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I lived in Israel for nearly two years after graduating from college. Along with two friends, I formed an organization called Yerushalayim Shelanu (Our Jerusalem). My two cofounders are today among the youngest members of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) and rapidly rising political stars: Danny Danon (current deputy speaker of the Knesset) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima Member of Knesset). In 1997, one of the first activities we undertook was participating in an action where Jews moved into a home that had been purchased legally in an area of eastern Jerusalem.
The neighborhood’s construction provoked an international storm in September 1997 and the U.S. pressured Israel not to go ahead with the plan. The pressure was rebuffed by then (and current) prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and backed by then Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. I conducted hundreds of worldwide media interviews at the homes of the new Jewish residents of the area. All of them were done as I held an Israeli flag, with the Temple Mount (where the recognizable Dome of the Rock is located) in the background. That way, no matter how reporters editorialized about this “disputed” area of Jerusalem, viewers could see just how close this territory was to the Jerusalem they recognized. No matter what the reporters said, the pictures didn’t lie. As of 2011, more than 70 Jewish families live there and conditions on the ground in that area of Jerusalem have changed, with Israeli schools, bus service to the Western Wall, and other benefits making the area connected to western Jerusalem.
This effort, while effective, was a drop in the bucket. Israel is a young country and it often learns things painfully. A justified cause is not enough to be right these days, either in politics or in business. Anyway, being right does not help you frame the debate nor does it keep you from being constantly on the defense. It’s not enough to simply convey a message—you need people to listen. Preparation for war includes a PR battle plan because PR is a crucial element of any war today.
Having worked with and for the Likud Party, the mayors of Jerusalem and of Tel Aviv, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel Ministry of Tourism, and a slew of other Israeli government officials and offices for many years, I know that Israel has so much rich history and many incredible attractions, from the Bible to its beaches. It needs to put them to use actively and to employ a comprehensive, systematic “PR machine” that generates regular positive content.
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