A Fascinating Meeting With the Women of the ZCV

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Meeting with the women of the SZC
  • A Fascinating Meeting With the Women of the ZCV

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Zionist Council of Victoria Executive Director, Ginette Searle. Also at the meeting were Eli Shalev (the Public Affairs Director) and Emily Chrapot (Israel Advocacy Analyst).

I’d requested the meeting with Ms Searle in order to discuss the best strategies for representing Israel to the wider community, and expected an informal chat lasting about 15 minutes. Instead, Ms Searle and the other two women spoke with me for over an hour, describing their work, and debating the efficacy of certain methods. Needless to say, this generosity was much appreciated.

Indeed, so much was discussed that I’ve had to split the report on the meeting into two parts.

The ZCV women described the importance of their internal advocacy activities: the ways in which they equip Victorian Jews with facts about Israel in order that individual Jews can debate the Israel/Palestine issue with knowledge and confidence in the wider world.

This is commendable and important work; however two questions arose for me:

1) How many young Jews can they actually reach as the younger generations atomise and become more difficult for our institutions to connect with?

2) Are people being given effective methods of arguing (beyond the facts) in order that their message is not obscured by acrimonious debate?

The answer to the first question was quite interesting. While there was general agreement about the difficulty of motivating younger Jews to become involved in institutional activities, the ZCV representatives gave a number of concrete examples of young people accessing ZCV information in unexpected ways.

The most surprising was the story of young Australian Jews in Israel during the time of Operation Cast Lead who read Emily Chrapot’s news summaries. These people praised the quality of the information and its ability to convey numerous details clearly and succinctly. Eli Shalev, meanwhile, is in the process of using social networking sites to create an online presence that has a greater likelihood of attracting and appealing to younger people.

Although it was not discussed at length, there seemed to be agreement that the broader issue of the younger generations’ atomisation was one that went beyond the ZCV’s remit.

The second question proved more complex and will require a second post in order to explore it fully.

As Ms Searle expounded on the work of her organisation, and as Ms Chrapot and Ms Shalev explained their strategies, I asked all three why it was that they were not front and centre in media representation for their organisation. All three women exhibit intelligence, directness, and an extremely pleasant manner that could present the Zionist Council in the best possible light.

In response to my criticisms of Danny Lamm’s media performance at the time of the Seven Jewish Children play, many people contacted me. While a number agreed that the media strategy may not have been ideal, many made a point of informing me that Lamm’s commitment to community service is second to none. His dedication and experience are clearly invaluable assets to his organisation; however, the community – and particularly those of us who are staunch Zionists wanting better media coverage for Israel – must rethink its current strategy.

In the same way that it is rare for CEOs of large companies to speak directly to the media – preferring public affairs specialists for the task – our organisations may be better served in separating the roles of leadership from media representatives.

The women I met yesterday – Searle, Chrapot, and Shalev -  would all come across extremely well on both television and radio. Their photos next to opinion columns in newspapers would similarly have significant benefits.

This is because they all possess specific traits that are conducive to presenting a particular image of Jewry to wider Australia that would be both new and appealing; however, it is also because Australian Jewish public representation is in dire need of a shift towards young women speaking on our behalf.

At the moment, much of the Australian media casts Israel as the dominant half of the Israel/Palestine conflict. A certain type of academic might say that in the media globally, Israel is “masculinised” as the dominant, aggressive power, while the Palestinians are relegated to the passive receivers of such aggressions – in other words, they are “feminised.”

Jews from most of the sub-communities in Melbourne agree that to varying extents, the risks, dangers and challenges Israel faces are downplayed in the media, while the suffering of the Palestinians at Israeli hands receives the bulk of the attention.

If we wish to counteract this image, we need far more than “facts” on our side.

We all know that raw data, no matter how relevant, will always be beaten by a powerful image or narrative in the media. So when we have middle aged, professional men speaking on our behalf, whose only defense of Israel is the truth, we will, unfortunately, not emerge looking particularly good.

This is partially explicable because a professional, middle aged man advocating for us actually reinforces the preconceptions (and stereotypes) many non-Jews already have of us.

If, however, we begin offering the media with new narratives, and new styles, presented by younger females, we actually upend these preconceptions. The same message can seem entirely different coming from a younger woman, and counteract the sense that Israel is both an aggressor and unassailably dominant in the struggle.

The sheer novelty of young Jewish women speaking for Israel will be sufficient in gaining media access initially.

It will also offer a subtle message about women’s role in Jewish life and, by implication, that our values are not so distinct from those of wider Australia.

It may be instructive to remember the Hanan Ashrawi Sydney Peace Prize “Affair.”

A number of narratives was occurring simultaneously during that conflagration. The power of Ashrawi’s – and her supporters’ – message in the wider Australian community was augmented by her gender.

Her newsworthiness, her credibility, her symbolism of peace were all heightened by her femininity. That those who opposed her were male, had the unintended consequence of reinforcing a subconcious public perception of Israeli aggression and Palestinian victimhood.

The second part of this report will examine the gulf between Jewish and non-Jewish perceptions of advocacy and public discourse.

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Related posts:

  1. The Subtle Art of Talking to Non-Jews
  2. Les Rosenblatt Writes about Expressing Unpopular Opinions at the Ramadge Address
  3. A Night at the Plenum
  4. How to Make Enemies and Repel People: Robert Goot and 60 Minutes
  5. The New Direction

12 Responses to “A Fascinating Meeting With the Women of the ZCV”

  1. [...] will try not to be too brazen in my ridicule here. SJ suggests that Israel’s increasing bad public image is because the Palestinians are [...]

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  2. Whispering_Jack says:

    Congratulations on taking the trouble and going to the coal face to see how one communal organisation works, meeting some of the people involved and recognising that advocacy in respect of the ongoing Arab/Israel conflict is only one part of the work these people undertake.

    I hope you attended yesterday evening’s Monash University Vice Chancellor’s debate at which Dr. Danny Lamm spoke and, if so, I look forward to your report on that event.

    I hope you attended and got the opportunity to see how strong a speaker and effective an advocate is Danny Lamm. He was first speaker for the negative team and followed a wishy-washy Malcolm Fraser. Lamm forcefully put his case and spoke well (admittedly not as well as his team mate Tim Jeffries who is an accomplished debater for the Monash University debating team).

    Conversely, the third speaker for the affirmative team, Australians for Palestine spokesperson Michael Shaik came across as “an oaf” (these are the words used to describe him by an unbiased observer who is an experienced debater and who attended because of her interest in debating rather than in the conflict).

    The point I’m making here is that the debate gave people the opportunity to view Lamm and Shaik putting their cases in full and not through the prism of the editor’s lens. There was no 10 second grab taken from a 5 minute Lateline interview by an editor with an agenda and there was no Age article sympathetic to one side such as the one written by a clearly biased Andra Jackson about the deplorable Seven Jewish Children event put on by Shaik’s group.

    Last night we got the full deal from all angles and it proved to me that when the background to the event is one governed by fair play as it is in the context of a properly conducted university debate then we don’t need PR people at all.

    It’s a different matter of course when you’re dealing with people who have already made up their minds and have an agenda of always painting one side in a bad light and turning a blind eye to the evils of segments of the other side.

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  3. Hi O Sensible One,

    You wrote that you asked the ladies why they weren’t front and centre of the ZCV media efforts, but you didn’t give their answers.

    Did they answer?

    And, at the risk of sounding patronising, good on you for requesting and gaining the meeting. Efforts to engage the community’s leadership will allow you to hear their side of the story, and allow them to hear your side of the story – softly spoken, instead of rants on blogs, which are great to read, but often ends up offending, not informing, the people you are trying to inform.

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  4. Your the Voice says:

    Whispering Jack

    That’s exactly the point!!!!!!

    The public never see debates like that, only super nerds and Sensible Jews go to those things. Normal people watch Australian Idol and the Football, and get all of their news information from the telly, the radio and the papers.

    Therefore, the telly and the papers are the only places that count. What good is it if a few hundred nerds witness Dr Lamm make mincemeat of some pro-Palestinian hack? The entire audience has made up their minds before they step into the room and in any event, the audience is so small its irrelevant.

    It’s how you appear through the lens of the editor as you put it, that matters. These so called editors control the papers and the telly, and therefore learning their game and their language is what matters. they can be manipulated as easily as politicians, its just that there is a different play-book to do it.

    It would help the Leadership bodies if they recognised the media as an entirely separate arena, recognised that manipulating its players is not as easy as inviting John Brumby to a cocktail party, learnt how to play that game themselves or outsourced the job to people who know how to do it.

    Off the top of my head I can think of any number of powerful and influential Jewish people in the media who could be harnessed to this cause but have probably never thought about it and it almost definitely has not occurred to those in power to do so.

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  5. Morry says:

    I have to agree wholeheartedly, SJ, that, as irrational as that is, gender clearly plays to inbred prejudices, which I’m not about to try to analyse … perhaps our mothers, who knows? But they are a fact of life. Hanan Ashrawi was probably the most effective spokesperson the Palestinians have had, and despite her being ferociously opposed to peace with Israel, despite her consistent anti-peace vote on the PNC, she was awarded a “peace prize” and nobody, but nobody wanted to hear that she wasn’t 100% committed to peace. Similarly Golda Meir was great for Israel because of her gender.

    I don’t think it has to be an “either or” approach. Danny Lamm is a wonderfully articulate spokesperson who will speak convincingly to certain strata, but there is, as you suggest, definitely room for a young, well informed, female image that will speak hugely to other strata. There is undoubtedly also a place for more mature female representation as well. Youth will speak convincingly to youth, but the echelons of government are older, and would not take readily to input from youth that they would equate with inexperience.

    So I would send young women to university events, but allow the more mature, the Jewish Ashrawis, and people of the calibre of Danny Lamm, to interact at the more senior level.

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  6. David Zyngier says:

    While I posted this comment in another topic Night at the Plenum as another has commented on the public debate at Monash last night perhaps it might be better (also) placed here – I will leave it to Alex to decide.

    It was most interesting and informative to observe the behaviour of the huge and overflowing crowd at last night’s Monash Debate on the issue That the West should engage with Hamas: a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict

    While there were even numbers of Jews and Palestinians (and their supporters easily identifiable in their often Sportsgirl kaffiyot) the audience was without exception polite and civil and even welcoming – giving applause to all speakers and listening quietly without interruption to even the most provocative of statements (which did come from both sides). When one person sought to interject during one presentation, people around that person immediately hushed them. It was only because this was in the row in front of me that I was aware of its occurrence at all.

    This should be a lesson for the JCCV and the Jewish Community. We can listen, we can be civil even when passions are at their highest and inflammatory remarks and accusations are being made.

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  7. Wolfie says:

    Brull – there is nothing ‘frivolous’ about creating a public perception of a softer image by choosing a female spokesperson – it is hard-nosed, politicking.

    Often a ‘harder’ result can be achieved by employing a female as a spokesperson. Any spin doctor worth their salt knows that when damage control or extreme delicacy is needed that it is generally best practice to send out a female spokesperson…

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  8. David Zyngier says:

    While Alex rightly suggests that the Jewish Community’s leadership has made a poor show of Hasbarah for Israel, you would think that Australia’s own gift to Israeli Hasbara Mark Regev, the darling of the news grab would do a better job – perhaps he was jet lagged. But in his interview on PM on Wednesday evening ABC Transcript he made some preposterous claims:

    1)Regev:I mean this Human Rights Council of the United Nations, it’s called a Human Rights Council but the people who sit there are countries with atrocious human rights records, countries like Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and they use the council instead of talking about human rights, they use it as a vehicle just to attack my country.

    Fact: These are the countries comprising the HRC:

    Argentina , Bahrain , Bangladesh , Belgium, Bolivia , Bosnia and Herzegovina , Brazil , Burkina Faso , Cameroon , Chile , China , Cuba , Djibouti , Egypt , France , Gabon , Ghana , Hungary, India , Indonesia , Italy , Japan , Jordan , Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar , Mauritius , Mexico , Netherlands , Nicaragua , Nigeria , Norway, Pakistan , Philippines , Qatar , Republic of Korea , Russian Federation , Saudi Arabia , Senegal , Slovakia , Slovenia , South Africa , Ukraine , United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , United States of America, Uruguay , Zambia

    Approximately 50% of the above have a pro-US and pro-Western orientation.

    2)Regev: The council is unfortunately dominated by these sort of countries who as I say have got atrocious human rights records and just use it, I mean they’ve in the last few years since they’ve been established, they’ve published some 25 resolutions, 20 of them have been pointed against Israel

    Fact: Without spending too much time on the HCR website since its formation in 2006 the HRC has sat for 12 sessions. In session 11 for example there were 17 resolutions – not one mentions Israel! In session 7 there were over 35 resolutions – no mention of Israel. Do I go on?

    3) Regev was asked why Israel had flatly refused to cooperate with the work of the Goldstone Commission:

    Regev: I think because we clearly we saw that it was going to be terribly biased from the very beginning and there was little point in cooperating.

    PM: Richard Goldstone has a very high reputation from his previous work, he is in fact I believe Jewish by origin himself, why were you suspicious of him?

    REGEV: It doesn’t have to be personal but frankly I would have more respect for him had he followed the lead of Mary Robinson. … I mean they approached a number of people before they approached Goldstone. The most famous I think of the people they approached, they approached Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, former UN human rights commissioner and she refused because she said the mandate of Goldstone was just so biased, openly, extremely biased that there was no point.

    The following statement by Mary Robinson (30 September) appears on the website The Elders who are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. It includes such people as Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Graça Machel & Nelson Mandela.

    She clearly explains why she wasn’t able to chair the Inquiry but adds importantly that Goldstone was able to achieve an independent commission that went beyond the original and very limiting (and one-sided and did not permit a balanced approach to determining the situation on the ground terms of reference which called for an investigation into:
    “the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks,” and called for a mission to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.”

    Robinson hopes that there will be a “full and fair examination based on the report’s findings and recommendations. …. Unfortunately, rather than debating Goldstone’s detailed findings and the merits of his recommendations on ways to move forward, there are indications that governments may focus instead on the process leading up to the investigation and seek to limit full discussion of the report. As someone involved in that process, I feel it is important to put my views on record, as comments I made previously are now being used as part of the effort to undermine wrongly Judge Goldstone and his important work.

    I am aware that Judge Goldstone, a dedicated and unimpeachable human rights lawyer and advocate, shared similar concerns when he was initially approached. But he was able to work with the Council’s president to secure an agreement that he felt confident would permit the mandate to be interpreted in such a way as to allow his team to address the actions taken by both parties to the conflict.

    Robinson clearly believes that as a result of the Goldstone Report there must be “a full investigation” of its findings which deserve” serious attention”. She concludes by stating her hope that the “international community will … consider Judge Goldstone’s report in its entirety and press for accountability for the most serious crimes.

    The selective statements from Mark Regev serve only to obfuscate and mislead the Jewish and broader community. His apparently convincing Hasbarah has been caught out for what it really is – government spin and propaganda. He has lost all credibility and can no longer be believed.

    The whole interview can be heard here

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  9. Morry says:

    Actually, David, Mark Regev’s claims are fully supported by numerous reports with this independent Freedom House Report being one of the most comprehensive.

    From the report:
    The primary finding of the report is that a small but active group of countries with very poor human rights records have so far succeeded in limiting the ability of the Council to protect human rights, despite their minority status on that body. Member states that Freedom House designates as Not Free make up less than one-fifth of the Council, but devote considerable resources to their work in Geneva.

    The states that Freedom House designates as completely free make up a minority on the council.

    At a time when Sudan was committing genocide with as many as a million dead, 3 of the first 4 special sessions of the council concerned Israel, not Sudan … none Sudan. Efforts by Western members to do something about Darfur “were thwarted by the Africa Group under Egypt’s leadership” so this racist genocide was left unaddressed by a council defined by the need for just such action.

    Israel remained the target of an inordinate number of both condemnatory resolutions and special sessions. Israel was the target of 10 out of 18 condemnatory resolutions passed during the period of this report (and 19 out of 31 since the first session of the Council), the language of which is consistently one-sided, assigning sole responsibility to Israel for the violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    The UNHRC is as corrupt as its predecessor, being used as a weapon to further their own ends by nations who have zero concerns for human rights. That David either can’t see it, or would rather not, is extremely sad. That he cites the US as a member is technically accurate, but the US just joined and has not yet participated in any decision-making which makes its inclusion on the list misleading at best. I do hope that America’s presence may help put this group on track, but that still remains to be seen.

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  10. David Zyngier says:

    Morry did you actually read what I wrote – the point is that Regev’s spin is not accurate – truth requires more than assertion – if Regev and other Israel spokespeople are to be believed then their words must be backed by truth – not half, not three quarter , not mostly – but completely and irrefutably accurate. Regev’s decontextualised quoting of Robinson’s withdrawal from the inquiry for example is blatant spin and inaccurate. And if that most important statement he made on PM is not true then why should we believe anything else he claims?

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  11. Morry says:

    David, do you apply those same draconian standards to yourself? If what you say is inaccurate in any way, does that mean we should disbelieve everything you say?

    Take Regev, for example. You clearly try to misrepresent him as dishonest, to the point of ignoring your own sources.

    Regeve said (from your quote above): “The most famous I think of the people they approached, they approached Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, former UN human rights commissioner and she refused because she said the mandate of Goldstone was just so biased, openly, extremely biased that there was no point.”

    Mary Robinson said (from the website you sourced): “I refused to accept the invitation from the president of the Human Rights Council at the time, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, to lead the investigation following the Human Rights Council’s January 12, 2009 resolution. As a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I felt strongly that the Council’s resolution was one-sided and did not permit a balanced approach to determining the situation on the ground. It referred only to “the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks,” and called for a mission to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.”

    I was also aware that the UN Human Rights Council had made repeated condemnations of Israel over the past two years but had focused little attention on large-scale violations of human rights in other countries. This pattern of action and inaction by the Council has given greater credence to those who believe the UN’s highest human rights body is inherently anti-Israel.

    I decided that I could not undertake the mission for these reasons.”

    I see absolutely no inconsistency beween them. Both said that the mandate was so biased or unbalanced that she couldn’t accept it. I’ve already addressed your other claims. So I say again, David, if we are to disbelieve everything that Regev says because of his supposed “spin” (though clearly he has been astutely and pedantically accurate), are we now to disbelieve everything you say because you are so clearly attempting to twist and spin Regev’s words (I assume because he didn’t quote Mary Robinson verbatim, but got the gist very accurately)?

    Each of Regev’s points accurately reflect reality … I think we’ve now covered them all, the bias of the council, the reasons for Mary Robinson’s refusal to play. Do you have anything else you’d like to spin on the subject? And while we’re on it, exactly where does this irrational antipathy for Israel and its representatives spring from?

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  12. Mohan says:

    Whispering Jack mentions nothing about the content of the debate – merely the styles of the speaker. I heard Michael Shaik debate Ted Lapkin at ANU. Michael stuck to his point while Lapkin accused Palestinian advoctaes of being supporters of terror, murder etc. The auidence overhwelmingly backed Shaik. Shaik sope at a inter-faith meeting in Melbourne in reply to Dvir Abramovich. Dvir Abromivich left the meeting without facing questions. I am surprised that Micahel Shaik has turned oafish.

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