The Jewish people can be characterized as a noble and distinguished nation who have excelled in nearly every area but sports and messaging. We can cite but a handful of Jews who have won an Olympic medal, caught a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, or hit a home run in the World Series. And we can cite even fewer who have succeeded in countering the prevailing notion of the Jews as Christ-killing political subversives who have cynically sucked the economic life out of the nations that have been gracious enough to host them.
The failure at sports is forgivable. If the Jews do not hoist the Vince Lombardy trophy their peoplehood might yet survive. The failure at PR, however, is fatal. The catalogue of accusations that have been hurled against the Jews without a proper riposte boggles the imagination and has led to mounds of dead Jews.
Two thousand years ago we were accused of murdering the man Christians believe was the creator’s son. A thousand years later we were drinking the blood of all Christian sons. A few hundred years and we were now poisoning the wells of Europe. And in modern times we are bombing innocent Palestinian children, cutting down their olive gardens, and evicting them from their homes.
My recent Congressional race was against an opponent who had signed a letter accusing Israel of collective punishment against the Palestinians in Gaza. Many pro-Israel groups said they would support him nonetheless because words did not matter so much as actions and Bill Pascrell had repeatedly voted to support Israel aid. The same is now being said of Chuck Hagel whose accusations against the Jews run the gamut from intimidation to “keeping Palestinians caged up like animals.” But he is kosher because he voted for American military aid to Israel. The rest is but commentary.
But of what use are American helicopter gunships that were given to Israel as a result of these votes if they cannot even be deployed because of the deligitimization that resulted from harmful words hurled by lawmakers? You can have the strongest army on earth. But if it can’t be used because a CNN camera is trained on it amid false accusations of atrocities over legitimate defense then that military force may as well not exist.
What I’m really saying is that PR is nearly the whole ball game and we Jews have lost the battle not just in modern times with Israel but throughout a long and tragic history. A nation charged with being a light unto the nations has singularly failed to communicate the humanity of its character, the generosity of its lifestyle, and the holiness of its ways.
In mid-century America evangelical Christianity was seen as extreme, fundamentalist, unsophisticated, and backward. Evangelicals believed in a faith-filled revival but the results were dismal. Then, a great charismatic spokesman arose in the son of a dairy farmer named Billy Graham. The focus on communication, messaging, and mass-market public relations turned the tide. Today, an astonishing one out of every five Americans calls themselves a born-again Christian.
Charismatic spokesmen likewise turned the tide of the civil rights movement. In 1955 black men and women were required to move to the back of the bus in many cities of the South, including Birmingham, Alabama. A black child kicking a soccer ball in the oppressive summer heat of Selma could not drink water from a white fountain. Rising to the occasion to protest this humiliating injustice, Martin Luther King, Jr., all of 25 years old, found the words to combat the monstrous prejudice and convince the masses to march. His stirring words haunt us still today. “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair.”
But one searches in vein for the Jewish Billy Graham or the Jewish Martin Luther King. Where are the great spokesmen of our people to teach the world of Jewish charity, Jewish education, and Jewish values? Why are we not training a generation of media and press Ambassadors to expose and reverse the fraudulent accusations against Israel that are daily occurrences at the U.N., the BBC, and the Arab press?