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Make Our Case

Binyamin Rose and Rachel Ginsberg

Violent demonstrations. Segregated buses. Nazi effigies. Degrading headlines. The chareidim definitely have an image problem. How to respond when asked how someone can call himself religious and spit on another person? How 21st century women can tolerate gender separation? Or how Nazi imagery can be invoked against other Jews? A panel of media experts gives advice for damage control and how to spin the news so that the religious/chareidi community doesn’t come out looking like a cadre of backward fana

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CASE ONE

Yair Lapid announces his candidacy for the Knesset in a new party, whose goal is to end the status quo, meaning buses can run on Shabbos, all places of business and entertainment can be open, no more restrictions on imports of nonkosher food, and the abolishment of the chief rabbinate’s control over marriage. In response, a few days later, the major cities are plastered with posters depicting Lapid in a Nazi uniform, with text saying “He’ll make this country Judenrein.” It’s the work of a fringe group of chareidim. How should the mainstream chareidim respond, if at all?

 

ISSAMAR GINZBERG: This reminds me of the tension between Neturei Karta, which is really a small fringe group, and Satmar, which has thousands of supporters. Neturei Karta goes out there with their campaign claiming they have 10,000 people behind them, when Satmar isn’t with them and doesn’t want to be dragged into it. A close Satmar friend of mine recently told me, “We suffer from Neturei Karta every single day. They claim to represent us, but we don’t go out and criticize them because that would be seen as supporting the medinah, which we don’t.”

So in our scenario, we chareidim have to respond, but in a very careful way. We have to be clear and state: “It’s true that Holocaust imagery is abhorrent to us, but the real story here is not about wearing the yellow star.” Our goal is to change the trajectory of the conversation. Yes, we condemn, but let’s not get mislead by the side issues. We need to talk about the real issue: The real story is about the future of the state, where the very basics of Judaism, like marriage and kashrus, need to be preserved.

So our strategy has to be this: Not to get bogged down by the marginal abhorrent behavior, but to immediately refocus and get into the real issue in order to make a better future.

CHARLEY LEVINE: Issamar, I respectfully disagree with that approach. I’ll give an analogy that I admit is spurious and guaranteed to rankle people — but let’s say, every time an Islamic extremist commits a terror attack the vast majority of professed peace-loving moderates are villified, lumped in with the extremists. And yet, their ultimate response is, “Why are we being attacked? We’re good, democratic citizens.” But you know what, it could have been stopped at the source, within one hour of the attack, if a mainstream Moslem leader or organization would have condemned the attack — which they very rarely do. Sooner or later they eventually get around to it, but they don’t come out frontally and forcefully at the beginning, when it counts. So they deserve that reaction, because they have bad public relations sense and they aren’t doing what they should be doing.

Now, what does that have to do with us? I’d like to say nothing, but to a certain extent the analogy applies to us as well. Yair Lapid might not be my cup of tea either, but let’s say he decides to enter political life and is looking for support, when Nazi images have been evoked to delegitimize him. Now, no amount of saying “of course it’s bad to do that, but you have to understand what the real story is here” is going to work.

I’m arguing on the level of effectiveness. The vast majority of chareidim and non-chareidim think Nazi imagery is a bad thing, a nasty thing to do. So the immediate response should be one-sided, forceful, and clear. “This is wrong.”

So if I were counseling a segment of the community on how to overcome the dark side of this, I would say, quickly, immediately, and effectively condemn the use of that particular messaging in this particular context.

And after that, I agree with Issamar in terms of ultimate goals and directions to pursue, but as a communications professional, the first thing is to organize rabbis and community leaders to condemn it, not to come from behind but to lead, and in so doing you will already have won half the long-range battle by showing people that you’re not who they think you are.

 

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