Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"What can I bring back to the States with me?"

Yom revi'i, 27 Sivan 5771.

This post in honor of 45 successful years of the Alan-Leslie merger.  May you share many more healthy, happy years; and may we be friends for all of them!

Leslie Itskowitz and I have been friends since our excellent mutual friend, Rebbetzin Sara Sachs, first introduced us during one of our Eastman family visits to Pittsburgh.  Leslie has a lovely sense of humor.  (When she walked in my door earlier this week, she quoted a line from the movie Pretty Woman:  "Just in case I forget to tell you later, we had a wonderful time.")  She also has a deep love for the Jewish people.  And she reads my blog.  So, being friends with her has been easy, even though I see her less often than I would like.

On this trip to Israel, Leslie brought her husband Alan to meet us, and informed us that they were spending their 45th wedding anniversary with us.  (I was sure glad I'd brought out the nice tablecloth!)

There was the expected banter between brothers-in-arms.  ("I'm sorry, Honey.  He's Navy."  "Oh, well then.  Alan, it's been a pleasure meeting you; but now you will have to eat outside.")  Leslie and I were very happy that our husbands got along so famously.  They were chatting away about politics within five minutes of meeting, and didn't stop conversing on many topics for several hours.  (Not much makes a woman happier than discovering that she and her very good friend have husbands who like each other.)

At a certain point in our conversation, Alan interjected a seemingly incongruous remark.  "So, tell me.  What can I bring back to the States with me when I return?"  It soon became apparent that he wasn't talking about shopping.  (The boys left that to Leslie and me, hanging out in the Elazar beit knesset when they drove us there for a wild clothes-shopping spree at the home of the delightful Shelley Bloom.)  He explained that his community in Pittsburgh expects to hear from him what is going on in Israel.  What's the "real story"?

Alan explained that although most of his friends see the world the way he does, getting good honest news from the pro-Israel perspective isn't always easy.

The MSM (mainstream media) have a field day with anything negative about Israel; but it seems they often gloss over stories that might show Israel in a positive light, or stories that tell of the abuse of Jews at the hands of Arabs.  And much of the problem comes from an Israeli emphasis on anti-Jewish news, as many of our own MSM sources seem to be pro-Arab and anti-Jewish (even though this may not be their intention.  Like leftist press the world over, they truly may believe that this slant is in the interest of world peace).

An acquaitance of mine has lived in Jerusalem for 30 years, but has not traveled "over the Green Line" since the 90s, because she thinks its wrong for us to encroach on "Palestinian land."  "What I can't understand," she said to me, "is why you settlers won't let the Palestinians drive on Highway 60 with you.  Why won't you let them use the same roads you do?"  It does little good to show her photos of late-model vehicles with Palestinian license plates traveling on Highway 60, in equal numbers to cars with Israeli plates.  She believes her favorite "news" sources; and they have informed her that what I see every day isn't happening.

I don't begrudge this Palestinian contractor his success.  I just resent the people who say he isn't having it.

FYI: The Palestinian plates are white and green, and the Israeli plates are yellow.  No segregated parking lots here.
Full disclosure: not every Arab in Israel drives a late-model vehicle.  There are poor Jews and poor Arabs in Israel.

I enjoy the support of commentators such as Melanie Phillips, though it rankles to have even Israel's friends intimate that a good portion of the bad press is somehow Israel's fault.  According to Melanie, Israel has ignored what she calls "the battleground of the mind."  "Israeli hasbara [PR] is a joke,"  she says.  "Israel is completely outclassed and outmaneuvered on a battleground it doesn't even understand it's on."

The bottom line is that Melanie is only partly right.  Israel could perhaps be more present on the battleground of the mind.  This would be helped if this tiny nation could be a little more "on the same page" regarding our own right to exist.  But I differ with her opinion that "nobody" is addressing the problem, "nobody" is speaking on behalf of the truth.  There are wonderful sources of information available.  (Please feel free to ask for my favorites.)  But one must pick and choose (and occasionally dodge) as the meteor shower of information zooms past over the morning coffee.

Perhaps the best wisdom came in a conversation with a dear friend in America.  "It is an issue far too large and complicated for me. Is it ideology or money that is the root of the problems? Is it really a matter of property? Is it a question of religious freedom? In either case, in the holiest place on the planet for three major religions, why doesn't everyone walk around in awe of their similarities; their connectedness and the three separate but equal children of Abraham?"

My friend continued to illustrate what I see as one of the most important hurdles Israeli hasbara has to overcome:  "I have grown ... resigned to issues that are so complex and unmanageable that I am left helpless. I have given [my focus] to minding very carefully those things I may be able to personally affect. I trust your depth of knowledge on Israel.  You know internally and authentically what is happening and why..."  My friend is a musician and teacher who plays "music with babies and old people so they can find their sweet place in the song that is this life."  She truly doesn't have the time or filtering process to decide about Israel.  That is my job: and she is willing to listen.

The fact is that we are living in a time of sensory overload, a virtual nuclear holocaust of information.  Every end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movie I ever saw as a kid ended with a handful of stalwarts communicating post-destruction with the equivalent of cans and string technology.  That translates as one person to one person.  Remember the old shampoo commercial?  "You'll tell two friends, and they"ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."

My answer to our friends who feel confused by a lack of answers is to find one friend who is "a fact on the ground," who is actually present on the battleground whom you trust, and ask your questions, just as my  friend in America asks me.

And to our friend Alan, who asks "What can I bring back to the States with me?," I would answer as my husband did:  Take back the truth that you see with your own eyes.  Talk about what you know to be true based on what you hear and see and discern during your visits.  Obviously, there is responsibility here: but you have been aware of that all of your adult life. Your friends, overwhelmed by too much news, will be happy to have you as their eyes and ears on the topic,  as they go on with their very busy lives.

Alan left us with a very heartwarming farewell remark:  "As I look at you here, I know one thing I can tell them.  I can tell them that we are in very good hands."

You're welcome back any time, Alan.  And bring your excellent bride with you, too!  After Leslie and I finish shopping, you'll have lots more than hasbara to carry back to the States with you.  And in case I forget to mention it, we enjoyed your anniversary dinner at Ma'alot very much.  Ask us about it...

Dear Locals: Shelley Bloom does all kinds of clothing repair, and will pick up from the Gush and Efrat if you write to her email:  Support local business!


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

An excellent post, including the 'firestorm of information' image.

Our rav spoke on Shavuot, and again the following Shabbat, about various things one should be aware of when using the computer and especially the Internet. One danger is that, in this storm of information, we tend to reliquish our analytical thinking ability. If I saw it on screen, it must be true, right? It becomes more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's not just because of the quantity, but because of our own willingness to abrogate our will to learn, and to analyze what we are learning. If it doesn't come easily, why try?


rutimizrachi said...

YSRM: Excellent reminder! I am also very pleased that your rav didn't stop at "Usser! Usser!", but actually gave guidance about how responsibly to use this tool called the internet.

Ray Saperstein said...

I always love reading your blog. Just want to put in my 2 cents about "Hasbara". In order for PR to be effective, you must have an audience that is at least willing to listen to you. Israel simply doesn't have that. All thru Europe there are museums and other commemorations of the Holocaust. Europeans look at this evidence, and rightly ask how could civilized people do this. Then they realize that those "civilized" people were their beloved grandparents. If they can believe that Jews act the same way towards Arabs as the Nazis (perhaps their grandparents) acted, then their guilt is ameliorated. They build a belief system that Israel is bad because it can make them feel better. I believe that this is why the gulf is so great between Europe and America in terms of support for Israel (current POTUS excluded).

in the vanguard said...

Ruti, shalom.

You say, "The bottom line is that Melanie is only partly right. Israel could perhaps be more present on the battleground of the mind. ".

Just want to say that Melanie is completely right because Mainstream Media in Israel is even more leftist that America's, and that's saying a mouthful. Even Galei Tzahal favors the "Palestinians"! How more absurd can you get than that? So, how is she "partly" right, because sometimes the evidence against our enemies is so clear, eg the Fogel tragedy, that "even" Israeli MSM had to report the incident?

rutimizrachi said...

Ray & ITV: Forgive me for taking so long to respond to you both.

Ray: Thank you for your kind and supportive words.

You are right that on the grand scale, Israel doesn't have much of an open and accepting audience. Your theory as to why is interesting, and has merit. We all tend to "shop" for the news that supports our most comfortable theories, don't we? It takes effort and will and focus to find the truth. Most people can't do that on every subject.

My recommendation is to forget the global hearts and minds. We can't fix it, for so many reasons (yours among them). Just affect the hearts and minds of those who want to know, and for whom you are the source of knowledge on your topic. (I know I am "preaching to the choir" here, as you already do this important work in the Baltimore community. Keep it up!)

ITV: I hear your anger, and it's justified. It's just misplaced in this discussion. Melanie is only partly right when she says that "nobody" is talking about things from the pro-Israeli perspective. Thankfully, the MSM is not the only source of information available. Your own blog is one alternative source, as are Jameel, Treppenwitz, Esser Agaroth, West Bank Mama, Honest Reporting, CAMERA, Memri, IMRA, Batya and Yisrael Medad, and so many others, I won't try to list them here. If an individual wants to have access to truth in reporting, he no longer has to rely on the MSM.