Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Too Can Improve the Image of Israel

It is no secret that Israel has a severe problem with hasbara. Over the past forty years, the Jewish state has been slowly but surely been transformed in the public eye from a tiny nation proudly defending itself from annihilation into a state that is perceived as an oppressor, a human rights violator, and – to many of its detractors – to one of the most evil regimes on the planet.

Most Zionists who follow the news know how absurd these characterizations are. We also know that Israel is, to put it charitably, inconsistent in getting its message across properly to the world. Everyone complains about it, and everyone has their own ideas on how to fix it – but very few people are actually doing anything about it themselves.

This is a shame, because everyone who is reading this article can help Israel, starting today.

I have a pro-Israel blog, Elder of Ziyon. I have written thousands of articles about Israel and the Arab world over the past six years, and I get a fair number of readers. Lately, I have been using my blog as a laboratory to test out different ways of getting the message across. I can track the number of readers for any particular post, how many times people “tweet” the post and how many link to it on Facebook and other social media sites. Using these methods I can see what works and what doesn’t. The lessons are valuable not only to bloggers but to everyone who cares about helping Israel.

One problem that we Jews have is that we are too logical. Thousands of years of studying Gemara may have made us good at arguing, but it also convinced us that anyone can be swayed by a good argument. So we happily read and write long texts explaining why the “settlements” are legal, why US Resolution 242 does not imply that Israel must stay within the Green Line, and why a blockade of Gaza does not flout international law.

Our enemies, on the other hand, spend their time reaching people on an emotional level. They show photos and videos of crowded camps, of bombed out buildings, of old women crying.

In the real world, the emotional argument wins.

As much as we like to pretend that everyone shares the Jewish love for an innovative and logical thought process, in reality people usually make up their minds about Israel (and everything else) based on their gut. If a person who is not already emotionally invested in the argument one way or the other sees a tear-jerking film that pushes one side of the story, nine times out of ten that person will instinctively gravitate towards the side that pulled at his or her heartstrings.

We need to prioritize our emotional arguments. We need to talk about our deep connection to the land of Israel. We need to emphasize how we have cried every year over the destruction of the Temples. We need to show the human toll that would result from hundreds of thousands of Jews who the world wants to uproot from their homes. We need to describe the pain that would result from losing Har HaZeitim again, and what happened to it during those tragic 19 years that Arabs had control.

Not only is our emotional connection to the Land far deeper than anyone else’s, but no one can argue against love and fear. Emotions are our most potent weapon, but one that we are ceding almost completely to those who hate Israel. We know that we are right from a legal, historical and moral perspective – but we need to humanize the message.

It is not only the message that must hit emotional chords – but also the media that the message is communicated in. People respond to messages that are visceral, and that hit all of their senses. Powerpoints, posters, songs, poetry, film, novels, plays, even cuisine - all need to be employed to impact people on every possible level. Text alone generally does not have the same impact as more visual media.

On the Internet, the goal is to create something that will “go viral” – that ordinary people will see and want to forward to their friends. Videos do better than written articles, and humor is possibly the biggest weapon of all. Most of us have seen Latma’s “We Con the World” video created last year, and it was hugely effective with millions of views on YouTube. Why? Because it was funny, timely, and visceral.

While defending Israel is important, it is vital to go on the offensive. No one wins any games by only playing defense. The fact is that every accusation made against Israel – true or false – can be made much more plausibly and effectively against Israel’s neighbors and enemies. Attack the abysmal human rights records of the Arabs themselves. Publicize how nearly every Arab country has laws that specifically deny citizenship to Palestinians alone.

Arab nations constantly attack Israel to distract their people from their own human rights violations. The recent riots in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen Egypt and Jordan – and the deadly police responses – prove that Israel is not the problem in the Middle East, not by a long shot. The Arab and Islamic dictatorships, where there is no freedom of expression or of the press, are the ones who need to be put on the defensive.

Beyond that, we need to publicize the good things that come out of Israel every day. Art, dance, fiction, scientific achievements, medical advances – we know it is amazing, but the world doesn't get to see these parts of the country.

So how can you, personally, help?

There are two basic ways to help: by creating pro-Israel content, and by publicizing the best content that is made by others.

For those who have the ability, creativity and time, by far the best thing to do is to apply the concepts of emotional and visceral media to the creation of pro-Israel videos, songs or song parodies, articles, comics, or even video-games and phone apps. One of my readers says that a good romance novel with a strong, masculine Zionist protagonist could do wonders to change Israel's image among those that read them.

Challenge yourself to distill a pro-Israel argument into a 140-character tweet (or even a bumper sticker.) Think outside the box and use your talents! Then send your efforts to popular Zionist websites to get publicized.

Think of ways that Zionist messages can be made available to the world. Do you have interesting video of your last visit to Israel that shows a side of the country that the news media ignores? Upload it to YouTube!

Once one of my readers sent me a photo taken in the Rami Levy supermarket in Gush Etzion, showing a smiling religious Jew joking with an Arab woman. I put it on my blog, to show how life really looks in Judea and Samaria, and a number of European websites picked up the story. A simple thing like that humanizes the “settlers” that the world regards as faceless, evil creatures.

Are you going to a fundraising dinner with a terrific speaker? Take video of the speech and upload it to YouTube. I did this with a speech by Mike Huckabee and thousands of people viewed it – people who would never have even known about it otherwise.

Don’t just write letters to the editor of a local paper – post them on the Internet, too. Make sure that everything you write remains somewhere permanent on the web so that search engines can find it. Put them on a blog (easy to set up) or email them to influential sites, so your points can be seen by many more people.
Elder of Ziyon

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