace yourselves — declared myself a Zionist. I might as well have confessed to torturing tiny animals, given the horrified response. Within minutes, a relaxed dinner party became a veritable contest to see who could most malign Israel.
It's a tad traumatic being the sole Zionist in any gathering these days. Israel-bashing has become a national sport in many countries. Post the IDF [Israel Defense Force] strikes on Gaza and the court of public opinion hasn't just judged Israel "guilty"; rather, Israel has been hung, drawn and quartered. The Arab nations have failed, thus far, to destroy the physical Israel, but their revisionism of Middle East history is winning hearts, minds and newspaper columns across the globe.
Slowly but surely, the world is coming round to the Arab lie that Jews are the 'aliens' in the Middle East. Tell most people that the very term 'Palestinian' always included the Palestinian Jews who have inhabited the region for 3,500 years — continuously — and they'll just smile pityingly, and claim you've been hoodwinked by 'zionist propaganda'.
And oh, the bitter irony of this particular slur! Because by any objective standards, Israel's PR is dire. It has been for a while, actually. Back in 2002, the Jerusalem Centre For Public Affairs published a detailed report, in which it noted:
The Israel State Comptroller's report released on October 7, 2002, levelled unprecedented criticism on Israel's public relations efforts. The State Comptroller revealed that 'since its establishment in 1948, Israel's intelligence organs have not succeeded to respond to the broad-based propaganda and incitement by the Arab world.'
During Operation Cast Lead, I sat with my head in my hands, as a series of increasingly inarticulate figures 'represented' Israel. Do the powers-that-be scour the streets to find the least sympathetic, least sophisticated, least effective spokespeople? It would almost appear so.
As the Jerusalem Centre report notes:
Leading U.S. media relations experts sent to Israel by private sponsors in May 2002 described Israel's PR efforts in the United States as "disastrous."
Israel's Consul General in New York, Allon Pinkas, complained that Israel's image in the U.S. suffered from a lack of clear and "disciplined" messages. International media consultant Lillian Wilder, a media advisor to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, noted in an interview that Israelis are often unprofessional and "wordy" on television.
Now at this point, some of you will roll your eyes and stop reading. After all, doesn't the tiny Jewish nation have enough to cope with, given the spectre of a nuclear Iran, and an American President openly wooing Islam? What, is Israel also meant to fret over what ill-informed folk in other lands believe??
My answer? A resounding yes!
Yes, Israel does need to argue her case more effectively on the world stage. Because when hatred of the Jewish state was confined to the Arab and Muslim worlds, that was one thing. Alarming? Sure. Surprising? Hardly, given what Islam says about 'infidels' and Jews in particular.
Now, though, the loathing for Israel that has festered in Arab and Muslim hearts for six decades is being exported by Islam as it goes marching unfettered through Europe. It is no coincidence that in nations with large influxes of Muslims, hating Israel is now de rigueur.
Take Britain. During the Gaza Operation at the end of last year, Britain went berserk with rage towards the Jewish state. Thousands marched through the streets, brandishing banners that read 'Death to Israel!', while they chanted 'We are all Hamas now!'
And please recall that Britain itself suffered a terrorist attack in 2005. So why did not one Israeli spokesman make the vital yet basic point that terrorist attacks in Israel are the same as terrorist attacks in America and Britain? And that, unlike both these countries, Israel suffers terrorism on a regular basis?
Let me make it clear: I supported Operation Cast Lead. I defended Israel passionately — at work, online, in restaurants, at parties, to friends and colleagues and strangers alike. Like many of my fellow diaspora Jews, and our Gentile friends who love Israel, I wrote letter after letter to the British press, trying to counter the unfair bias against Israel.
It was like trying to stem a tidal wave with your thumb.
In the UK, physical attacks on Jews increased. Some Israelis in Britain found themselves being refused service in pubs, clubs and various other venues. One Israeli family was actually forced into hiding, so intense was the hostility directed at them.
In north London, one Orthodox Jewish man was dragged out of his car, in broad daylight, and beaten. Shops that were — wrongly — linked with Israel had their windows smashed. Supermarkets stocking kosher or Israeli products were threatened with boycotts. Tesco, one of the largest UK supermarkets, was swift to create a special 'helpline' for customers wishing to avoid Israeli goods. (Suffice it to say that I, along with many others, am now boycotting Tesco.)
In schools, colleges and University campuses across the country, Jewish and Israeli students found themselves marginalised and verbally abused. At Cambridge and also the LSE (London School Of Economics) students staged mock 'occupations' to express their 'sympathy' with Gaza. The fact that Gaza had been under Palestinian [sic] control for five years by this time was a mere detail.
Nor was this anti Israel sentiment confined to the 'ordinary' person in the street. The Arab propaganda has a vice-like grip on the British media, with the BBC, the Guardian, and The Independent cheerfully leading the charge.
These media outlets ignored the fact that Israel had endured years of Palestinian terrorism, and instead chose to portray Israel as the sole aggressor in the conflict. False accusations against Israel appeared daily, with no corrections — let alone apologies! — when the true facts later emerged. The Guardian, especially, delighted in publishing grotesque cartoons which painted Israel as a brutal Goliath, hell-bent on destroying the weaker, Palestinian David.
The effect of this British media bias against Israel? During Israel's anti-Hamas strikes, Jews and Muslims met — separately — with their respective MPs. My local MP explained that in the House Of Commons, Israel was being demonised on a daily basis. Several government members were demanding that Britain cut ties with Israel altogether.
This same MP told us that every single member of Parliament was 'being bombarded' by their Muslim constituents, who were insisting that they condemn Israel.
And fuelled by the BBC, and the Guardian, many non Muslims added their voices — and of course their potential votes — to this anti-Israel agenda.
We should note that the BBC took to bashing Israel with a vengeance. This surprised no one. Indeed, the accusations of bias against the BBC go back several years. Keen to disprove them, the corporation even organised its own review, the Balen Report, in 2004.
And the findings?
We don't know. The BBC has refused to make them public. It has, in fact, spent a whopping £200,000 [$328,560] to keep the report private. A London solicitor is pursuing the BBC through the courts in a bid to bring the Balen Report into the public domain. As the Sunday Telegraph noted:
The BBC is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism.
The action will increase suspicions that the report includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming.
Now, in light of all this, consider an item that appeared a while back at the superb HonestReporting:
Israel's Finance Ministry shot down an idea for a 'Jewish Al-Jazeera'. Isaac Herzog has been quoted as saying: 'We considered establishing a Jewish Al Jazeera, especially one that would broadcast in Arabic and Farsi. But it was torpedoed by the Finance Ministry'.
Hamas has a huge advantage precisely because of Al Jazeera, since the station is also watched by the English speaking world. Compare this to Israel, which has to filter reports through foreign journalists. A 'Jewish Al Jazeera' which offered reports in English, would be a massive help.
And think about how simple the Palestinian propaganda is. It concentrates on one clear, albeit deceitful, message: We were here first. The Jews kicked us out. We're the victims.
The 2002 Jerusalem Institute report noted an interesting example where Palestinian propaganda excelled while Israeli PR failed miserably:
Losing the "Al Aqsa" Brand War
Naming the current war the "Al Aqsa intifada" proved to be a stroke of Palestinian PR genius, as much of the Western news media adopted this Palestinian brand name that casts the conflict internationally in the image Arafat sought.
For its part, Israel's failure to "rebrand" the conflict on its own terms to reflect the conflict's true nature — a pre-planned war of terror against Israeli citizens — placed the Jewish state on the defensive in the international court of public opinion from the first day of the conflict.
Yet, a full seven years on, it seems that Israel has not learned anything about how to improve its PR and indeed, empower those of us in the diaspora who are passionately putting its case. Israel is still miscalculating. Badly.
Witness what happened recently when Israeli tourism posters appeared around London. Anti-Israel groups quickly began lodging official complaints. Result? The posters were all removed. It's clear that pictures of golden beaches and bronzed bodies won't cut it. Israel needs to remind the world that she is the sole democracy in the region. Where are the images of Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals? Where are the maps illustrating how tiny Israel is compared to the 99.9999% of the Middle East that the Arabs control? Where are the public roll-calls of all the Israelis who have lost their limbs, loved ones and lives to Palestinian terrorism?
And yes, I realise that antisemitism lies at the heart of much unfair bias against Israel. No doubt about it. But that's even more reason why Israel needs to sort out some decent PR.
This begs the question: why doesn't Israel just take a leaf out of the Palestinian book? After all, the world is bombarded with images of wounded Gazan children, even when those children are suffering purely because of Hamas aggression.
Why are there never any images of Israeli children as they lay injured on the ground following a Hamas attack?
It's time to play by some of the same rules as the Palestinians, unpalatable though this may be at times. Either that, or Israel continues to be unfairly and insanely singled out as the villain of the piece.
Finally, I'd like to suggest that there is one bit of rebranding that we can and must all do, right now.
And that is to reclaim the word 'Zionist'. We have to stop allowing the Arabs and Muslims to hijack this word and turn it into an insult. So next time you hear someone using 'Zionist' as a pejorative term, make this clear:
A Zionist is simply anyone who supports Israel's right to exist.
After all, we don't hear people bashing Muslims for supporting the existence of their twenty-two Islamic nations, do we??
Suggested reading ...
- The History and Meaning of "Palestine" and "Palestinians"
- How Strong Is the Arab Claim to Palestine?
- Who Stole the Holy Land?
- The World's Collective Amnesia