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Responding to Bias: Fight or Flight?

Responding to Bias: Fight or Flight?

Denigration and defamation are likely to nullify any positive images of Jewish generosity, creativity and good works if the epithets and misinformation are left unchallenged.


The stunning power of headlines, photographs, daily newspaper reports and television footage to skew public sentiment has deeply shaken those concerned about Israel's fate. In all too many media outlets, jaw-dropping disregard of existential threats and lack of awareness of Israel's restraint in the face of terrorist bloodletting have prompted near-panicked efforts in some quarters to win public understanding.

The great debate underway is how best to counter media shortcomings and reach citizens of the world and government policymakers with a full, accurate picture of the Jewish state.

Numerous efforts seek to present the good face of Israel to audiences -- the normal face beyond the conflict. Look, say proponents of this approach, at how much Israel gives to mankind: medical advances, agricultural invention, high-tech brilliance. Look at the value added to world culture and comfort by the resourceful Israelis. All that has to be done, according to this thinking, is to change the paradigm; to separate Israel from its tainted association with the endless conflict involving the Arabs by injecting stories about Israeli innovation and good works into the news stream.

Such efforts may, indeed, engender positive feelings in some news consumers. Likewise, publicizing (as other endeavors have) the fact that Israel's Arab citizens, including Arab women, participate in its democracy can add in a constructive way to appreciation of the country's commitment to pluralism and tolerance.

But there are profound strategic flaws in any efforts to advance public understanding of Israel's circumstances that do not tackle and defeat false and damaging information about the Jewish state.

The notion that telling the world how clever and beneficent Israel is will garner public affection founders on the grim evidence of Jewish history. The Jews of Germany won 37% of the Nobel prizes for science and literature awarded to German citizens between 1905 and 1936, even though they were only 1% of the population. Needless to say, their accomplishments won few hearts or minds.

In late 19th and early 20th century Vienna, a time and place renowned for dazzling achievement in music, Jews were central. Composers Gustave Mahler and Arnold Schonberg were Jewish, as were many of Vienna's other composers, librettists, musicians, performers, patrons and audiences in a population where Jews were less than 10% of the population. But Austrians welcomed the Nazis, and soon constituted 40% of those engaged in Hitler's exterminations.

Distortions and lies about Israel triumph when they go unchallenged.

The lesson then and today is that denigration and defamation are likely to nullify any positive images of Jewish generosity, creativity and good works if the epithets and misinformation are left unchallenged.

When Chris Hedges, for instance, wrote in Harper's in the fall of 2001 that Israeli soldiers in Gaza "entice [Palestinian] children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport," the incendiary, baseless charge became a feature of anti-Israel comment. National Public Radio's Fresh Air promptly enlisted Hedges for an interview in which he spread the smear across the air waves.

Consider: would those who read or heard Hedges recite his false charges of child murder be persuaded to like the Jewish state on the basis of learning that it leads in nanotechnology?

When basic facts such as the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 242 are misreported to claim that Israel is required to cede the entire West Bank and Gaza, and is therefore violating core principles for settling the conflict, what are news consumers to think but that Israel is obstructing peace? When the terms of the so-called "road map" are continually misrepresented to cast Israel as a violator and the Palestinians as the aggrieved, what is the cumulative effect on readers?

When Hamas and Islamic Jihad are depicted as seeking an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza -- reasonable goals in the minds of many -- rather than working to extinguish Israel, Israeli measures in self-defense appear excessive.

All these are cases in which serious errors and distortions must be and have been extensively challenged. The end result has been to correct errors and halt their repetition in key media; or, where no correction has been forthcoming, to widely expose and debunk the misinformation.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned from the world of public relations, but they come from such instructive examples as the "war room" of former president Bill Clinton's election campaign. There, media coverage was monitored intensively, and every news account deemed incorrect, distorted or incomplete was swiftly challenged. The strategy worked so successfully that it was later applied to promoting president Clinton's policy initiatives.

No less an effort is necessary in defending the facts about Israel. Just as all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, so too distortions and lies about Israel triumph when they go unchallenged. Those who argue that there is an easier way, a shortcut to making Israel's case, are simply ducking the essential task.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post

July 9, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) jack, October 17, 2006 5:18 PM


nicely written article
reely emotional
made me stop and think about all these tragidies

morris l

(9) sonia, January 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Strength from what we do not what they say!

It could be the distortions by enemies imprint themselves more easily when we Jews distance from doing what defines Judaism for us, by us! Through study of Torah we become part of our ongoing community as Jews! In attending synagogue, observing the Mitzvoth, and learning from our sacred and rich wellsprings of wisdom and counsel, absorb the words of our many sages. Visiting Israel, better yet, in making Alyia, I am convinced any despair over what others do to us will find no harbor in our mind. Our power is from our connection to who we are, what we do firstly as individuals! Concern whether non-Jews approve of us, love us will dissipate and the non-Jewish world will no longer have the power over us we all too easily give them! Our strength cannot be lessened through what others say - it can only grow through how we lead our lives and through what we do both as individuals and as a people! And to begin! Choose Life the Torah teaches! Take from our source and share that light with others! When we bring light into the world, the dark will dissipates! Illusion in the face of truth always does! And what makes strength to strength happen!

(8) Anonymous, January 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Anrea Levin's Comments

Me'ah Achuz! Proof of Goebbel's genius statement whch the Arab side has taken to heart and implemented successfully! If you tell a big enough lie often enough, it will come to be believed as truth!

(7) Howard G, January 2, 2006 12:00 AM

Jewish public relations

It is obvious that public relations are important, in presentation as well as substance. Yet many Jewish leaders seem not to grasp or ignore this obvious point.

You cannot tell Jews, contribute only to Jewish charities, help Israel, and speak out loudly against the canard that Jews only look after their own.

We need to fulfill tikkei olum through all the world and dispell stereotypes of miserliness and clanniness which have their origins in the words of the New Testament. It is important that Christians and Muslims see a positive image, though some Jews think that speaking out against anti-semitism is enough.

(6) Anonymous, December 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Israel public relatons

In my opinion it is up to the Israeli goverment to take a lead and get its act to gether and co-ordinate it world wide

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