When pollster, communication expert, and Israel advocate Frank Luntz spoke at the Middle East Institute, he did not mince words. He told those gathered at the JCRC event at Cong. Beth El that when he goes to Israel, he always visits the Western Wall because he is so afraid that it won’t be there in the future.
“Israel was not there for 1,900 years. We said, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem!’ and we could not go,” said Luntz. He said that he is fearful that unless the tide is turned, Israel might not continue to exist.
The tide that Luntz spoke about is the alarming downturn in support for Israel. He said that just 28% of college students believe the US should side with Israel in the current conflict. “Never in history has Israel had such little support among American college students,” he said.
Luntz said that Israel’s defenders cannot communicate the way they have been, because it is not working. “We’re not losing the debate. We’ve lost the debate,” he said.
Luntz, who took many questions from the audience during his talk as well as guiding local high school and college students in attendance on using words that work, said that the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views today are coming more from the political left and from women. “Left-leaning women are the ones we need to reach.”
The key, according to Luntz, is that when people advocate for Israel, they should be sympathetic and empathetic to the situation of the Palestinians. He said that people should talk about wanting “justice for the Palestinians.” He said to focus on “human rights, democracy, and promoting justice.”
“Israel protects human rights,” said Luntz, who noted that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where everyone’s religious and human rights are protected.
Luntz showed a series of slides with 21 key phrases Israel advocates should use. Among them were “Everyone deserves;” “Social justice;” “Mutual respect;” and “End the attacks.” He said that the best words to use in countering the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement were “cooperation, conversation, discussion and dialogue.”
One of the issues that frequently comes up, according to Luntz, is the settlements. He said that the response should be that terrorism existed before there were any settlements on the West Bank. “On the day Israel was founded, 21 Arab states invaded.” He also said that the Palestinians receive enormous amounts of international aid that could build schools and make Palestinian lives better, but the money is being taken by corrupt Palestinian government and Hamas officials to enrich themselves.
In addition to the keynote talk by Luntz, the 47th Annual Middle East Institute featured the presentation of the JCRC’s Israel Advocacy Award to Betsy and Peter Fischer. The award was presented by Bob Benedon, last year’s recipient. He spoke about the Fischers’ love of Israel and how they respond each time Israel faces a crisis. In accepting the award, Peter Fischer said that he learned about taking care of Jews around the world at a young age. “Our ancient and current homeland is fundamental to the Jewish people. It is our honor and obligation to make sure Israel survives.” He added, “We can’t go through again what it would be like to not have Israel.”
Attendees also heard from Israeli Consul General to the Mid-Atlantic States Yaron Sideman. He said that the true danger Israel faces is not from those who criticize Israel, “but from those who are indifferent and detached, including those within the Jewish community.”