If there is one thing that pro-Israel activists can learn from their adversaries, it is how to effectively convey their message and engage in outreach to other groups within American society. Unfortunately, as we speak, too often pro-Israel activists are too much on the defensive, not enough on the offensive, and fail to reach out to potential allies. They prefer to respond to the accusations made by the other side, rather than make claims of their own.
For example, when I worked as content manager for United With Israel, a hasbara organization with over two million followers on facebook, the organization decided to take a stance against the nomination of Chuck Hagel to the position of US Secretary of Defense. At that time, I proposed that the organization should try to reach out to feminists due to his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape, Democrats that opposed his nomination because he is a Republican, and gay rights activists who were disturbed that he opposed the appointment of an ambassador to Luxemberg merely because of his sexual orientation.
Naturally, pro-Israel activists had their own reasons for being opposed to his nomination. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defemation League stated, “Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel. His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former President Jimmy Carter.”
However, United With Israel decided not to reach out to disenchanted Democrats, gay rights activists, and enraged feminists, preferring instead to stick only to their own pro-Israel interests. Their behavior was systematic of failed Israeli hasbara tactics, which in the end resulted in Hagel’s nomination to be US Secretary of Defense. The pro-Israel interests were not sufficient to defeat Hagel’s nomination. For such a campaign to be successful, pro-Israel activists needed to reach out to the gay rights community, feminists, and the outraged Democrats.
Pro-Israel activists need to understand that they don’t have to have their interests always coincide with other interest groups in order to collaborate with them to achieve a common purpose. One can be a religious observant Orthodox Jew and have ones own opinion related to homosexuality, the Democratic Party, and abortion (even though most religious Jews would accept abortion in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is at stake).
Yet, one can still collaborate with people who value those interests in order to achieve a common goal. For sure, many of the Muslim anti-Israel groups that are reaching out to the homosexual and feminist community don’t agree with these interest groups on many fundamental issues. They understand that in the long run, overlooking those differences in order to obtain an ally is more important than any other consideration.
Another instance of our failed Hasbara approach is that all too often, our articles respond to allegations from the other side, rather than make accusations of our own. For example, when an Egyptian columnist recently stated that Israel should compensate the Egyptians for the jewels they stole from them during their exodus out of Egypt and for the Ten Plagues, I wrote an article attacking this Egyptian columnist’s statements in JerusalemOnline. I agree that it was important as a journalist to respond to his ridiculous assertions and expose them. Yet in retrospect, some Israeli columnist who speaks Arabic should have evaluated all of the articles written by Ahmad Al Gamal and written an article going on the offensive, with a headline to the effect stating, “Egyptian Columnist is an Anti-Semite.”