There is no disputing that at every level we are losing the global war of ideas. Despite clear evidence that fanatical Islamic fundamentalism threatens the basic fabric of Western civilization, Israel, and by extension the Jewish people, are now generally perceived as pariahs.
In contrast to the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel was universally acclaimed for having valiantly defended itself as a David vs Goliath against the combined might of Arab armies bent on her annihilation, today the image of the Jewish state has been reversed. Now it is the Palestinians who are the noble underdogs. Despite every conceivable effort to reach an accommodation, including disastrous unilateral withdrawals and spurned offers to retreat to the virtually indefensible 1967 borders, much of the world perceives us as conquerors who routinely kill innocent civilians and deny human rights to oppressed neighbors.
There are many objective elements contributing to our marginalization. But our utter incompetence in promoting our case has unquestionably been a major factor. The “People of the Book” seem to have forsaken the ability to harness the power of the word.
However, it is the increasing impact of the electronic media dispensing with objective truth and selectively concentrating on graphic images of “innocent” civilian casualties that has been the primary factor contributing to our demonization.
THE ADVENT of a global English-language version of the formidable Al Jazeera, Qatari-sponsored Arab TV cable satellite represents another major escalation in the war of ideas against us.
Al-Jazeera’s depiction of Israel in American and European homes will undoubtedly make the biased BBC and CNN pale by comparison. The fact that it already has access to 80 million Western households should put to rest any illusions that its impact will be confined. Those interested in Middle East affairs will gravitate to the new station, both out of curiosity and as a means of gaining a better insight into the Arab position.
Viewers will be impressed by the professionalism and complacent Western ambiance surrounding the programming. Many will also be charmed by the illusion of greater openness because Al Jazeera occasionally provides access to other viewpoints, including interviews with Israeli spokesmen like Shimon Peres. The regional bureau chief, Walid Omary, is an Israeli Arab graduate from the Hebrew University.
Al Jazeera has already successfully headhunted key Western TV journalists including Sir David Frost from the BBC and David Morash, a former senior ABC newsman, who is Jewish. Brushing aside suggestions that he was collaborating with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish forces, Morash insisted that “there is no contradiction between Judaism and Al Jazeera, which offers a window of opportunity for Israelis to speak to the Arab world.”
If the precedent of the Arabic version is followed, Al Jazeera will broadcast al-Qaida video footage and provide a platform for outspoken anti-Semites, who will promote crude anti-Jewish libels like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Holocaust denial, and enable “both sides” of the case for suicide bombings to be presented. This may be the first time that hate propaganda of this nature will be viewed in homes of ordinary people outside the Arab world.
The English version of Al Jazeera thus has the potential of evolving into one of the most effective weapons against the Jewish people, already reeling from the onslaught of massive waves of anti-Semitism. It may further marginalize Israel and create more animus against Diaspora Jews. It will undoubtedly promote the canard that extremism and terrorism would largely disappear if Israel no longer existed.
WHAT CAN WE DO? The answer is obvious. The creation of a global TV channel promoting a Jewish viewpoint must now assume the highest priority. The need for such a vehicle is not merely to provide a more balanced viewpoint on Israeli and Jewish issues. An equally important requirement is to ensure that Jewish youngsters are provided with an alternative to the anti-Israel offensives that now saturate European and Western media.
The concept of a global Jewish TV station is not new. A number of unsuccessful efforts by various individuals have failed because of the inability to raise the substantial funds required to provide the initial seed money. Now with the advent of Al Jazeera it is time to seriously revisit the creation of such a channel.
In these trying times for the Jewish people a shortage of funds must not represent an insurmountable barrier to such a vital project. There are now more Jewish billionaires and greater Jewish wealth than at any other time in our history. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on numerous Jewish agencies and bodies whose primary objective is to protect Jewish rights, promote the case for Israel, and combat anti-Semitism. Yet many of these organizations are ineffective, overlap and compete with one another rather than pooling their resources to overcome the common threat.
In addition to American organizations like the Anti Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which have huge budgets, there are smaller, parallel bodies in the UK and Europe. There are also the powerful American synagogue roof bodies with the capability of raising enormous funds simply by adding a modest surcharge on synagogue seats or membership that would in no way detract from their core activities.
And whereas the Jewish Agency’s budget for political and information activities has shrunk considerably, it too continues to invest substantial funds in promoting the case for Israel. It is certain that most individual donors to these organizations would welcome a portion of their contributions being employed in such a positive endeavor.
It is time for an international summit of major bodies engaged in pro-Israel and anti-defamation activities to review this crucial enterprise. They should explore the possibility of forming a board comprised of representatives of organizations willing to divert funds from their existing budgets in order to seed and maintain a genuine global Jewish TV channel. Of course, other Jewish resources and contributions from wealthy individual donors and foundations would also be tapped.
One can also assume that many committed Jewish professionals in the public relations, information, entertainment and advertising industries would be willing to participate.
The time for action is now. The organization taking the initiative to launch such a project would be making a historic contribution on behalf of the embattled Jewish people of the 21st century.