|Roz Rothstein Photo: Yaakov Lappin|
Fighting Israel's corner
Founder of StandWithUS zealously takes up Israel's cause in global PR war
When the Palestinian intifada broke out seven years ago, and sections of the American media began portraying Israel in a negative light, the American Jewish community didn't know what to do, Roz Rothstein, the founder and National Director of the rapidly growing Israel advocacy organization, StandWithUS,
Rosthstein is in Israel to accompany a mission of American adult activists and board members, aimed at raising their awareness of Israel's fight to maintain its national security.
"Like family, we looked at you with a lot of concern, but the Jewish community was paralyzed," Rothstein said, describing the atmosphere during the outbreak of the intifada. "Everyone cared, but the larger (Jewish) organizations couldn't figure out how to respond," she added.
Then, on May 8, 2001, the bodies of two Israeli teenagers, Kobi Mendel and Yosef Ishran, both aged 14, were found in a cave after they had been stoned to death by Palestinians outside of the settlement of Tekoa, in the West Bank. For Rothstein, doing nothing was no longer an option.
"I was finished with waiting. My husband and I were up all night. I felt this very personally, I have a son. I thought of the barbarism that had to be there, and the training of Palestinian kids in society that led to it," she said.
That night, Rothstein, along with her husband, Jerry Rothstein and community activist Esther Renzer, invited rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community, and decided to form StandWithUs, an organization which would help give Israel a fair place in the information war which raged alongside the physical fighting.
"What also really got to me is that the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the intifada were trained during the 90s - during Oslo. In the same way, Hitler didn't suddenly announce a war in 1939, he spent 6 years propagandizing the German people," Rothstein said. "As a child of Holocaust survivors, looking at the Arab media, the training of the small Palestinian children resembles the indoctrination of Nazi youth," she added.
StandWithUS, started in the home of a concerned Jewish American family in Los Angeles, first succeeded in getting the LA Times to dialogue about its bias against the Israeli narrative, Rothstein said, recalling how she precisely analyzed photographs of Israelis and Palestinians in the newspaper to demonstrate how they were unevenly presented, resulting in more sympathy being generated for Palestinians.
StandWithUS then quickly expanded, and became an international Israel advocacy organization, with branches across North and South America, Europe, and Australia. "We really didn't plan this," Rothstein emphasized. "We hit on a niche," she added.
The organization now works around the world to educate Jews and non-Jews on how to argue Israel's case, giving them the information they need to face Israel's opponents abroad, Rothstein said. "We are not a political organization, we are not affiliated with the Democrats or Republicans, Labor or Likud. Our job is to help enrich the conversation on Israel, and give to give Israel its shot in the battle for hearts and minds," she added.
"We are aware that if the bad guys come with a demonstration saying things like Israel is an apartheid state, and portray Israeli soldiers as blood thirsty killers, it's really imperative that we are across the street with our own message. The media will always go over to find out the other view," Rothstein said.
True to its goal, StandWithUs made headlines in
May when it launched poster campaigns on Washington DC's subway system, in response to an anti-Israel ad campaign initiated by the 'US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.' In the anti-Israel posters, an Israeli tank was shown pointing its turret at a Palestinian school child, alongside the caption: "Imagine if this were your child's path to school. Palestinians don't have to imagine." The poster called for an end to US aid for "Israel's brutal military occupation."
Returning fire, StandWithUs placed a poster campaign depicting a photograph of Palestinian children holding machine guns. "Teaching children to hate will never lead to peace," the StandWithUS poster told Washington's commuters. "Hamas, Hizbullah, and Islamic Jihad, change your charters and your future. Israel seeks a partner for peace," it added.
"You have to counter it because otherwise they feel they won because theirs is the only message," Rothstein said. "When we show up, we come with the message that the full picture needs to be shown," she added.
Asked whether her organization was filling in a vacuum left by Israel's Foreign Ministry, Rothstein said: "This government has had its hands full, and they have a struggle to figure out how to explain so many things. We are happy to help because we're in a position to tell the story and not be viewed as the government."
"People count on the Foreign Ministry for the wrong reasons. It is a diplomatic corps, and as a government ministry it will always be perceived as biased," she added.
StandWithUS has also turned its attention to the struggle faced by European Jewish communities living in an anti-Israel atmosphere. "In the UK, as well as other countries across Europe, we are working with people on the ground, and we will be organizing an education policy conference in October with our UK partners, BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre)," Rothstein said.
"Our office in Jerusalem is training 100 Israelis from four Israeli campuses, many of whom will be taking up internships in the United States. All of them have fought in the intifada. Our program has given them a wonderful network and has made them into diplomats, and made them articulate representatives," she said.
The organization has also begun mass producing a slickly-designed booklet, entitled 'Israel 101,' filled with Israel's history, maps indicating Israel's relative size in the region, and easily readable pages of information on Israel's perspective of various Middle East conflicts.
Rothstein added that "other organizations have now also stepped up to the plate and are taking the lead. The debate on campus (in the US) has changed."
"We've made more and more people realize the importance of making themselves more knowledgeable, so that they can have richer conversations with their peers," Rothstein said. "The challenge for Israel is not only between life and death, it's also a fight for hearts and minds," she added.
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