April 24, 2012

Piling on 60 Minutes beats Yom Ha'atzmaut

Here's a sad consideration on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day: Hasbara (Israel advocacy) is beginning to contradict the business plan for American Jewry and for Aliyah (immigration to Israel). American Jewry's calculated over-reaction to last Sunday's "60 Minutes" story -- following on Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's own MIS-calculated over-reaction -- is just the latest example. (I posted the interview clip yesterday, along with my own readout).

About "60 Minutes": The security barrier that now runs along the West Bank may be both effective and justified, and relatively benign for the barbarous Middle East, but its negative impact on Palestinian daily life is unmistakable. The demographic shifts among Christian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem are complex and yet equally unmistakable.

My guess is, had Ambassador Oren known that reporter Bob Simon was going to catch him out, he might have prepared more carefully for the "60 Minutes" interview. But it was just one network show, airing the same night HBO was premiering "Veep" and AMC unleashed yet another gripping episode of "Mad Men". In other words, it's a garden-variety negative story about Israel that can be pushed down the Google ladder by a whole slew of good news, and also by whatever other bad news inevitably comes our way.

This week offered a welcome opportunity to boost Israel. And yet, rather than focusing on the infinite range of positive Israel stories, American Jewish organizations have responded by doubling down on Ambassador Oren's stumbling block. 

Rather than trying to inspire confidence and move beyond the latest inevitable "bad" press, our Jewish establishment has chosen to inspire fear and resentment -- calling for a full frontal assault on CBS News. The premise seems to be that 60 Minutes needs to be censured, so that the next time Ambassador Oren won't even have to call CBS management -- they'll already be so scared, as will other media outlets -- that they won't dare to broadcast such an unfair story.

There are at least three problems with this approach. First, it won't work. Second, it will backfire by drawing further attention to the premise of the story -- that the Jewish State is causing the decline of Christians in the birthplace of Christianity. Third, galvanizing American Jewry behind such a cause will reinforce the siege mentality in our community, and bolster those who maintain that Israel's biggest problem is bad press. 

And here's a bonus question: Is anti-media frenzy all just to defend beleaguered Israel from unfair attack, or is it also a way to fill an otherwise boring public agenda? 

Telling young Jews that "60 Minutes" is the enemy seems like a bad way to encourage them to move to Israel.  If the goal of the Aliyah movement is to bring in new Israelis who otherwise aren't considering Aliyah -- who aren't already committed Zionists -- it might help to actually improve political conditions on the ground and demonstrate there's transparency and openness to criticism here in the States -- both fair and otherwise. 

But blaming CBS News? As we say on Twitter, #goodluckwiththat.

April 23, 2012

60 Minutes slaps Israel's ambassador? Not news to me.

In case you missed the original broadcast (I certainly did), here is the link to the 60 Minutes feature on the challenges facing Christians in the West Bank.

Yes, the security barrier along the West Bank, however justified (60 Minutes says it's reduced terrorist attacks by 90 percent), does not help the image of the State of Israel. Yes, the Ambassador of Israel probably over-reacted to the story by complaining preemptively to CBS management. Yes, Ambassador Oren was ambushed/manipulated by Bob Simon, since he obviously didn't expect that his phone call would become a subject of the interview.

Yes, Israeli policies are contributing and possibly primarily responsible for the climate in which the Palestinian Christian population is declining in the West Bank. And yes, the Ambassador has a fair point, that focusing on the relatively benign plight of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank now -- at the very moment when other Christians are being violently and systematically persecuted (i.e, killed) in across the Middle East -- carries with it a certain absurdity. And no, there was seemingly no effort by 60 Minutes to track down some of the emigre Christians to find out directly why they left and to which destinations.

And yes, Bob Simon obviously enjoys his job (and displaying the label on his Hermes tie).