Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's Stop Apologizing for our Existence:

I find that our in our constant efforts and eagerness to be loved by the rest of the world, we fall into a huge trap: we are constantly apologizing for our existence:

“Look at how good we are, look at how nice we are, see how clever we are, look how cute we are, see how good looking our young men and women are, we don’t really go out of our way to hurt other people, we’re sorry, look at how we've suffered, we apologize for making you feel bad, we’re sorry you don’t want us here, we’re unhappy that you’re unhappy, we feel bad about that...”


It’s time to grow up: we don’t need to apologize for anything we’ve done right...we just need to state it, clear and bold and confidently.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t shout about our successes, or tell the world how bloody marvelous we are – because we ARE – but we need a complete change of mind-set. What am I talking about? Here’s the thing: we do all of the above in a very reactive way. Something goes wrong – and many things DO go wrong – and we react: “Ah yes, but look at how wonderful we really are...doesn’t that negate the one bad thing that happened? We’re sorry...we’re really nice guys once you get to know us...”

Instead, and here I’m quoting from PR 101: Get PROACTIVE. Tell people about yourself, before they start asking...tell the world about your successes and your plans, and your motivations and your good and great points, BEFORE there are problems to have to counteract.

A recent example: We knew that Judge Goldstone was heading a commission which we strongly and correctly suspected would be terribly biased against Israel. We knew this months before the commission published its findings. But what did we do about it? Nothing! Nothing until the report was published and we came under massive PR fire once again...

Sure, there are those who will claim that we constantly put out information about the attacks from Hamas over the years, about rocket fire against our population, and scores of other incidents and threats. That may be so. But did we address the core issue: that there was a suspect commission at work whose members were already prejudiced against Israel, whose findings were likely to suck credibility and which would cause us great harm in the court of public opinion? I don’t believe we did. Instead we had the three main branches of government which were directly affected by the report: The Prime Minster’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry (and the IDF) working on their own agendas, with little or no coordination, no central message, no direct thematic approach; spokesmen with poor command of English, fumbling over their words, making statements which had us totally on the defensive. And so we came out, in the PR battle once again, looking like rank amateurs and earning the condemnation of the world.

In the way that Israel’s PR is handled, I can’t help but be reminded of the attitudes I encountered in my community in South Africa. Although I was much younger, I had already imbibed the essence of good PR from some of the masters of the game, from my copious reading on the subject and from my years of experience as a Sunday newspaper journalist. My ethos was: “Go get ‘em...make your statement first – grab the headline...because anything that follows is relegated to page two, and any apology for inaccuracy – and there will likely always be an apology – is consigned to page 24 at the bottom of the ninth column...” "

The community was reluctant to go proactive on most things. When it did, it was with trepidation. And I'm not just talking about political issues...many of the wonderfully good and interesting things the community did went unheralded and unnoticed because of two attitudes held by our communal elders, with all respect to them:

1. "Keep our head down" and
2. "Who cares what the Goyim think anyway?"

When I was an even younger journalist working on a Sunday newspaper, I wrote an article entitled “Don’t Rock the Boat” urging the South African Jewish community to set aside its complacency and come out strongly and publicly against the evils of apartheid. I urged them to condemn, as a community, what was being done in our then beloved country.

This was in the 1970’s and true, there were Jews very much in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement; prominent Jews, but they spoke as individuals motivated by their individual consciences. I wanted to see the Jewish community, speaking for all Jews and Jewish ethics and tradition and belief, condemning the evil regime. I got condemnation all right, but it was personal and directed at me for daring to raise this issue at all.

There were some things I wrote, that with the immense value of hindsight and understanding my naivety at the time, could have been phrased more tactfully. There were some things I wrote which were probably unfair to the community as a whole. But I make no apology for the sentiment of that article. I was saying: “Stop being complacent, stop turning a blind eye, stand up for your faith, your tradition, your beliefs and in recognition of the persecution of our people for two thousand years, tell the world that AS JEWS, that we condemn these vile policies...”

Sadly, there was no national consensus of how Jews as a community should behave under apartheid. And I believe that to a certain degree – and I know I am walking a tightrope here – that has enabled some enmity towards South African Jews to creep into the rank-and-file attitudes in the new South Africa. While, in their defense, they can laud the examples of prominent South African Jews who were in the forefront of the struggle – Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe among many others – they cannot say: “We as a COMMUNITY condemned apartheid.”

Would it have been different if the community had come out en mass condemning apartheid at that time? I can’t say for sure. Is the situation of South African Jews today that bad anyway? I really cannot answer with any degree of certainty because I no longer live there. But I DO know for sure that there is a major anti-Israel body of opinion, which inevitably rebounds on the community. Had things been different, hey might well have been able to state with certainty that on such and such a date the community spoke with one voice saying: "We Condemn Apartheid."

So now I am saying, loudly and clearly, it’s time for us in Israel to stop being complacent and letting world opinion determine how we respond to things. Stop allowing world opinion to drive the agenda. Let us not leave the task to the hundreds of individuals in Israel who tirelessly write opinion pieces, who with dedication and passion, write blogs and newsletters and send out information stating Israel’s case. Let’s recruit these people into a national task force; use their talents and their energy and passion, and coordinate this effort under one umbrella so that our messages are consistent, coordinated, sustained and heard. What should that main message be IMHO?

"We don't apologize for our existence. We are strong, we are moral, we are entitled to our place in the sun like any other nation, but most of all, we’re HERE. Get used to it."

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