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Throwing money at PR

March 24, 2014
Bridge of Strings, Jerusalem, copyright Rudy Stoler

Bridge of Strings, Jerusalem, copyright Rudy Stoler

Trying to get back into the swing of blogging and simultaneously cleaning off my desktop, I found Ronn Torossian’s Newsmax article, “Israel Welcomes Hollywood.” The Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality have approved funding for major Hollywood ventures to produces movies and an NBC television series in Israel.

Pretty cool, right? Israel getting onto millions of television and cineplex screens across the world, showing the beauty of Israeli culture to untold audiences. Well, that would be nice, but I doubt it will happen.

The problem is not getting Israel onto the international scene; it’s already there, perhaps too prominently! The problem is that when Israel appears on the international stage, it is usually shown as the evil oppressor fighting against the righteous Palestinian people. Or, Israeli culture appears as a contest between religious radicals and new-age secularists. Increased coverage will not change these trends.

Soviet Jewry activists had a similar problem: Soviet Jews were all over the international news scene, but not the circumstances of their oppression. In fact, the Soviet Union touted its Jewish scientists and celebrities and exposed visiting journalists and politicians to the potential for Jews to thrive in the post-national Communist society. Never mind the fact that such Jews could not practice their religion, speak Hebrew, or even engage in free cultural rituals. This changed over the course of the Soviet Jewry movement, with activists assuming responsibility for briefing and debriefing visitors to the Soviet Union. They provided literature, both scholarly and popular, on the plight of the Jews and helped willing visitors expand their itineraries (even giving them tips on how to shake their Soviet handlers) so that they could experience more of the Soviet Jewish experience.

Israel and the Jerusalem municipality should intensively brief every production crew that expresses interest in this grant money. They should arrange for them to take wide tours of Israel at various points in the proposal and production process. Not just tours run by the Israeli government; the crews should take tours with various organizations so that they can access all parts of Israeli and Palestinian society. The crews need to learn – before they even complete their proposals – that Israel offers an colorful cultural palette, encompassing both beauty and conflict.

Some crews will refuse to accept any informational requirements placed by the Israeli government. Israel doesn’t need to sponsor those crews. They will not portray Israel honestly anyway. But the crews who do accept will undoubtedly help shift audiences’ dialogues about Israel.

Educate, educate, educate.

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