To David Olesker, who has dedicated much of his life to training advocates to defend Israel, “the objective of advocacy is to win. The objective of advocacy is to beat the other guy. The objective of advocacy is to persuade people that you are right and the other guy is wrong.”
“If you would like to fight for Israel in the arena of public opinion,” he told Jewish leaders at an April 6 training session on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, “you will need not only facts, but the skills to present Israel’s case in an impactful and persuasive way.”
Olesker, the founder and director of the Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training, addressed 30 supporters of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, including leaders of its Women’s Philanthropy board, executive committee, and the Israel & Overseas Committee of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest NJ
The CRC arranged the training program as part of its community-wide campaign to provide Jewish community leaders with effective strategies “to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy,” said Melanie Gorelick, the CRC's associate director. Olesker trained more than 30 CRC members on April 5.
Olesker also met with high school students at the Golda Och Academy, and conducted a workshop at Rutgers Hillel that was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee.
A native of England who has lived in Israel for 29 years, Olesker advised defenders of Israel to focus their energies on “the salvageables” who have yet to form solid opinions, rather than “the saints who agree with us” or “the sinners who are never going to agree with us.”
“The truth is,” he said, “the salvageables are tough to deal with because they don’t come to you. They don’t wake up in the middle of the night and say, ‘I just had a question about Israel. I must quickly find a Jew and get an answer.’ They are not that concerned.”
So, although he called it “totally counter-intuitive for Jews,” Olesker urged his audience to take the initiative in defending Israel. “The real advocate doesn’t wait to be asked. The real advocate initiates. If you initiate, the other guys have to answer you, and that puts you in a more advantageous position,” he said.
He suggested one opportune time to engage others is after returning from a trip to Israel. “You initiate. You talk to people about what you saw. It is socially acceptable. Personal experiences are very powerful and illustrative of the larger truth about what is going on in the Middle East.”
Olesker charged that some of Israel’s harshest critics are “self-hating Jews…. They believe they are saving Israel from itself. That is increasingly becoming a problem today. They blur the line between legitimate criticism and delegitimization.”
Further complicating the problem are “people who are pro-Israel and have bought into the ‘Israel is the problem’ framework and see it as a problem. It is a very interesting mindset,” he said.
In countering such an attitude, he said, “one of the arguments I make is ‘OK — you want to abandon millions of people in the Middle East to oppression and despotism? Do you worry that a Palestinian Arab has to stand in the hot sun at a checkpoint — a demeaning experience — so that a soldier can see that he is not a suicide bomber? Obviously it is a very unpleasant experience.
“But can’t you see what is going on in the rest of the Middle East,” Olesker said he challenges a critic, “where women are being stoned because they were raped? Where homosexuals are being strung up, literally? And where political dissent is a capital crime? None of that matters because all you can see is that dusty roadblock where someone is getting too much sun and not enough water.”
In an interview with NJ Jewish News prior to his hour-long talk, Olesker said he advises advocates to counteract “a false conceptual framework where Israel is the issue” with a set of rhetorical questions:
“If the problem is that Israel has been in control of disputed territories since 1967, what about everything else? Palestinian Arabs bear no responsibility for this conflict? The Arab states bear no responsibility for this conflict? State-sponsored anti-Semitism in much of the Muslim world is irrelevant to for this conflict?”
Yet, he told NJJN, “I am definitely not saying anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. Natan Sharansky came up with a definition. If you engage in double standards, delegitimization, and demonization of Israel, it is anti-Semitism; otherwise, it is a critique.”
[This story has been updated to more fully reflect the participation of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest NJ in arranging the training program.]