Israel is currently under assault, but not from Hamas rockets. The attacks on the Jewish state are increasingly coming from international media outlets sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
How to counter this trend and depict Israel in a more positive light was the topic of a panel discussion titled “Israel on Trial in the Courtroom of Public Opinion” held Aug. 12 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of the 10th annual National Jewish Retreat, an event organized by the Brooklyn-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Mid-Atlantic Media editorial director Joshua Runyan challenged the pro-Israel community to engage in the debate about Israel rather than shutting off the opposition.
“If we look at the debate and we say the debate shouldn’t be happening, we’ve already lost because it means that we are not allowing our voice to be heard,” said Runyan. “If we acknowledge that the debate is going on and we say, ‘Yes, let’s have that debate about Israel, and let’s talk about how great the country is and how it’s doing all of these things right,’ then we can actually have a conversation with Israel’s detractors.”
Runyan was joined on the panel by Shahar Azani, executive director of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, and Shimon Mercer Wood, consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Dovid Efune, editor of The Algemeiner Journal, served as moderator.
Wood said that winning friends is as important as winning arguments and cautioned against in-fighting in the pro-Israel community.
“There is a real risk of turning our gunsights against each other and picking fights with each other,” said Wood. “Who is Zionist enough? Who is defending Israel the right way? Who is defending Israel in the wrong way? We couldn’t give a greater gift to our enemies than to be litigative and spiteful among ourselves. So building relationships, building friendships and maintaining the friendships within our own camp has to be an important part of what we do.”
Don’t allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to consume all the oxygen in the room when the topic of Israel is broached, advised Azani. Instead, be prepared to educate people about the positive contributions Israel has contributed to the world by engaging on social media and other forums.
Said Azani: “Be ready for the debate on the conflict, but don’t let it be your sole objective because by doing so you will have committed a crime against Israel. We are not just a counter-reaction to the Arab world or to the Palestinian people, we are a vibrant country on our own with a strong tradition and a tremendous gift to the world, and let us never, never forget this.”