Since the interdiction-gone-bad of the Gaza flotilla, many Jewish columnists, including two whose work appears in this paper, have called on the Jewish world to go on the PR offensive.
That’s easier said than done, according to Shraga Simmons, a rabbi and editor at Aish.com. Nevertheless, he too, says it must be done.
Simmons, you may recall, produced a video exposing glaring inconsistencies in the general media coverage of the flotilla incident, which you can see at The Chronicle blog Yinz/Yidz. His video went viral, collecting over 200,000 views between YouTube and Aish.com.
“It’s very hard to do offense,” Simmons told me in a Skype interview from Israel. “We can anticipate; we know what the issues are, (but) at times we have been blindsided.”
For example, the staged shooting of Muhammad al-Durrah in 2000 at Netzarim Junction.
“Here is a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who is apparently shot, Simmons said. “Now you know, and I know and any Israeli knows and the vast majority of Jews know that Israel does not shoot children in cold blood. There’s no anticipating we’d have to defend against such a charge, so there’s an example where we got blindsided.”
He also noted Israel’s 2002 military operation in the Jenin refugee camp, which Palestinian leaders tried to portray as a massacre. The camp served as a staging point for terrorist attacks.
“Israel sent soldiers in at risk to their lives instead of attacking by air,” Simmons said. Result: Israel “got creamed by the media.”
“We put these guys at risk for the sake of PR, and it didn’t even work. So we got blindsided by it even though we took the precaution.”
The same thing happened in the flotilla mess, he said, in which commandos rappelled onto the deck of the flagship Mavi Marmara with paintball guns only to be met by extremists brandishing knives, crowbars, pistols batons and other weapons. This after Israel had peacefully interdicted several flotillas beforehand.
Simmons’ point is that it’s difficult for the Jewish world — including the Israeli government — to go on offense when the lightning rod issues can’t always be anticipated.
“The canard that’s viewed by the Arab world and the media is just so far out of proportion to the reality that there is no anticipating,” he said.
But that isn’t always the case. Some flashpoint issues — perhaps the most important ones — are easily anticipated, Simmons said. In those cases, the Jewish world, especially American Jews, must, to borrow a line from the Boy Scouts, be prepared.
Two such issues are Jerusalem and how — if at all — it should be divided in a future two-state solution, and the bigger question of whether the Jewish state is legitimate.
“We can prepare for that battle; just be ready,” Simmons said. “I think the tactic is basically that Israel came out of the ashes of the Holocaust; they’re framing the beginning of the [Jewish] connection to the land to the 20th century. Therefore, the preceding centuries, which arguably have a decent amount of Arab history, become the basis of their claim.
“We should be launching some kind of major campaign that educates people and establishes the facts of the 4,000-year-old Jewish connection that goes back to Abraham’s binding of Isaac.”
But that campaign should be launched before the next incident hits the media.
“It’s not being prepared to respond if a crisis emerges,” he said. “It’s doing it now. The best offense is a good defense.”
And when it comes to waging campaigns like these, Simmons, who was raised in Buffalo and has family in Pittsburgh, said the American Jewish community should take the lead.
“This is where they can use their money, their sensitivity to how to communicate a message to the Western world, to really help,” he said, “going on offense and being proactive and sitting down and strategizing on how we intend to build our [case]. “
He called this task, “the historic role of the American Jewish community.”
Maybe not historic, but it certainly is a role the American Jews can play. As Alan Dershowitz put it in his book “The Case for Israel,” the Jewish state “stands in the dock.” Perhaps we can see to it she gets a fair trial.
(Lee Chottiner, the executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle, can be reached at email@example.com.)