Israel must change its message

Stop with the biblical comparisons and move on, writes Miriam Shaviv

May 18, 2017 15:54

It was as predictable as it is ineffective.

No sooner had a staff member at the US’s consulate in Jerusalem sniped that the Western Wall was in the West Bank, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin started emphasising the Jewish nation’s historic ties to Jerusalem.

“Next week, we will celebrate 50 years of the unification of Jerusalem and the return of the Jewish people to pray at the Western Wall,” he told the incoming American ambassador, David Friedman. “But Jerusalem has not just been Jewish for the past 50 years, [it] has been our capital since the time of King David.”

It was predictable, because that tired old line about King David — as well as another line about Jerusalem being the Jewish capital for 3,000 years — is trotted out by both Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu at every available opportunity, from interviews on CNN, to birthright gatherings and meetings with foreign heads of state. 

In fact, Netanyahu et al regularly use ancient Jewish history to make Israel’s political case. 

This March, Netanyahu started lecturing Russia’s President Putin about the Persian empire’s attempt to eradicate the Jewish people in the Purim story, comparing it to Iran’s nuclear efforts today. And for President Trump’s upcoming Israel trip, the Israelis had originally lined up a visit to Masada, presumably another opportunity to demonstrate the Jews’ ties to the land and determination to defend themselves. (Trump declined the Masada visit, citing the desert heat.)

There is no doubt that this is a narrative that resonates deeply with other Jews. We are a people who venerate history. For most Jews, the words “3,000 years” are enough to immediately justify our right to the land (although perhaps less so for the younger generation).
Here’s the problem.

The historical angle means very little to most other people. No matter how valid our historic claim is, it is not an effective argument for the rest of the world.
A hundred years ago, right up to the establishment of the state, it may have been. People were more classically educated and more biblically literate. Nowadays, study after study shows how little the general population knows about basic historical events. To expect people to care about what happened in a little corner of the Middle East 3,000 years ago — when most of them don’t know or care what happened in 1970s Britain — is futile.

When Netanyahu compared Iran’s nuclear designs with Haman’s Purim plot to destroy the Jews, in Moscow, President Putin told him as much. He reminded the Israeli Prime Minister that the events he described had taken place “in the fifth century BCE.
“We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now,” Putin said.

Putin may be an enemy of the West, but his message here to Netanyahu was important. One of the main arguments Israel uses to explain itself and its world view to others does not resonate. Quite the opposite, it seems to annoy.

It’s a shame Israel did not hear him.

Any good marketer knows that the very first step in designing a marketing campaign is to develop a deep understanding of your audience, and what issues and messages will appeal to them. What you want to tell them doesn’t matter. What counts is what they want to hear.
The issues that seem to resonate with Western opinion-makers include human rights, social justice and equality. The Palestinian spokespeople use these arguments regularly to hurt Israel, efficiently hitting the West’s hot buttons.

Meanwhile, Israel goes on about who started it, produces boring graphics showing missile ranges, and finally whips out its coup de grace  King David. No wonder we’re losing the hasbarah battle.


May 18, 2017 15:54

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