PR guru Frank Luntz gave a lengthy interview last week to the Jerusalem Post’s David Horovitz. Much of it was what one might expect from a PR guru. But one incident he described was shocking: a session with 35 MIT and Harvard students, 20 non-Jews and 15 Jews:
“Within 10 minutes, the non-Jews started with ‘the war crimes of Israel,’ with ‘the Jewish lobby,’ with ‘the Jews have a lot more power and influence’ – stuff that’s borderline anti-Jewish.
And guess what? Did the Jewish kids at the best schools in America, did they stand up for themselves? Did they challenge the assertions? They didn’t say sh*t. And in that group was the leader of the Israeli caucus at Harvard. It took him 49 minutes of this before he responded to anything.”
After three hours, Luntz dismissed the non-Jews and confronted the Jews, furious that “you all didn’t say sh*t.”
“And it all dawned on them: If they won’t say it to their classmates, whom they know, who will they stand up for Israel to? Two of the women in the group started to cry. … The guys are like, “Oh my God, I didn’t speak up, I can’t believe I let this happen.” And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.”
But Luntz didn’t stop with illustrating this gaping hole in what American Jews are evidently teaching their children; he also explained it:
“The problem that I see is that so many parents in the Jewish community taught their kids not to judge. I’m going to say something that’s a little bit ideological, but I find that kids on the right are far more likely to stand up for Israel than kids on the left. Because kids on the right believe that there is an absolute right and wrong; this is how they’ve been raised.
Kids on the left have been taught not to judge. Therefore those on the left will not judge between Israel and the Palestinians; those on the right will.”
This is a travesty — because this particular right/left difference shouldn’t exist. First, it’s a travesty of everything the left once stood for — which was upholding a particular set of values, not refusing to judge between those values and others. Willingness to defend your own values shouldn’t be a trait limited to the right.
But it’s also a travesty because it shouldn’t be hard for any Jewish leftist to explain why Israel, for all its flaws, is still a far better example of the left’s one-time values, such as freedom, democracy, tolerance, and human rights, than any of its enemies. As Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat, Ishmael Khaldi, said in explaining why he chose to represent a country that allegedly oppresses his fellow Muslim Arabs, “We’re a multicultural, multilingual, multireligious country and I’m happy and proud to be part of it.”
Israel’s PR failings are innumerable. But if American Jews can’t get this particular message across to their children, the fault isn’t Israel’s; it’s their own. And only American Jews themselves can fix it.