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Jewish Journal

Why Israel must kvetch

by David Suissa

March 13, 2008 | 6:00 pm

If there's one question I've heard a thousand times from Jews all over, it is this: Why is Israel so bad at PR? I know that when Jews ask me that question, they're also saying, "Suissa, you're in the business, can't you do something?"

Jewish emotion never ceases to move me. I look at the pain in people's eyes when they see how the world hates us even after thousands of bombs land on our cities; I see our collective grief when Jews are murdered; I read the passionate e-mails exhorting us to stand up to our enemies, or those encouraging us to make peace with our enemies, and it's clear that Jews are anything but indifferent.

One thing Jews are always peeved about is Israeli PR. We want to know why the world continues to hate us, why we can't seem to get any credit for the good that we do, and why our image seems to get worse every year.

Well, if you're expecting some good news, stop reading now.

After many years of being immersed in the Israeli PR battle, I've concluded that we're not likely ever to win it, and no, it's not because of anti-Semitism.

It's because of something in our genes.

This was brought home to me during Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to the Middle East. Here's a quote from a New York Times' editorial on the result of her visit: "Her only accomplishment was persuading Mr. Abbas to resume peace talks with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert."

Think about that. Israel suffers through thousands of bombs launched indiscriminately on its sovereign land from a territory it relinquished to its enemy, then finally decides it has had enough and enters that territory to try to stop the bombing, and while the bombs keep falling on Israel, who decides to throw a hissy fit and stop the "peace process"? It's our "peace partner," Mahmoud Abbas, who calls our efforts at self-defense "worse than a Holocaust" and compels Rice to visit him with hat in hand and plead with him to return to the peace table.

That, my friends, is brilliant PR.

It's also the kind of PR we never do. Why? Because the Jewish way is not to throw hissy fits but to look responsible. It's in our genes; the gene of the stoic Israeli who can get things done without complaining.

Don't get me wrong. Taking responsibility is a great thing. It helps you build countries. It's just that in the snake pit of Middle East PR, it's the kiss of death.

Arabs understand this, Jews don't. Jews are task-oriented, not PR oriented.

It might be insane for any nation to tolerate thousands of bombs raining on its civilians, but to get so upset as to walk away from a peace table? That's too irresponsible.

The Arabs have always known that the way to get the world's sympathy is to studiously avoid responsibility -- and constantly kvetch. How often have we seen Arab negotiators come out of peace meetings with a glum and pessimistic look on their faces, while our Israeli negotiators, with their steely resolve, report that they are committed and determined to keep pushing for peace?

Listen to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after his country suffered through months of bombings, including the recent brutal murder of Jewish students in Jerusalem: "Despite terrorism and despite the pain, we are not relinquishing the monumental task of making another dramatic step that can bring us closer to building the foundations for true peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

Those are the words of a taskmaster, not a PR meister.

What creates good PR is pessimism, not optimism; being offended, not accommodating. Smart PR is geared to the people who spend nanoseconds thinking about your cause, which is about 99 percent of the planet. Those people don't look at your body of facts; they look at your body language.

When your body language shows no emotion, when you don't even react to being stabbed in the back, you look guilty. In the Middle East, the way to fight the PR battle is not to stay calm, but to show more outrage than your enemy.

If defending Israel's image was a priority for Olmert, he would regularly criticize the behavior of his "peace partner" Abbas, who continues to preside over the indoctrination of hate in Palestinian society, and who, while pretending to be a peacemaker, praises terrorists and reiterates his refusal to recognize Israel when speaking to the Arab press.

But unlike Abbas, Olmert doesn't kvetch about his adversaries. In fact, our formidable Mount Rushmore of stone-faced leaders -- Olmert, Peres, Barak and Livni �"will kvetch a lot less about the murder of Jews than the Palestinians will wail about Israeli housing permits in Gush Etzion. That's why they cream us in PR. They're always wailing.

Sometimes I fantasize about being Israeli prime minister for a day, just so I could hold a press conference and say stuff like this to the world: "How would your country feel if two of your cities had been terrorized by 7,000 bombs since September 2001? Would you preach restraint? As the leader of a sovereign country, my first responsibility is to protect the safety of my people. I report to them. Until our peace partner Mr. Abbas starts to teach the language of peace to his people and shows that he's dead serious about fighting terrorism, we are very pessimistic about any peace process."

Irresponsible? Maybe, but don't be so sure.

Let's face it: No matter how responsibly Israel acts, Palestinians are always kvetching. And the more they kvetch, the less they feel like doing or building anything. Maybe Israel should give the Palestinians a taste of their own medicine and force them to grow up. And if they choose to remain history's biggest crybabies, at least they'll have a harder time blaming us for their misery.

If you ask me, it's the responsible thing to do.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

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