Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sharansky: Mobilize now - save the world

[From The Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2007]

Just over three years ago, at the first-ever global forum on anti-Semitism organized by the State of Israel, the essential task was to define the beast - the new anti-Semitism. Since then, as the fourth such global gathering meets this week, efforts to incorporate the "three-D" distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and the new anti-Semitism - demonization, double standards and delegitimization - have become part of international documents and discourse.

These and other accomplishments, as important as they are, have been dwarfed by the quantum leap anti-Semitism itself has taken. It has leapfrogged from isolated attacks against Jews to incitement to genocide - the actual elimination of the Jewish state.

This shift has come in the form of a pincer movement. On one side, we have the Iranian regime, which is denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" while racing to develop the physical means of doing so. On the other side, we have what is, in effect, international silence in response, coupled with growing willingness to discuss Israel's existence as a mistake, an anachronism, or a provocation.

We must recognize the fact that though sympathy for Iran's expressed goal of Israel's destruction is hardly mainstream, the idea of a world without Israel is more acceptable in polite company, the media and academia today than Hitler's expressed goal of a Europe without Jews was in 1939.

Given this situation, it should be clear that we are beyond the stage of definitions. The Jewish world now must mobilize at a level no less than during the struggles to establish the State of Israel and to free Soviet Jewry. It is this latter struggle that presents the most potent model for action today.

Though both sides of the genocidal pincer are in quite advanced stages of development, the Jewish world remains mired in pre-mobilization debates reminiscent of the early stages of the Soviet Jewry struggle in the 1960s. This may be hard to recall in light of the subsequent success, but back then a debate raged among Jews over whether a campaign to free Soviet Jewry was "too parochial," and whether being out front risked making it too much of a "Jewish issue."

BEFORE THESE internal debates were resolved the Soviet Jewry effort could not be regarded as a movement, capable of attracting allies and moving governments. Nor were such debates easily, or ever fully, put to rest.

As late as 1987, when the by then mature and powerful movement organized the largest-ever Soviet Jewry rally on Washington's mall to coincide with Mikhail Gorbachev's visit, some Jewish leaders wondered if the community could be mobilized, and if such a rally would be counterproductive. They warned that only a few thousand souls would brave the winter weather, and that the Jewish community would be considered "warmongers" who were spoiling the recent warming of US-Soviet relations.

In actuality, over 250,000 people came to a rally that was pivotal in opening the floodgates, not just to 10,000 or 20,000 Jews, which seemed like a dream at the time, but to a million Jews who came to Israel over the following decade.

Since it has been a while, a reminder is in order of what full mobilization looks like.

First, as Shlomo Avineri has recently proposed, Iranian officials should get the Soviet treatment. Just as no Soviet official, including sport and cultural delegations, could travel without being accosted by protests and hostile questions, so it should be with anyone representing the Iranian regime. As in the Soviet case, such protests will not themselves change Iranian behavior, but they are critical to creating a climate that will influence the policies of Western governments.

Second, an inventory of the governments and companies that provide Iran with refined oil, huge trade deals, and even military and nuclear assistance should be taken and public pressure be put on them to end their complicity with a regime that is racing to genocide.

Third, the pension funds of US states should be divested from all companies that trade with or invest in Iran. This divestment campaign must be pursued without apologies or hesitation.

Fourth, every country that is party to the Genocide Convention should be called upon to fulfill its obligation under that treaty and seek an indictment of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the charge of incitement to genocide, which is a "punishable offense" under Article III of that treaty.

Fifth, human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which are heavily nourished by Jewish values, passion and funding, must stop squeezing both sides of the genocidal pincer. These groups must be challenged, on the one hand, to press for enforcement of the Genocide Treaty, to stand up for human rights in Iran, and to oppose and expose Iranian support for terrorism. On the other, they must stop perverting the sacred cause of human rights into a cudgel in Iran's hands against Israel. This happened just months ago when, during the Lebanon war, such groups all but ignored Hizbullah's terrorism from behind human shields and called Israel's self-defense a "war crime."

JUST AS the two sides of the pincer themselves are connected, so too must be the efforts to combat them. All the above steps concern the Iranian side of the pincer. But combating the other side, the denial of Israel's right to exist, is no less critical - and more difficult, since at times they necessitate confronting, not a rogue regime, but our own cherished institutions. On this front:

First, universities that provide chairs for professors who campaign against Israel's right to exist should be boycotted. In a number of countries, denying the Holocaust is a criminal act. In the current context, denying Israel's right to exist lays the groundwork for a second holocaust even more directly than does denying history. Therefore, the promulgation of such an ideology should be fought even by societies that justifiably revere freedom of speech.

This may seem a hopelessly difficult task, but it is not. After 9/11, one woman, a student, took on Harvard University, which was ready to accept a $10 million "gift" from a Saudi sheikh. Harvard backed down, showing that moral clarity, unapologetically and passionately expressed, can change seemingly unassailable ideas.

We must stand for a basic principle: If denying the Holocaust can land a professor in jail, denying Israel should not land him tenure.

Second, support for Israel must be demonstrated. Two decades after the massive Soviet Jewry rally of 1987, we need to return to the Mall on Israel's Independence Day in May with two messages: Support Israel and Stop Iran. It is late, but not too late, to overcome those fears of being "too parochial" that the Soviet Jewry movement succeeded in dispelling more than 30 years ago.

The fight to support Israel and stop Iran now is, if anything, less "parochial" than the Soviet Jewry movement was then. Then, the Jewish world took on a global superpower, the Soviet Union, and confronted the reigning American foreign policy paradigm - detente - with a very different one: linkage of trade to human rights.

Then, we successfully argued that the freedom to emigrate was not just a Jewish concern, but a universal one, and we were more right than we knew. The Jackson-Vanik amendment and the Helsinki Accords were critical factors in triggering the internal collapse of the Soviet empire. This collapse not only freed millions of Jews, but all the peoples behind the Iron Curtain, and ended a half-century-old superpower stalemate that threatened the entire planet.

NOW THE WORLD stands at a no less fateful watershed. The world's most dangerous rogue regime is on the verge of obtaining the ultimate weapons of terror. Already, Iran's confidence that it will not be stopped has led to one war, last summer's war in Lebanon started by Hizbullah. Already, Iran is fueling conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza - and all this before the regime enjoys its own full, declared nuclear umbrella.

The moment before mobilization is always a lonely one, in which it seems that the obstacles to making a cause universal are insurmountable. Yet, as in the case of the Soviet Jewry movement, we are not alone. We are surrounded by potential allies who may not themselves know they are ready to join us until we create a movement for them to join.

Our leadership will give others the opportunity to act. If the Jewish world does not lead the way, who will? It is as true now as it was then; if we build it, they will come.

A decade after the wave of democracy that came with the fall of the Soviet Union, an Iranian-led wave of terror is rising that will not stop until it is stopped. Ultimately, we overcame our fear of parochialism to stand up for Soviet Jewry, and left the world a much better place for it. Now we must do the same to prevent a second holocaust, and in the process save the world.

The writer is chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1170359835461&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Copyright 1995-2007 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/

Friday, February 02, 2007

A New Approach to Media Relations

“The J” – Friday February 2, 2007

An Israeli carrot for the foreign press

by aryeh green

There’s a “media war” against Israel, said many speakers at last week’s Herzliya conference in Israel. Terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas attack Israelis, using civilians as cover —- and then reap public relations benefits when Israel retaliates and accidentally kills civilians.

“The media” is, of course, not monolithic — there are bloggers and broadcasters, print and radio correspondents, anchors and interviewers, based in or visiting Israel from virtually every country in the world. Do they all hate the Jews? Are they all anti-Israel, willing pawns in Hezbollah and Hamas’ psychological warfare campaign to destroy the Jewish state?

Of course, it is not only the media. According to Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on a “popular level,” Americans deeply support Israel, but on the “elite level,” there is a “weakening” of that support.

After visiting dozens of universities over the past three years, former Knesset member Natan Sharansky has quipped that “campuses have become ‘islands of Europe’ in America” with virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric accepted as the norm among faculty and students.

And as attorney Alan Dershowitz notes. even some U.S. leaders are “giving legitimacy to arguments that undermine Israel. Until now, such arguments have only been heard from extreme right and left,” he declared.

These facts should worry us all. A generation ago, European opinion elites in the media and universities began the process of accepting the “Palestinian narrative” and demonizing Israel and its leaders; today most European leaders, nursed on images of imperialist, racist Israel as the world’s worst human rights violator, view Israel as inherently evil, and thus view the questioning of Israel’s legitimacy as a reasonable part of public discourse.

With Israel’s existence up for debate, calls for its dismantling are not beyond the pale; and sincere demands for the elimination of a U.N. member country can’t be of only passing concern to all civilized nations.

When Israel’s anti-terrorist security barrier, 97 percent of which is a chain-link fence, is termed and photographed as an “apartheid wall” in the media and academia, we should worry. When Israel’s defensive military operations are condemned for accidental deaths of innocents while Hezbollah and Hamas’ targeting of Israeli civilians (and cynical use of their own civilians as “human shields”) are ignored by the media, the United Nations and human rights groups, we should be very worried. And we should truly be worried when Israeli leaders are depicted as Nazi baby-killers while Holocaust-denier Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (leader of the terrorist organization Fatah with its Al-Aksa Brigade and Tanzin military wings, who last month called on his followers to turn their guns on Israel) is called a “moderate,” as are the dictatorial rulers of the countries supporting the leading publishers and promoters of anti-Semitism in the world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

What conclusions are being reached by the media-consuming public and college students who will be the next decades’ leaders? We need only to look at the appeasement policies of Europe towards the Islamo-fascists of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and the prevailing European attitudes toward Jews and Israel and America, to see the results in real-time.

I am not by any means diminishing the very real hardships that Palestinians suffer under both the strictures of Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens and the oppressive authoritarian rule of their own leaders. But there is a difference between picturing Israel as taking difficult decisions while sometimes making mistakes as it balances security needs against Palestinian humanitarian needs, and presenting Israel as injuring and tormenting Palestinians for no reason, stealing “their” land and denying their “human rights.” This is the difference between fact and fiction; between reality and politics; between truth and promoting another agenda.

The media is the lens through which policy-makers and the public view issues about which they have no first-hand knowledge. So the media must be our first and primary focus if we are to address this crucial imbalance.

It is not enough to merely criticize the world’s media for being “biased” against Israel; proactive steps can be taken to help journalists see the whole picture and report the stories fairly.

Previous approaches to Israel’s “hasbara” (public relations) efforts have been, as the Hebrew word implies, attempts to “explain”, to tell “our side of the story” and to put across certain “messages.” Israel strives for peace; Israel has benefited the Palestinians; Israel is America’s ally in the war against terror.

A second approach has been to criticize the media and academia for a lack of balance. The drawbacks of both these approaches — which are certainly an important element in any defense of Israel — is that they are too shrill for credibility. Journalists and professors, when presented with an “explanation” or a critique of their bias, dismiss the correction as biased or politically-motivated.

But there is an objective reality that can be researched and reported, fairly, by the media and academia. I am convinced that accuracy is Israel’s best ally, and that we must help journalists to achieve their own goals of understanding and reporting the facts and providing insightful analysis.

Though many arrive in Israel with misconceptions and pre-conceived notions, simple observation of the actual state of affairs as they are is the best — and most effective — antidote, not strident and lengthy lectures on this or that “talking point.” The history of the region, the geography, the cultural and political milieu is right in front of them — they just need a credible helping hand to see it.

And they are, on the whole, open and accepting of such a service-oriented, gentle approach. The demand exists. As Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC News Middle East Bureau Chief and chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, stated at the opening of MediaCentral, a new project in Jerusalem, “visiting foreign journalists always need good help. This can be a confusing place to work, where efforts to report the story accurately, are constantly undermined by attempts to influence our reporting.

If MediaCentral can offer journalists balanced and neutral assistance, we will succeed. Journalists are bombarded with unsolicited material, most of it, with an agenda, seeking to pull them one way, or another. We need access to everyone, and every shade of opinion. We need to talk to the newsmakers, and also to the people whose voices are rarely heard,” McGregor-Wood added.

The majority of foreign journalists serving in Israel do not hate Jews or Israelis; but they don’t know a great deal about them or about Israel either. There is — everywhere — a symbiotic relationship between the media and the authorities and society in which they function.

Journalists receiving incredible hospitality and help from the Palestinian Authority and its supporters — there are at least 12 official or semi-official well-funded NGOs serving the media in the disputed territories — are inclined to relate more sympathetically to their hosts. It’s time for Israel to use the carrot, rather than the stick, in our relations with the international media.

Whether discovering the acclaimed new Israeli film “Sweet Mud” — the first-ever Israeli film to be accepted to the Sundance Festival competition and Israel’s entry for the best foreign film Oscar — or witnessing Arab democracy activists interacting with Israelis, whether meeting “average” Israelis informally over a beer or learning about how Israel is the only nation on the planet increasing its forest acreage rather than decimating its natural forests, foreign journalists in Israel are open to a new approach.


Aryeh Green, who grew up in San Francisco and studied at U.C. Berkeley, is director of MediaCentral, a Jerusalem center providing support services for journalists based in or visiting Israel and the territories, and is an adviser to Natan Sharansky. He lives and makes wine in Beit Shemesh, Israel.


Aryeh Green will be speaking at a number of events in the Bay Area, including at the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley (Tuesday, Feb. 6 at the American Legion Hall, Santa Clara, at 7 p.m.) and at DeAnza College, the University of Santa Clara and U.C. Santa Cruz on Thursday, Feb. 8. For more information call (415) 336-7831.






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