We are at war. Its battles are fought in newsrooms and campuses, in city squares and in the minds of billions around the globe. The opponent is a coalition of states, organizations and activists. Its goal is to portray us as the most terrible thing since the Third Reich and turn us into a pariah state.
In the battlefields of the information war, the struggle for Palestinian independence is slowly turning into the struggle for our own existence. It's a difficult war, with its own rules, and we are not winning. Why?
The first challenge for Israel’s public relations establishment is the fact it’s made up of varied elements: Different ministries, the IDF, and even El Al as of late, all speak with different voices at different times. Instead of one powerful and focused message, we stutter in 10 voices, while the other side presents pictures of killed children. The score: 1-0, for them.
But this is not the main challenge. In this war over public opinion, the other side has the initiative. They dictate the subject of the discussion and its boundaries, while we are holding our ground.
The other side’s message is simple and powerful – "we are occupied, we are being murdered, we are helpless." They support this message with thousands of images, films, testimonies and art pieces. The connection of their claims to reality is sometimes doubtful, but the man on the street in Stockholm or Manila doesn't know that. Moreover, he doesn't want to know. He was told a story, given a struggle and a cause to associate himself with. He accepted the picture he was shown, willingly and profoundly.
Facing this message, we have to post one of our own that is no less powerful. However, our messages go in three different directions – all important, but none does the job: "they started", "let’s be an education channel” and "we are actually nice".
We claim that they shot first – but no one cares. We try to teach the world about the details of the conflict, to educate it about history and geography – but only few listen. We show that we have Nobel laureates and a heterogenic society – but it gets cast away. We present information; they offer emotion. One image from their cache – a body of a child, a crying girl, a Palestinian in Auschwitz – and all our efforts are dismissed. The score: 400 - 0, for them.
Time for new paradigm
What can we do? Something completely trivial; something that we ourselves forgot in the age of reality shows – Zionism. To put our macro-story in front of theirs. To speak about who we are and why we are here, before we go on to deal with the conflict and the other messages. To create a counterweight. We have to do it, because the complete absence of our story from the discussion is exactly what brought us to today's situation. In peoples' minds, we landed out of space one day and immediately began to occupy and exterminate.
Our story is amazing and unique in the history of mankind. It's something to be proud of. The ancient kingdoms, the rebellion against Roman tyranny, the terrible destruction that dispersed us to all corners of the planet, life in exile, the ingathering, the creation of Israel against all odds... Why not speak about that?
Why can't we use one message, simple and focused, "we are home", at the beginning of every discussion? Why can't we tell over and over again the thousands of personal histories that construct that macro-story? Why can't we create a new discourse; a new paradigm? Why can't we take the initiative in this war, before it's too late to remind the world what we are doing here?
This is why we established "Telem – Speaking for Israel." This is what we do and apparently – it works. When you speak to a group somewhere in California, Moscow or Warsaw and say "my name is… And I'm Israeli," it has power, it has influence. "Let me tell you a story," we say, and speak about the declaration of independence, the Palmach underground movement, the Entebbe operation, about the pioneers dying of fever – and it works. "And this is how I came back home," say those of us who weren’t born here – and the entire discussion changes.
The usual questions will come later – but the starting points will be completely different. It's time to remember why we are here. It's time to talk Zionism. It's time to change paradigm.
"Telem – Speaking for Israel" is a grass roots organization, established by young Israelis in order to bring back our story, the Israeli experience, to the table. www.telem.me