The received wisdom in Israel and in pro-Israel circles in the Diaspora is that if only Israel had better public relations (PR) it would be understood, appreciated and supported by foreign powers. It may be a noble way of blaming ourselves (or at least government officials) than recognizing the true culprits, but the effort is naïve and unhelpful.
The hatred of Jews has a long and ignoble history. In our day it also manifests itself in hatred of the Jewish state. Anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism isn’t just a slogan: it’s a fact for all to see. Often it’s coupled with a predisposition to favour those perceived as victims and to blame those believed to be their victimizers. Because Israel has been successful in establishing itself, staving off countless enemy attacks, even reconquering territory, many, perhaps most, countries in the world view Israel as the aggressive oppressor. The Palestinians are seen as the oppressed.
Take Sweden as an example. During World War II, and particularly in its aftermath when the horrors of the Holocaust became apparent, Sweden perceived the Jews as the underdog. That’s how my wife and I found refuge there. Today, Swedes have reverted to the standard European pattern regarding the Jews as striving to conquer the world. That’s why it favours Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular – not out of genuine affinity but in contrast to Jews.
And then there’s endemic anti-Semitism in the West, fuelled by centuries of Christian teaching. As the late Bernard Lewis often reminded us, much of the Muslim world has taken it over as a way of “explaining” why Palestinians suffer and as an excuse for not doing very much to help their fellow-Muslims in Palestine other than mostly financing terror against Israel.
No amount of Israeli PR, however sophisticated and brilliant, will make much difference when it comes to combatting anti-Semitism or finding ways of cooperating with Muslim states in order to help the Palestinians to face reality and accept a divided country, part of it to be their sovereign state.
But what PR is bound to fail to achieve, Donald Trump and his Jewish Middle East peace emissaries, currently in the region, may succeed. As of today, the prospects don’t seem bright, but perhaps, contrary to evidence to date, Trump is as good as he says he is.
Our preoccupation with PR may excuse us from looking at ourselves as Jews and as Israelis. Yes, much of the world seems to want us ill, but that doesn’t mean that those who’re responsible for Israel in Israel are always right or couldn’t do better – not to please others but to live up to our own Jewish teachings, values and standards. Though nothing Israel does is likely to assuage the anti-Semites and the enemies, our self-scrutiny may bring us Jews closer together in our common endeavour to secure the future of the Jewish state and thus also of our people.
Instead of labelling internal critics of current Israeli government policies as enemies of the people, “self-hating Jews” and other such clichés, being open to alternative voices and ideas might do much more to give us strength in the face of adversity than PR gimmicks will ever achieve.
Our enemies may be evil and dangerous, but that doesn’t mean that we’re always good and right. By looking at ourselves critically we’ll be better equipped to deal with the criticisms of others.
Jerusalem 20.6.18 Dow Marmur