Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Advocate for Israel

The Kotel (Western Wall of the Temple Mount) at night
This past Motzoei Shabbos I had the privilege of listening to David Olesker at HTCs annual Melave Malka. David is the founder and director of JCCAT (Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training).  This organization trains people in how to properly advocate for the State of Israel. In a period of about a 40 minutes - he showed us the basics of how to do it. Here in part is what he said.

As an advocate for Israel he is often invited to talk radio where the host invites callers to challenge him. This usually brings out all the pro-Palestinians in the listening audience to try and smear Israel with half truths and outright lies. Like the Apartheid lie for example.

He told us about one case where a caller challenged him about Israel being an Apartheid State like pre Mandela South Africa. By coincidence there was a former black South African in the studio at the time working the technical side of the program. When he heard the question – you could see him visually bristle at the comparison.

One might have thought that an expert in Israel advocacy would have had a very quick refutation. But he quickly told us that he had no answer for that caller. He then asked the audience why. Several people tried to guess but no one could. He then told us.

The reason he could not refute this caller was because he didn’t have the 3 hours it would take to refute any possible comparison of Israel to Apartheid South Africa! The amount of cruel anti black legislation and treatment of black South Africans then versus the way the State of Israel treats its West Bank Arabs now are worlds apart.  There were just too many specific examples to show just how radically different the two countries are.

So instead of trying to refute the caller, he simply said, “How dare you compare the cruel and inhumane treatment of the blacks in Apartheid South Africa to what is happening to Palestinian Arabs in Israel!” “Have you been to either country?” The caller had no answer. And that black South African studio technician raised his hands in a quiet cheer. He experienced and knew what Apartheid really was. And he knew that what was happening to Israel’s Arabs is nowhere near that.

Mr. Olesker then went on to speak about how important personalizing a story is over simply stating a statistic. Quoting Josef Stalin (who murdered more of his own people than Hitler did during the Holocaust) - he said “Killing a human being is a tragedy. Killing 20 million people is a statistic.”

Describing a suicide bombing by saying 6 innocent people were killed in a suicide attack at a café in Jerusalem one Saturday night does not have the same impact as telling the story of one of those victims: Dr. David Applebaum.  

Dr. Applebaum was a world renowned trauma specialist, a Talmid Muvak of Rav Ahron Soloveichik, and a close friend of David Olesker. He had just personally set a broken wrist in Shaare Tzedek Hosptial that Friday. Saturday night he was murdered along with his daughter in that attack. Dr. Applebaum had decided to go to that café the night before his daughter’s wedding. The next day, instead of a wedding for his daughter, there was a funeral for both of them.

Another thing Mr. Olesker said is that in a debate – never allow the opponent to frame the conversation. Staying in that frame, can easily lead to a misrepresentation of the facts.

The best example of this is when one is challenged to give a yes or no answer to the following question: “So… is your brother out of prison yet?”  Answering that question with either a yes or no is a losing proposition.

One must always take the initiative to frame the conversation rather than allow an opponent to do it.

This was pretty much the gist of David Olesker’s speech. With humor and great charm he told us how to advocate for Israel.

But I couldn’t help thinking about a different kind of enemy of the State of Israel. Not the Jimmy Carters of the world; nor university professors like  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt or Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein and their protégés.   

This is about a group of people far more troubling than these gentlemen. A group that is renowned for their piety and kindness towards all other Jews. A group whose founding member called the miracles surrounding the creation of the State of Israel and the return of Har HaBayis (The Temple Mount) the work of the devil.

Someone who compared the father of religious Zionism, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohen Kook to the wicked Haman of the bible. (You know which Haman. The one who - like Hitler - tried to annihilate the Jewish people.)

A leader whose anti Israel rhetoric rivals that of Israel’s worst enemies, like Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. A leader whose words and philosophies has inspired admirers from Neturei Karta to physically embrace the Iranian president.

And a group that is the fast growing group of Jews in the entire world.

How does one deal with this group who joins our enemies in calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel and says its existence defies the will of God? Whose current leader from Williamsburg is there right now undermining the very elections taking place today - with strong anti Israel speeches to hundreds if not thousands of people who come to hear him

 A leader who has stated that all the problems of the Jewish world can be traced back to the existence of the State of Israel.

How does one do any Israel advocacy to this huge and fast growing  group known to the world as Satmar, A group that is accepted and even honored by mainstream Charedi publications - as did Mishpacha Magazine recently (the immediate last issue) by doing a lengthy and flattering cover story on the Williamsburg Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum.

I don’t think David Olesker - as good as he is – could answer that one.

If one wants to know exactly what the Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg really thinks - here are excerpts from his speech given Sunday night in Jerusalem to 10,000 of his 'fans' . Or you can access my other blog.