Monroe seniors pack house for talk on Israel advocacy
Joseph Spitz, the director of academic affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York, fielded questions and comments from audience members following his appearance in Monroe.
Photos by Debra Rubin
July 31, 2012
America’s pro-Israel community is losing the communications war by failing to convey the country’s multicultural reality and democratic ideals, an Israeli diplomat told area seniors.
“The ongoing focus on the conflict, politics, and policies by the media, as well as by our own community, has resulted in Israel being viewed largely through a skewed lens,” said Joseph Spitz, director of academic affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
Spitz spoke at a July 18 program at the Greenbriar at Whittingham adult community, drawing 230 people from the nine adult communities in Monroe.
His talk was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County’s Monroe Township Inter-Community Council.
“We ourselves are losing sight of what makes Israelis and Israeli society special,” said Spitz, who serves as liaison to nongovernment agencies and universities in the tristate area. “In narrowly focusing on the political, we are making Israel into an issue that divides rather than unites.”
By contrast, he said, those on the Palestinian side are able to portray their struggles sympathetically, and depict Israelis as lacking morality.
What people rarely hear, Spitz said, is about the Israelis’ “fairness and decency, indomitable spirit, creativity, morality, diversity of opinion.”
Indeed, he cited a 2010 survey by The Israel Project that found that 22 percent of Americans now list themselves as core supporters of Israel while eight percent are “unreachable” in their support of Palestinians. However, the vast majority, 70 percent, are apathetic and indifferent when it comes to Israel and its conflicts.
That middle majority should be targeted, said Spitz, so that they connect with Israel on an emotional level.
Moreover, the survey found that several groups are considered vulnerable to anti-Israel rhetoric: young people and college students, the political left, and, to a lesser extent, women and minorities.
“Beyond apathy those in the silent majority for the most part understand Israel in a context of war, government, and politics,” said Spitz. “It is not viewed as a real place, with real people, but in the abstract as a place of war and violence.”
In describing messages that work, Spitz suggested emphasizing that Israel affords equal rights to Christians, Jews, and Muslims; accepts immigrants from wartorn African countries as well as Ethiopian Jews; and nurtures doctors and scientists who are helping to solve crises around the world.
Other positive points to be focused on include Israel’s entrepreneurial climate, its arts and culture, its nightlife, and, on the flip side, the threats its people face from hostile neighbors and terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hizbullah.
Spitz, the son of a Conservative rabbi, acknowledged Israeli society has some flaws — including the fact that his own father, as a non-Orthodox rabbi, would be religiously marginalized. Nevertheless the country is always striving for improvement, as does any democracy.
“Israelis don’t always get it right,” he said, “but they struggle daily and debate endlessly among themselves to find solutions to their problems.”
Richard Diamond, president of the Inter-Community Council, said his group expected about 90 people to attend Spitz’s talk.
“Clearly there was a lot of interest about what goes on on campus, the Ethiopian situation, and other issues,” said Diamond. “The young man was wonderful and gave us some terrific ideas.”