Update, March 16, 2010: The meme continues. Here’s another piece (this one by Irwin J. Mansdorf) on engaging new forms of conversation between Israel and the world: The Hasbara challenge: We can’t counter Arab PR by telling people Israel invented cell phone
A new Israeli government effort to bring the average “Yossi Israeli” into the ongoing effort at getting Israel’s position across to average individuals and the media to combat negative perceptions, stereotypes, and anti-Israel sentiment is getting a significant amount of attention in the media, Jewish and otherwise.
The website Masbirim will attempt to begin training Israelis to speak on behalf of Israel when the opportunity arises. It also contains satirical videos poking fun at how poorly Israel is understood or known beyond stereotypes of violence and backwardness. As with much satire, the quality of the work has been widely debated, as well.Writing on the website of Foreign Policy magazine, Dmitry Reider described one video as “being met with ridicule” and that they “have a lot more to say about Israel’s insecurities – e.g., its small size – than the world’s concerns.”
Others have called the entire effort puerile, but some have called it worthwhile, while noting that this is not the first time such a concept has been tried. David Brinn, writing in the Jerusalem Post, said, “The concept of Masbirim is to be applauded for adapting the idea first conceived almost a decade ago that for hasbara to succeed, it must look beyond the conflict with the Palestinians.” He was referring to the organization and accompanying website and media service, Israel 21C.
Shalom Hartman Institute President Donniel Hartman takes a different approach completely in his latest column on the Institute website. The article, which is drawing unusually thoughtful commentary from readers, praises ongoing efforts as necessary, but says their appeal and likelihood of success is limited because of the nature of the complexity of the issue:
However important and valuable these efforts are, they often fail to achieve their end. When the case for Israel is grounded only on a factual narrative it is often unconvincing to those who hold a counter factual perception. In general, positions are rarely formed purely around facts, but rather by ideological, moral, and psychological propensities which then construct factual narratives to reinforce the preexisting commitment.
Donniel suggests that it is time to recognize that the Jewish community needs a completely new narrative on which to base its relationship with Israel and to focus on that community first:
The Jewish community is not in need of an Israel advocacy campaign of facts and figures alone, but also of a new Jewish narrative based on Jewish ideas and values for engaging Israel in a way that will help integrate Israel into a modern Jewish identity. Jews today need to be able to address crucial questions for which they currently do not know the answer. For example: What is the role of “peoplehood” in modern Jewish identity? What is the meaning and purpose of Jewish sovereignty connected to territory rooted in the land of Israel to modern Jewish life? What are the requirements of morality of war, and how can Israel use its power in a way that is consistent with the highest standards of Jewish morality and values? How does Israel balance its legitimate right of self defense with the rights of others? Can a Jewish state be reconciled with the values of Jewish pluralism and freedom? Does the aspiration for a Jewish state automatically define Israel as a racist, apartheid state?
Rest assured that this column by Donniel was not a one-time reference to the subject. He and others at the Shalom Hartman Institute are going to be delving deeper and deeper into this issue in coming months. To stay apprised of developments in this project, send us an email.