Supporters of the State of Israel often feel angry and frustrated when they read incorrect and misleading articles on the Israeli elections, the Arab-Israel conflict and other related topics, but then they think, “What can I do about it?” and move on. With that sobering outlook in mind, the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is working to help pro-Israel advocates develop and expand their skill set to effectively respond to biased or hostile media.
It brought David Olesker, founder and director of JCCAT: Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training, to Pittsburgh on April 22 to conduct a workshop on effective Israel advocacy.
Gregg Roman, the CRC’s director, explains that “considering the circumstances locally since last September, it’s important for us to give our community members the skills they can use to confront the challenges associated with defending and promoting Israel.”
An animated Olesker focused on a few key concepts, including the need for advocates to keep subject matter relevant and personal. He gave several examples, including the tale of a long flight where he was seated next to a “wine bore.” This person spent the entire time talking about wine. Olesker mentioned to him that Israel has superlative vineyards that have won gold medals all over the world. Many of these wines, he pointed out, are grown in the Golan Heights.
When the man questioned if the area was part of land destined for Syria as part of future negotiations, Olesker confirmed it was, and the wine buff said, “That’s outrageous. Israel should keep it.”
In the Israel advocacy community, people typically recite numbers and facts, but audiences usually find stories more gripping and memorable. Describing reservists being called up to guard a checkpoint in Israel’s north as “fat, old, Jews wearing military uniforms who stopped 14 suicide bombers” catches people’s attention, Olesker advised. Use a story to bring in a statistic.
Olesker suggested that advocates “look for ways in which your needs and the media’s needs coincide.” He pointed out that media is always looking for something new, exciting and visually appealing. “Holding an event outdoors with a choir of 12-year-olds dressed in blue and white will bring out the 6:00 team,” he said. “There are freebie papers that are looking for copy. Supply it.”
Talk radio is another important media outlet, Olesker said, because it “reaches outside the bubble” of people just talking to other people who already agree with them. Similarly, social media is another way to get the message out to people, and it has a “low barrier to entry.” On Facebook, “friend” people outside your circle and post your pro-Israel messages, Olesker said.
During the question-and-answer session, a number of thorny issues came up. One audience member asked about anti-Israel Jews and the public statements they make. Olesker called such behavior as providing “false credentials.” Just because a person is Jewish doesn’t mean he is an expert, explained Olesker, suggesting “focusing on the message, not the messenger.”
Another questioner asked about refuting false statements in the press. Olesker answered, “Don’t try and refute every point. Find one clear and easily grasped error or lie that can be demonstrably refuted.”
His final message was not to buy into the conceptual framework that “Israel is the problem.” Take ownership of the conceptual framework and set the agenda, he said. The pro-Israel community has the moral high ground.
Simone Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.