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Monday, January 5, 2009

2009/1/4 -- DAY #8c: Israel’s Air Force

My final stop of the day was at the Ramat David Air Force Base, in Israel’s northern region. Visiting in my capacity as the Chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinet of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the meeting included a briefing on the development of the base and its operations, opportunities to meet with pilots and ground-crews, watching several take-offs and landings, and gaining an up-close and personal understanding of the lengths to which Israel’s Air Force goes to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians. Palestinian civilians are called more than 5 minutes in advance of an attack on every populated structure that houses terrorists or weapons-caches, to ensure that they have ample opportunity to avoid injury or worse. When compared to the 15 seconds that most residents in Israel’s south have to find shelter when Israeli alarms signal that incoming Hamas missiles are headed toward their intended civilian targets, one understands how very much Israelis would appreciate the very five-minute warning that Israel gives to Palestinian civilians. However, Hamas won’t oblige, because its very intent is to injure, maim, and murder Israeli civilians.

The courage and humanity of Israel’s pilots and other Air Force Personnel was stunning. I confess that I do not know whether I share their sympathy right now for the very Palestinian civilians who elected a Hamas government knowing full well that it intended to wage a war of terror upon Israel. Still, who we are as Jews, and who Israel is as a Jewish state, depends upon the choice to be as humane and loving as possible, even when the cost to Israel, its soldiers, and its civilians might grow greater as a consequence; we must always remember that civilians and soldiers are the targets of the Hamas missiles that will be utilized, and the personnel who will be alive to launch them, when the Air Force doesn’t strike.

Today ends with the news that one combat soldier of the Golani Brigade has been killed. It is a sad day for Israel, although the defensive initiative in the south is progressing very well, as it appears. Israel’s heart grieves with one family tonight; may tomorrow bring with it peace and quiet – for all of Israel.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
www.nertamid.com

2009/1/4 -- DAY #8b: Speaking At The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In between conversations with friends and family closest to those now engaged in fierce ground-combat against Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, my itinerary continued. My first stop of the day was at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. I was invited to attend the first day of sessions for both the incoming cohort of StandWithUs-Israel-Fellows and the program’s Alumni and to deliver a speech to them and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and staff in attendance. These StandWithUs-Israel-Fellows constitute an extraordinary group of articulate young ambassadors and activists for Israel from around the country and beyond it who are learning important skills to tell Israel's side of the story in the battle for public opinion against the Arab/Muslim world. They are talented and their cause is just; the training with which StandWithUs is providing them will serve Israel very well. I was asked to address some of the challenges and opportunities facing the larger endeavor of advocacy for Israel in the United States. My talk aimed to touch on, and to spark continued consideration of, several ideas:

(1) WHY FIGHTING THE BATTLE FOR PUBLIC OPINION IS COUNTER-INTUITIVE FOR JEWS AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT: Historically, the great majority of the last 2,000 years of the Jewish experience has been that of a minority community in foreign lands. Quite reasonably, therefore, our tendency has been to engage in backdoor diplomacy with those who control or influence most directly policies or policy-makers that have affected us, including monarchs and their advisors, legislators, and other appointed or elected officials. If one looks at AIPAC, The Washington Institute, The American Jewish Committee, and most other venerable Jewish organizations in North America, one finds that they are born of, and centered on, this very approach. However, our adversaries in the Arab and Muslim worlds today have gained over the last 1,500 years of their historical experience great expertise in managing and manipulating mass-public-opinion, as a means both to obtain and sustain tyrannical rule, more often than not as majority rulers rather than minority subjects.
The worldwide Muslim population alone is approximately 100 times the size of the Jewish population and, given that we live today in an age of mass-media communications, the Arab and Muslim communities enjoy not only the distinct advantages of deeply ingrained leadership cultures and tendencies toward influencing public opinion and expertise in executing this mission, but also the advantage of a greater frequency of opportunity to do so, given the imbalance in our respective worldwide populations. Furthermore, as instantaneous polling indicates evermore to policy-makers in Western democracies the preferences of their constituents, influencing public-opinion becomes evermore a necessity in the endeavor to ensure that those who determine and implement public-policy - the very people that we are accustomed to lobby and rely upon - feel the freedom and strength to vote and implement their conscience. The increasing tendency on the part of elected officials to "vote the polls" not only makes it difficult to conduct more discreet or backdoor diplomacy, but, makes its apparent success difficult to rely upon, given that a policy-maker may well change his or her position at any time, depending upon the polls' indication of their constituents' preferences.
As such, our Israel-advocacy related endeavors, in our era, must include the following: (a) We must complement backdoor-diplomacy and educational approaches to elected and appointed officials with a strategic approach to influencing mass-public-opinion toward Israel’s and the Jewish People’s favor; (b) We must not do so alone. We must build coalitions with anyone and everyone, from the more liberal elements of Western society to those whose leanings are more conservative - and from the most secular to the most religiously inclined, so that we address the imbalance in opportunity to influence public opinion now very much favoring the Arab and Muslim worlds.
To this end, we must develop, articulate, implement, and sustain a carefully crafted message that can highlight a range of compelling reasons why the public must support the Israeli position. However, it is vital that the different reasons work together to form one consistent narrative in Israel's favor, so that what we say to the Right doesn't contradict what we say to the Left. Such self-contradiction risks obscuring the greater truth that, as a freedom-loving and freedom-granting society, Israel is consistently victimized and slandered by tyrants, dictators, and those whom they dominate and influence with their assaults on plain truths; we mustn't be, or seems to be, duplicitous.
(2) THE NECESSITY FOR A CLEAR MESSAGE FOR ISRAEL'S PUBLIC RELATIONS EFFORTS: Unlike the Arab world, whose general aims for its public relations efforts are clear – to help bring about Israel’s destruction – Israel’s aims are not as clear. In large measure, this is because of two factors that work together: (a) Israeli officials are answerable to the Israeli electorate - therefore the audience for their messages is generally that of the Israeli electorate rather than the world outside of Israel; (2) As Israel's democratic and free electorate is diverse in opinion, Israel's elected officials reflect and respond to this diversity with similarly diverse messages and opinions.
If you are uncertain as to the extent of the confusion regarding Israel's external public-relations aims and messages, consider the following: Is the aim of Israel's externally directed public-relations efforts to portray Israel in narrative and with images that move "beyond the conflict," encouraging multiple perceptions of Israel as a technological marvel, a contributor to the fight against hunger in Africa, and a free society, etc.? Is the aim to respond to charges leveled against Israel by its detractors, point by point or issue by issue? Is the aim to build bridges to other minorities in the region? Is the aim to ensure, in particular, the continuity of American diplomatic support? Is the aim to discredit neighboring Arab and Muslim regimes and unmask their horrific Human Rights abuses? Is the aim to deliberately ignore these abuses in order to ensure that Israel has some viable partner for peace, less awful than the other neighboring alternatives?
To ensure that Israel's message is understandable and that its representatives are working as little as possible at cross-purposes, it is vital that a clear meta-aim for all public relations be developed, articulated, implemented, and sustained and that most, if not all, subordinate goals for Israel's public-relations fit reasonably under the umbrella of this meta-aim internally - within Israeli society, externally - among the organized Jewish communities outside of Israel and within their institutions, and outwardly to the entire world - via the media. This is a difficult undertaking in a free society, but, it is in this time of media-related siege a very necessary one for Israel's survival;

(3) POSITING TWO META-AIMS FOR ISRAEL'S PUBLIC RELATIONS ENDEAVORS: Two possible meta-aims might be articulated as follows (and I would advocate for the adoption of both simultaneously):
(a) To encourage the world to understand and identify with Israel as the only free-society in the region. Under this umbrella, the various audiences noted above would be educated regularly, in word and in image, to understand Israel as a democratic entity who elects its representatives and conducts its affairs in a most admirable, humanitarian manner, despite being surrounded and terrorized by those who seek its destruction. Furthermore, the message might be expanded to then suggest that Israel therefore has every right to determine solely whether to engage in diplomacy with its adversaries, to disengage from such diplomacy, to adjust its diplomatic aims or approaches, or to utilize or suspend armed defensive initiatives to protect its citizens and further its aims to achieve peace with security; (b) To ensure that the world and its media understand that the uniform voice emanating from Arab and Muslim states is a consequence not of uniform agreement among the populations of these states or territories, but, rather of the intolerance of any dissent in these societies. To this end, a relentless unmasking of the human rights abuses in the Arab and Muslim world must be placed before the world's eyes, using the established media, blogging, YouTube, viral-marketing techniques and any other means to communicate this perspective. In this regard, it is high-time that the Arab and Muslim worlds, from the Palestinians to the Iranian, be placed on the defensive in their interactions with the media.
Once these or other aims are adopted and articulated as broad-umbrella-aims under which all public relations might be understood and against the backdrop of which all public relations is articulated and, later, measured, then the strategies and methods to achieve these aims can be considered, developed, agreed upon, implemented broadly, and sustained over a lengthy period of time, adjusted only as necessary to maximize Israel's public-relations efforts.

(4) ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM OF THE GROWING, ANTI-ISRAEL-BIASED MUSLIM MEDIA BASED IN ARAB AND MUSLIM COUNTRIES AND SIMILARLY MORE COMMON AND OFTEN EQUALLY BIASED MUSLIM REPORTERS AMONG THE WESTERN MEDIA: It is vital that strategies are developed to ensure that Muslims throughout the world are not mistaken for objective third parties in their analyses of the mid-east conflict and in their advocacy for particular approaches to its resolution. It is vital that the conflict itself be reframed from "The Palestinian/Israeli Conflict" toward its greater truth as both the evolving conflict of “Radical Islam against the West” and the longstanding “Arab / Israeli Conflict,” with a sophisticated approach to determining the applicability of either message to specific circumstances and specific audiences. Additionally, such reframing of the conflict will serve Israel’s and the Jewish People’s interests in a number of other ways.

The questions posed informally by those StandWithUs-Israel-Fellows who gathered around at the conclusion of the talk reflected a considerable depth of understanding on their part of the nuances of the difficulties and challenges involved in encouraging a shift in the area of mass-public opinion. However, they also understood intuitively many of the implicit or explicit opportunities that accompanied each of the challenges presented. My time with the StandWithUs-Israel-Fellows was most encouraging; great job, StandWithUs!


Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
www.nertamid.com

2009/1/4 -- DAY #8a: The Ground-War Begins …

Overnight, as many expected, the ground incursion into Gaza began. With the ground invasion in full force, the stakes are higher now than they have been, whether militarily, politically, diplomatically, or with regard to the possibility of wounded, lost, or even kidnapped IDF boys. The phone rang. It was a post-IDF college IMPACT-Student (on scholarship for his studies, sponsored by FIDF) whom I have gotten to know quite well over the last 18 months. Just several days ago, he and his girlfriend came by to say hello and asked me to marry them next summer; what a privilege! His brother is part of the Golani brigade and was therefore deployed along the Gaza border on Shabbat, awaiting orders to begin the ground incursion. He was very likely fighting in Gaza as we spoke. His father, over 50 years old, volunteered on Sunday morning, together with his entire reserve unit, to head south (reservists can continue voluntarily to make themselves available to the IDF, even after the conclusion of their mandatory reserve duty at 40+ years old). This young man was naturally worried for both his brother and his father, but, very proud of both of them. He wished that he could go, but, someone had to stay home and make sure that things were taken care of; as he had classes to attend, it made sense for him to be the one to do so. Next, I spoke with “Sali”, as so many of those among my Congregation Ner Tamid community know him. Sali visited with our community two years ago for Rosh Hashanah, along with three other soldiers of the IDF. Now, one year after the conclusion of his IDF service, he had just completed last week his mandatory reserve duty for the year. Still, he and his wife were both well aware that he could be called up again on a moment’s notice, if the IDF needed him. Though he knew no specifics, he knows the character and the training of the boys sent to Gaza to put a stop to Hamas. He was confident, and yet, as all of Israel, concerned for those in battle. Throughout the day, wherever I was, news of the fighting was on everyone’s lips. As the day drew to a close, conclusive word of the first day of the ground incursion emerged; the IDF is achieving its early aims, however, over 20 soldiers are wounded, two of them seriously. At day’s end, I spoke with three additional close friends whose children are fighting in Gaza. Two of them live with their spouses and children within what has now come to be within missile and bombing range of Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Their prayers are with their sons, and with all of those fighting alongside them. News is just in: One of the two soldiers seriously wounded last night has died. All of us in Tel Aviv will try to sleep tonight, along with all of Israel; no doubt, Israel’s boys in uniform will remain close to our hearts, along with one family who now grieves as no one should.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
www.nertamid.com

2009/1/3 -- DAY #7: Shabbat In Tel-Aviv As Israel Waits …

As today was Shabbat, I spent the day in my hotel and also took a long walk along the “Tayelet” (a walking and biking pathway) along the beach in Tel Aviv. The day was a beautiful one in Tel Aviv, but, everyone walking about had much on their minds and heavy hearts. In Israel, wartime is a time of remarkable togetherness and unity, for the country is a small one and everyone knows someone whose life is endangered. Tel Aviv and all of Israel are torn about what they hope will come next. On the one hand, there is a belief that a ground incursion will be necessary to stop Hamas’ terrorizing bombing campaign in the south. On the other hand, there is great concern over the cost that such an incursion will exact in terms of wounded and lost soldiers. Concerns about how Israel will be perceived worldwide are also a topic of conversation; Israel doesn’t live on an island, unaffected economically and otherwise by world-opinion. In mid-afternoon, my cousins visited. For the first time, I had opportunity to meet Noam, their 5-month old daughter. She is beautiful. She is worthy of a peaceful life. My cousins, however, now live within range of Hamas’ missiles. Staying out of Gaza might exact too great a cost to bear, as well. Shavuah Tov.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay
www.nertamid.com