Israel's investment in public diplomacy seems to be paying off, with more sympathetic media coverage in the U.S., including the correction of pro-Palestinian bias in a TV news report on camera • Israeli-American Council leads the war on Israel boycotts.
"Jews fleeing violence in France find it in Israel," the front page of USA Today proclaimed this week. It's not every day that Israel is graced with an article documenting the story of the Israeli victim. Generally the media, especially in Europe, is busy admiring the attacker. It's rare that the victim is given a face. And from this particular article it could be understood that the victims weren't only citizens of Israel, but rather all Jews.
"The killing of four Jewish shoppers at a kosher market in January prompted thousands of French Jews to seek safety in Israel," the USA Today article said. "Many of those emigrants and other French Jews who came earlier find themselves targeted once again [by the recent spate of stabbing terrorist attacks]."
Despite the attacks, French Jews said they have no regrets about moving to Israel, where they feel more protected.
"It's not like in Paris, which I don't recognize anymore," said Sandrine Cohen, who moved to Israel last year. "Here, though, we feel free."
Lisa Rahmani, a Jewish attorney who moved to Israel from France five years ago, told the U.S. newspaper that "in France, it feels very different because you are threatened as a minority and not protected by the government, but I guess in Israel, we are ready to accept the violence."
The article expressed the atmosphere in Washington this week. We were pleased to find out that not everyone is against us. Far from it. When we visited the Senate as part of a conference sponsored by the Israeli-American Council, and particularly in the street, people were appalled by the wave of terrorism that is once again rolling over Israeli citizens.
It's hard to say this was a week free from dramatic stories, both in the U.S. and throughout the world: U.S. President Barack Obama was forced to back down from his decision to bring all U.S. troops in Afghanistan home to avoid fielding criticism like that he sustained after the too-hasty withdrawal from Iraq, which threw the country off-kilter for years.
Notice should also be taken of the election in Canada, which is so important to the U.S., which was won by the young Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau (the son of Pierre Trudeau, Canada's prime minister from 1969-1984). Trudeau Jr., dubbed "handsome," beat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a great friend to Israel.
This was also the week in which Syrian President Bashar Assad made a quick trip to Moscow, under a cloak of secrecy, to meet with his savior, Russian President Vladimir Putin. And as usual, the world was busy with the threat of the Islamic State group, the refugee crisis, Iran's activity in Syria, and the civil war in that country that continues apace. Possibly because of all that, Israel wasn't massively interesting to the media. But when anything about Israel did run, it ran prominently.
Meanwhile, in America, the media was explosive when it came to the 2016 presidential election, which is heading into full swing. The Republicans revealed that their two leading candidates were billionaire Donald Trump and neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Who would have expected that a few months ago?
Last Monday, Fox News dropped a bomb, which two days later proved to be incorrect, when it announced that Vice President Joe Biden intended to run in the Democratic presidential primaries, which would mean that Hillary Clinton was no longer the sole candidate. The polls showed that if Biden were to run, it would be against the wishes of most Democrats. They are afraid of a power struggle in their own ranks, something they prefer to watch happen to the Republicans.
Obviously, there is an Israeli angle to the story of Biden's possible candidacy. In the large hall at the Washington Hilton, conference participants showed great excitement at the possibility that the vice president might run. Their thinking was simple: If Clinton runs, Obama will take a tough stance on Israel to torpedo her chances of winning the Jewish vote and the votes of supporters of Israel. But if Biden were to run, Obama would certainly help his vice president and friend and show a warmer policy until the end of his time in office. It's all a question of accounts and angles these days.
But of course the election story isn't just about Israel. There are lots of other issues. Strangely, Democratic voters are less enthused than Republicans. One poll conducted this week by the MSNBC cable channel showed that 68% of registered Republican voters were excited about voting in the November 2016 election, compared to only 58% of Democratic voters said the same. This is precisely why Hillary Clinton, in Alabama this week, urged African-Americans to vote. During her visit, she worked hard on her southern accent.
In Israel, much criticism has been voiced over the U.S. administration's very unfriendly approach as well as concern that America is intentionally distancing itself from the Middle East. The cover of the monthly journal Foreign Affairs describes the "post-American Middle East."
The IAC conference provided an excellent opportunity to see how three U.S. congressional representatives who deal with foreign relations -- two Democrats, Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Republican Ed Royce (R-Calif.) -- demonstrated great solidarity not only with Israel, which is beset by terrorism, but also on the Iranian nuclear issue.
I joined a group of Israeli-Americans who were attending the conference and also visited Congress. There, we met with Sherman, an active member of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade -- which means he's a very busy man. As he escorted his guests, I couldn't help but remember the last time I had visited, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his speech in March.
"He's a very popular speaker," Sherman admits. Nevertheless, at least 50 Democrats boycotted the speech because of pressure from the administration. Sherman wasn't among them. The Jewish-American politician was present and voted against the Iranian deal. He did so very quickly to avoid pressure from the White House. When Sherman was asked about the deal, he employed an analogy from the movies -- specifically from a classic western, saying the deal had its good points and its bad points for the first year, and then "gets ugly."
If he had voted in favor of the deal, Sherman would probably have heard strong criticism in his synagogue. This week in Washington the opposition to the Iranian agreement was palpable, just as it is in Israel.
I was sitting in the lobby next to Ehud Danoch, who was Israel's consul in Los Angeles from 2004-2007. Danoch is the founder of the Israeli American Council. He foresaw the immense potential in drawing on Israeli strength in the U.S. for the good of Israel. Shoham Nicolet, general director of the organization, and Danny Alpert worked with him. Together with a few more Israelis, they became a group that could not be ignored, as it was spearheading the war on the anti-Israel boycott movement. Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson became the organization's biggest donors after helping open branches of the IAC in Boston, Florida, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York. The excitement at the conference, which featured some 1,300 participants, was intense. There was a large turnout for the various panels devoted to political, cultural and economic issues.
There is no doubt that the standing of Israelis in America has changed in recent years. Today, the Jews who live in the U.S. are light years from the term "a bunch of cowards," which they were "awarded" by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. When it comes to Israel, they've remained Israelis in every way.
One of the IAC leaders told me it had always been obvious that the Jews were a strategic weapon for Israel in America, and that their importance had only increased thanks to the decision by a group of Israelis in America who had decided to organize.
"It was always obvious that the Jews are a strategic weapon here in America. [Their] importance has only increased thanks to the organization of Israelis in American who decided to take vigorous action," he said.
"We know that Israelis are paying a heavy price and their lives aren't easy, but we want them to know that we're always at their side."
IAC Chairman Sharon Ibn Haim found it difficult to hide his satisfaction at the success of the conference. He is convinced that next year there will be over 2,000 participants. Obviously, Ibn Haim would prefer to have received notification during the conference that the Iranian nuclear deal had been rejected, but as we know the opposite happened: The conference saw the agreement take effect. How symbolic. The conference panels that were discussing the Islamic State were of particular interest to the participants, since the murderous organization is disturbing to the entire world. The administration's failure to do enough has also been voiced throughout the world.
There are two sides to every coin. Alongside the support, there are also distortions of the situation in Israel. MSNBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin reported on the attempted terrorist stabbing at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem and said that the terrorist had not even been holding a knife. But the studio corrected Mohyeldin in real time and also apologized for displaying inaccurate maps of Israel. There is no doubt that Israel's decision not to stay quiet and to invest in public diplomacy has proved itself.
On Wednesday, reports leaked the meeting between Putin and Assad in Moscow. Maybe Assad is feeling confident enough to leave Damascus, something he hasn't done since the civil war in his country broke out.
From Assad's perspective, the visit to Russia was an opportunity to thank Putin personally for the aid to his nation, and more to the point, to his regime. Meanwhile, reports from Syria said that at least three Syrian soldiers had been killed on the ground this week.
We should remember that for us in Israel, the new wave of terrorism is the big story, and rightly so. However, the world is much busier with Syria, which has turned into an international campaign that could potentially deteriorate even further.
But the U.S. isn't the only place where people are working to help Israel in its PR battle. In France, the writer and intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy published a magazine article in which he declared that "it is incorrect to compare the kamikazes to their victims and believe that this latest outbreak of violence is spontaneous."
Levy also argued that he did not believe in the idea of "lone operatives." Tomorrow, he said, there could be dozens and then hundreds of "murderers of Jews" who would garner lots of followers and "likes" online, so he is not willing to hear any more claims that the attackers are lone wolves, as he put it. The prominent philosopher is also unwilling to hear any more about these young people being "beyond control and supervision." He had harsh words for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who only a few weeks ago called the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their children "heroic," and later condemned the sight of Jews "sullying" the Temple Mount compound with their "filthy" feet, and even characterized every drop of blood of every shahid who sacrificed his life for Jerusalem "sacred."
Levy takes a strong stance against the connection that is often made between social and political desperation and the act of choosing terrorism, which provides an excuse that excuses the terrorist attacks. He also links the terrorism in Kashmir this week with the terrorism in Syria and Iraq.
"It's just another platform for jihadist terrorism to operate on," he declared. "It is unacceptable that most media outlets in the world don't give any great importance to the pain of bereaved Israeli families, the way they do to the Palestinian families."
Levy ends his article with these words: "What is also unacceptable is the little myth that is starting to be woven around the routine [terrorist] stabbings: Just because the attacker is poor and oppressed, does he have to use the only murder weapon at hand because he has no other? When I see the blade of the knife I recall the execution of [Jewish American journalist] Daniel Pearl [by al-Qaida]. I think about how the heads of French captive Herve Gourdel, James Foley and David Haines were cut off [by Islamic State]. The ISIS [Islamic State] clips were a classroom -- we are dealing with a wave of barbarism that should be unequivocally condemned since it exports its methods to every place in the world."
So it's clear that Israel's public diplomacy got a boost this week in Washington, Paris, and everywhere Israel has friends.