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January 27, 2015 / 7 Shevat, 5775
 
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Changing Public Opinion One Book At A Time

The onslaught against the Jewish state has begun.
 
In just the past few weeks, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, an Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo and ransacked the premises, and the Palestinians reaffirmed their insistence on seeking UN approval for a unilateral declaration of statehood.
 
This worrying series of events portend what is likely to be mounting pressure on Jerusalem in the coming months, as attempts will be made to turn up the heat on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
Much of the focus will of course center on the growing Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as well as Jerusalem.
 
The critics will moan and gripe: if only those stubborn Israelis would just capitulate already and give the Palestinians what they want, all would be well in the Middle East and peace would finally prevail.
 
This, of course, is utter hogwash, the wishful thinking of those who deliberately ignore history and its lessons.
 
They conveniently forget that the PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel even assumed control of Judea and Samaria.
 
They also overlook the fact that the Palestinians rejected offers by former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert that would have given them virtually all of the territories.
 
Nonetheless, with a sleight of hand that would make even the most accomplished magician proud, Israel’s detractors still manage to paint Jewish “settlers” as the source of all that is wrong.
 
Consider the following. On August 26, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced it was giving a permit to Jews living in Hebron to expand an already existing structure known as Beit Romano in order to house a kindergarten for Jewish children.
 
What should have been a non-story instead made international headlines, with everyone from the Associated Press to the San Francisco Chronicle writing about this “breaking news.”
 
Needless to say, the move was denounced by the usual suspects as though Jewish children engaged in finger-painting constitute a war crime.
 
Where else in the world does a decision to open a kindergarten merit such attention?
 
This is just a sign of how badly tarnished the image of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria has become.
 
In account after account, and story after story, they are portrayed in the most devious of terms, even by some of their fellow Jews.
 
Indeed, with the exception of literally just a handful of outlets, it is hard to think of a journalistic platform that gives them a fair shake.
 
Changing that negative perception after so many years of monolithic media brainwashing will be no easy task.
 
But reminding the public that Jewish settlers are human beings with hopes, dreams, accomplishments and disappointments, just like anyone else, is something that is urgently needed.
 

Fortunately, a young American-Israeli author has decided to do just that.

Josh Hasten, the president of Bar-Am Public Relations in Jerusalem, has written a new children’s book with a simple yet compelling message.
 
Titled Itamar Makes Friends: A Children’s Story of Jewish Brotherhood, it aims to tear down the stereotype, the sense of “otherness” that has come to characterize Jewish settlers in the minds of many.
 
The book, released by Gefen Publishing, tells the story of a young boy named Itamar from Judea and Samaria who visits the big city, only to encounter hostility and enmity at the hands of three local teens.
 
But the barriers of mistrust and antagonism are eventually broken, leading all to realize that they share more in common than they originally thought.
 
In a special note to parents at the end of the book, Hasten writes, “We as adults must learn that although someone lives in a different place or has different customs, traditions or worldviews, we really are all fundamentally alike.”
 
In other words, our sense of Jewish solidarity and brotherhood must override any other differences that may exist, regardless of whether the subject at hand is the Jews of Johannesburg, Jersey City or Judea.
 
Hasten’s book, which is slated to be translated into Hebrew, marks an important first step in what needs to become a coordinated effort to humanize the Jews of Judea and Samaria, and portray them in a more balanced and sympathetic light. This is the only way to begin to (re)build greater public support for their pioneering efforts in the heartland of Jewish history.
 
If even our fellow Jews do not fully appreciate their sacrifices and dedication, it is hard to see how we can expect the rest of the world to do so either.
 
So let’s put aside the prejudice and bigotry of the mainstream press, and remember one important truth: the Jews of Judea and Samaria, like Jews everywhere, deserve our help and support.
 
 

Michael Freund is a former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based organization which assists the Bnei Menashe and other “lost Jews” to return to the Jewish people. 

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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