‘We still seem to be reactive, not proactive’
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Neil Lazarus, a Middle East policy expert who runs a website focusing on effective Israel advocacy, will offer an Israel advocacy training program on Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains.
Lazarus plans to share insights from his book, The 5 Rules of Effective Israel Advocacy. Originally published in 2008, it was released in paperback earlier this year.
The talk is sponsored by the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations and the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central New Jersey in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, Jewish Federation of Northern NJ, and Jewish Federation of Somerset Hunterdon and Warren Counties.
In advance of his local appearance, Lazarus spoke with NJJN via e-mail.
NJJN: Do you think the public relations around the release of Gilad Shalit should have been handled differently? What would you have done if you were in charge of publicity?
Neil Lazarus: No; Gilad’s family acted in a sophisticated manner to put pressure on the government.
NJJN: Where do you see the biggest challenges in terms of advocacy for Israel?
Lazarus: However good the spin, we also need good policy. It is not clear there has been strategic thought put to a comprehensive campaign with a clear message. We still seem to be reactive, not proactive. Israel’s PR has improved, though. There are some great speakers. Israel also increasingly uses social media as a tool for advocacy. Israel has increasingly sought to prevent situations occurring, e.g., allowing the Greeks to deal with ships coming to Gaza before they arrive.
It is important to remember that it is not just Israel’s PR, it’s that of the Jewish people.
NJJN: Why does Israel always have such a difficult time with its PR?
Lazarus: There are a number of reasons. I discuss this in my book, The 5 Rules of Israel Advocacy. [Having a] post-Holocaust mentality means Israelis are reluctant to portray themselves as victims. If you want tourists to come to Israel, you cannot talk about the dangers in Israel. Budget restrictions are a huge problem…. You have whole governmental departments fighting with each other.
NJJN: One of your “rules” of effective advocacy is to speak the language of the audience — but often that can be unpredictable. Isn’t speaking to a random person at a cocktail party, fraternity or sorority gathering, or high school event a trickier proposition than, say, speaking to a federation group?
Lazarus: You don’t need advocacy skills if you build good relations. We should be building bridges before talking to them. To convince somebody you need to show a contradiction between their belief system and their values. So: “Sally, I’m surprised you support Hamas. Do you know what their record is on the woman’s agenda?”
NJJN: What can people do in their daily lives to advocate on behalf of Israel?
Lazarus: Post on Facebook facts about Israel, be informed, come to Israel, and, most important, send their children to visit.