The flotilla crisis once again highlighted Israel’s public-relations failings. It’s mind-boggling, for instance, that only two days after the crisis broke did the government finally realize that it needs a permanent “virtual situation room” where people overseas can get up-to-date information about any breaking crisis. Yet while drastically improving Israel’s own efforts is essential, it’s not sufficient. Israel also needs more help from American and European Jewish organizations.
Many such organizations already do yeoman work, but more can and should be done. In an interview with Haaretz last month, for instance, Judea Pearl, who teaches at UCLA, noted that the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses is “nationally orchestrated.” Its leaders “act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses” and train “new cadres every year.” Hillel, in contrast, “thinks it can act locally, so they don’t have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond.” He said he occasionally gets e-mails asking him to speak out on Israel issues, but only from small organizations — never from Hillel or any other “major Jewish organization.” That is a travesty.
Overseas Jewish groups are vital to the information effort because even people who genuinely care about Israel often lack the time and energy to amass relevant information. Two examples illustrate the problem. Sometime after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, I mentioned to my mother that ever since the withdrawal, Israel had suffered daily rocket strikes from Gaza. Having a daughter there, she clearly cares greatly about Israel. Yet she was shocked. “I had no idea,” she said. “That’s never reported in the American media.” And indeed, it wasn’t.
Example two: a European diplomat accredited to the Palestinian Authority once asked me why, when the anti-terror Mahmoud Abbas replaced the pro-terror Yasir Arafat as PA leader, Israel had not seized the opportunity to make peace. As part of my response, I e-mailed him a list of every Palestinian terror attack committed during Abbas’s year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. He was shocked; he hadn’t realized that terror continued under Abbas. Yet as a diplomat, he certainly knew more than most Europeans and certainly cared more; most Europeans don’t correspond with right-of-center Israeli journalists in an effort to obtain maximum information from multiple viewpoints.
In both cases, anyone who regularly read an Israeli paper online would have known the relevant facts. But most people don’t, and won’t. And that’s where Jewish organizations come in: by amassing and distributing information — to community rabbis, student organizations, and many others to whom they have far better access than Israel’s government — they could serve as vital intermediaries.
Information matters. The excellent information AIPAC gives Congress, for instance, undoubtedly contributes to Israel’s strong bipartisan support there. Better information also explains why many European leaders are far less anti-Israel than their publics. But Israel, though it needs to do much more, can’t do it alone. Faced with a massive worldwide delegitimization campaign, it desperately needs overseas Jewish groups to do more as well.