Advocacy event offers strategies for managing Mideast’s ‘bad news’
The economic and technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear program were analyzed by panelists, from left, Dr. Gary Samore and Mark Dubowitz, with Arthur Dubroff serving as moderator.
Photos by Elaine Durbach
October 23, 2013
The United States has to keep up economic pressure on Iran and simultaneously exert its power in Syria, according to Middle East expert Andrew Tabler. The alternative, he warned an audience in Whippany on Oct. 20, would be “very, very bad news.”
“The White House might say that it has only so much capacity for dealing with threats in the Middle East and that they can deal with Iran or with Syria, but not both at the same time,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true, and it presents Israel and its advocates with an unfair dilemma; the threats from Iran and from Syrian are growing at the same time.”
Tabler, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, gave the keynote address at the third annual Step Up for Israel Advocacy Summit at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus.
About 100 people attended the program, which featured talks, panels, and workshops intended to help attendees become better advocates for Israel in the media and in dealing with politicians. The summit is a centerpiece of a grassroots education and advocacy initiative to “prepare the Greater MetroWest Jewish community to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy.”
“This year, with chaos in the Middle Eastern countries that border Israel and the concern about the intentions of the new Iranian president and new negotiations while Iran continues to enrich uranium, our members felt that these were two urgent issues for the community to focus on,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “We are also planning to roll out a branding Israel social media program, and were very fortunate to have the top experts on this to train us in how to move this forward.”
The event was sponsored by the CRC, NJ American Jewish Committee, and the Washington Institute, in partnership with local synagogues and other organizations.
Iran’s nuclear program was the topic of a panel discussion featuring Gary Samore, president of United Against Nuclear Iran and a former Obama White House coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Speaking as a tag team, the two dissected the Iranian government’s new “charm offensive” and its attempts to get sanctions lifted. Samore described the current situation as “the best chance in decades to negotiate a deal,” but said it was very unclear whether Iran would accept the limitations on its nuclear program demanded by the international community.
“It is absolutely critical that you keep up the great work,” Dubowitz said in regard to those engaged in “Stop Iran” advocacy efforts. “It is because of your efforts that these negotiations are happening now.”
Shifting to Israel, experts on marketing and diplomacy argued for a broad-based campaign by supporters to “accentuate the positives” about the country’s accomplishments. That panel featured Gerald Ostrov, founder of a “rebranding” effort called Rethink Israel; Itzik Yarkoni, the founder and executive director of BOMAH: The Brand of Milk & Honey: Connecting People to Israel; and Jeremy Geller, who serves as social media expert with the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
In order to counteract the usual emphasis on conflict in the region, they agreed, advocates should highlight Israel’s cultural and technical developments through social media and by presenting positive personal stories.
Alex Doctoroff, a Springfield resident who comes from Ukraine, was one of the few audience members to take exception to their approach. The most vocal and opinionated opponents to Israel, he said, are those who are concerned about its politics, not its culture. “We have to make it clear why we have a right to be there,” he said.
This approach was addressed at the summit’s final panel, which provided advocacy techniques and tools to counter attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, such as accusations that Israel is an apartheid state. “It is important to know the facts and how to effectively speak to your opponent,” said Sarit Catz, CRC Israel Advocacy chair. She also directed participants to a the CRC resource website, campaignfortruth.info.
Tabler, a former journalist who lived in Syria for eight years, urged the audience to “broaden the bandwidth” in regard to demanding both pressure on Iran and action in Syria.
Describing the Middle East “as the most masculine space on the planet,” Tabler suggested that the Obama administration has encouraged “our adversaries to test us” by not asserting itself on Syria and foreign policy.
By failing to support the moderate rebel forces early on in Syria, he said, the Obama administration allowed a situation to develop where more radical, anti-Israel groups have taken control of much of the country, but President Bashar Assad remains in power, becoming more draconian and more dependent on support from Iran. “That is very, very bad news, especially when dealing with the Iranian nuclear program,” Tabler said.
Russia, in contrast, has asserted its power far more effectively, he said, and thus has emerged as “the big winner.”
Tele-Town Hall on Mideast chaos
ANDREW TABLER, the keynote speaker at the Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit, will lead a Telephone Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 7:30-8:30 p.m.
The focus will be on the United States’ response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the surge of violence in Egypt, and the possible thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations — and how it all affects Israel and the global Jewish community.
Tabler, the author of In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria, has lived and worked extensively in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.
The call will be hosted by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and its UJA Campaign and moderated by campaign chair Leslie Dannin Rosenthal.
To be part of this interactive conversation, answer the phone when it rings at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28. For further information, call 973-929-3010.
Expert urges Israel supporters to help ‘change the story’
Special to NJ Jewish News
As the closing speaker at the Oct. 22 Step Up For Israel Advocacy Summit, Gil Troy outlined a unique strategy to defend Israel. He encouraged a shift in the focus from Israel as a region filled with conflict and international problems to a society with a diverse ethnic base and a flourishing democracy.
“The minute you use the word ‘advocacy,’ you’re already apologizing,” said Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and the author, most recently, of Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism. “You’re already justifying it. We have to change the story. We should celebrate the fact that Israel’s a Jewish state, not apologize for that.”
Firing off facts and attacking those who attack Israel is counter-productive, he said. Instead, he suggested boosting the emotional connections rather than lamenting the political pitfalls.
Troy also emphasized the necessity of viewing America on an equal plane when discussing Israel. “If we start with the notion that Israel doesn’t have a perfect democracy, and we start with the notion that America isn’t a perfect democracy…then we change the dynamic of the conversation,” he said.
John Rosen, director of NJ American Jewish Committee and a speaker on an earlier panel, echoed Troy’s message. “It’s all been very defensive, very geared toward the conflict and answering specifics,” he said. “We need to expand the conversation to the positives.”
Audience member Arnold Lidsky of Watchung reiterated the importance of being realistic not only about the good, but also about the shortcomings from both sides. “It’s an imperfect state and some people may be more extremist among the Israelis,” Lidsky said. “But, as a general rule, it’s a very frequent prayer for Jews to ask for peace and search for peace, and I think that point was dramatic.”