Analysing What Went Right: Liam Getreu in The Australian

Yesterday, Liam Getreu, incoming AUJS chairman, wrote an opinion piece for the Australian that should serve as a model for how this community conducts its PR.

We need to remember that no matter how interesting and important we Jews find ourselves and Israel, the rest of the population generally has other things on its mind.

Except for the occasional, massive blunder that focuses the nation’s attention, individual articles or interviews on their own will not do much to shape perceptions of Jews and Israel long term in the wider community.

It is actually the aggregate of what we do and say over longer periods that serve to create an “atmosphere,” that amorphous sense of what Australian Jewry is about, what our beliefs are, and what sort of Australians we seek to be.

The simple truth – that I’ve been promoting since this blog’s inception – is that we Jews do not live in a bubble, that outside perceptions of us do matter.

We must also shift from our “rights” based obsessions – that we have a right to do and say what we please in any attempt to defend Israel or our own community – to an outward focus that seeks to understand the wider audience for our message.

No one can be forced to love us or to love Israel. It helps our cause – and is right in and of itself – to view ourselves as part of the greater Australian whole: to move from obsessing over what we are owed, to what we can contribute.

Liam’s piece does all of that and more. But his is only one contribution and cannot alone repair the damage that has been done to our community’s reputation in recent years. My hope is that his article will lead the way in a new approach to Jewish PR and engagement, and that slowly, this approach will transform the current “atmosphere” surrounding Australian Jewry and the Israel/Palestine conflict in the broader Australian sub-conscious.

Below, I’ll comment on the specifics of Liam’s piece in order to demonstrate these points more concretely.

***

Firstly, Liam was writing under the AUJS banner. For non-Jews this is important because it signals to them that he is part of a representative body of some sort, and that he is young. These two elements provide a combination of legitimacy and youthful idealism .

Liam’s words are in italics:

Liam identifies his audience:

Both sides undoubtedly believe themselves to be in the right.

Liam does not get distracted by a desire to yell at Palestinians, or to grandstand in front of other Jews.

Here, Liam correctly assumes that most readers will not be Jews or Palestinians and are probably thoroughly sick of the Israel/Palestine dominance of global news.

This first sentence is particularly elegant, because Liam positions himself as empathising with the average Australian, who has been shaking his/her head in bemusement at the Middle East conflict.

This empathy is cemented in the following sentences.

It’s an easy argument to make, they’ll say, because there’s no doubting that, when push comes to shove, the truth is on their side.

Both fervent supporters of Israel and impassioned advocates for Palestinian rights and statehood spent countless hours around boardroom tables and in community meetings brainstorming campaigns, both proactive and reactive, to try to get out their message.

Liam personalises his argument, excising arrogance and stridency, while establishing a legitimate basis for his position.

I can speak only from my perspective. I grew up in a Zionist household and have dedicated almost all of my school and university life to furthering the identity of Jews and the goals of Jewish peoplehood.

Entering my term of leading the Australasian Jewish student union, representing almost 10,000 Jewish university students, I have an even greater understanding of such efforts.

During the past five years I’ve spent thousands of hours theorising, criticising and engaging one of the most divisive of conflicts the world has seen.

Liam makes himself likeable, and deepens the empathy his readers are likely to feel for him by acknowledging that he speaks only from his own experience, rather than lobbing angry universalisms at readers. On this strong basis, he provides his bona fides.

Liam extracts an essentially true position from a highly complex situation that links his own reasonableness to the community from which he comes.

Every way my community looks at it, though, it leads to a single conclusion: mutual respect and compromise are going to be the only way to reach a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Australia’s Zionist community is dedicated to a fair, just and peaceful end to the conflict.

Sure we have our ratbags and racists: what community doesn’t? Liam’s assertion about the Jewish community’s moderate nature is, however, fundamentally correct as demonstrated by the Monash community survey which shows a significant majority of Australian Jews favouring the two-state solution.

And by positioning us as the moderates we genuinely are, Liam not only tells the truth, but establishes the inherent reasonableness of the Zionist position in this country.

Through acknowledging the hardships experienced by Palestinians, Liam strengthens his credibility, and can argue a difficult position far more effectively.

While we are steadfast in our support of Israel’s right to existence and its citizens’ rights to live safe and secure lives, we also believe the same must apply to Palestinians.

While we wholeheartedly supported Operation Cast Lead as a mission needed to halt the relentless barrage of rockets on southern Israel and the smuggling of Iranian-made weapons into Gaza, we felt deep sorrow each time a non-combatant was killed.

Even though this number was higher than it should have been, military experts held up the campaign as the best example of protection of civilians in a combat zone in the history of warfare.

This section is seriously impressive: Liam’s compassionate position is precisely what makes his assertion about Israeli good behaviour believable.

Credibility is further enhanced by highlighting the moderate nature of Israel, rather than looking for the perfidy in the Palestinian side.

Further, every main Israeli party recognises a two-state solution as the only fair and just outcome to the conflict.

In Australia this week were three key Israeli politicians. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert spoke of the need to reject the old way of thinking in Israel and the necessity, for the strength of the Jewish state, to embrace the establishment of the state of Palestine side by side with Israel.

Also among them was Avi Dichter, a former Kadima minister, who challenged the sitting Likud government to study in-depth the Arab peace initiative.

Having established a believable outline of the Israeli and Jewish communal moderate characteristics, Liam can now move on to the poor behaviour of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators on Sunday night.

It’s hard to contend, given these comments from former Israeli hardliners, that peace cannot be achieved through a shift of rhetoric from the extreme to the moderate and conciliatory. Yet one must contrast these responses to the scenes seen on Sunday night outside the Australia Israel Leadership Forum dinner.

Palestinian activists outside the event were behaving incredibly tastelessly, rioting, hurling shoes at attendees and attempting to destroy police equipment.

The above starts to separate these protesters from mainstream Australian values and society, providing the perfect framework for the reader to understand that such people are not interested in peace, but in ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel.

Among their favourite chants is one that goes: “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”

For the uninitiated, these protesters are demanding the establishment of a Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan river in the east to the Mediterranean in the west.

The parallel between this chant and the charter of Hamas, which states that its primary objective is the obliteration of the Jewish state, is startling.

This chant, these violent protests and this ethos embodied by many Palestinian supporters are also faced by many Jewish students on campus.

Liam describes, without hysteria or hyperbole, some genuinely revolting aspects of Palestinian supporters’ behaviour. His calm tone only strengthens his message.

The demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel is unfair and inconsistent with what should be the priorities of both sides in aiming to reach a mutually beneficial solution.

It requires both communities in Australia to adopt moderate positions and together act to persuade our counterparts in the Middle East to do the same.

I believe that is the biggest hurdle we face in the conflict today, and I challenge Palestinian activists in Australia to join my community in pursuing this avenue as a path to a lasting peace for future generations.

This is an extraordinarily deft conclusion with which no reasonable person can really argue. Liam places the onus squarely on the Palestinians’ supporters to behave in a way that would not only benefit Jews, but also the people on whose behalf they protest.

In doing this, Liam shows his audience that the Jewish position is directly in line with wider Australian values and standards.

Without a single aggressive note -
Without hectoring, lambasting, or castigating -
Without embarrassing attempts at sarcasm/irony that come across as revoltingly arrogant, smart-arse and entirely unAustralian -
Without the implicit assumption that Jews are owed something by the wider community -
Without the tin ear for broader Australian culture….
All we are left with, is a single piece that will resonate deeply with readers, and convince and reasonable person. Here’s hoping its the template for future engagement.

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19 Responses to “Analysing What Went Right: Liam Getreu in The Australian”

  1. Krausz83 says:

    I agree that Liam Getreu’s piece was generally pitched well.
    However, in my opinion, what he wrote about the 2008-09 Gaza War (aka ‘Operation Cast Lead’) came across as partial and somewhat defensive.

    Referring to the number of non-combatants killed by Israeli forces, Getreu wrote that “even though this number was higher than it should have been, military experts held up the campaign as the best example of protection of civilians in a combat zone in the history of warfare.”

    I’m not sure which military experts he was referring to, but the Report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone was certainly not so congratulatory.

    This UN report accused both the Israeli military and Hamas of committing war crimes during the conflict.
    To give just two examples, the Goldstone Report accused Israeli forces of shooting civilians who were trying to flee their homes, and targeting a mosque during prayers, killing 15 people.

    If these and numerous other allegations are true, it is difficult to believe that this was the “best example of protection of civilians in a combat zone in the history of warfare.”

    Why not just admit that the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in Gaza as a direct result of the Israeli military’s actions is totally inexcusable?
    I think this is not only true, but it would actually strengthen Getreu’s overall position.
    Instead, Getreu sought to mitigate these civilian deaths by appealing to the opinions of “military experts”.

    Rather than profess “wholehearted” support for the war, as Getreu did, it would have been more honest and humane to acknowledge that the death and destruction caused by both sides in the Gaza War are deplorable and cannot be excused.

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    • TheSadducee says:

      I don’t think he was referring to Marc Galasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military analyst and Nazi memorabilia collector…

      Sorry folks, couldn’t resist it. But seriously, I think he’s referring to Col. (?) Kemp and a few others who have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq recently.

      If you want a sensible comparison compare the US attacks and occupation of Fallujah in 2004 which were far more destructive than the Israeli campaign in Gaza. You want another example compare it to the Syrian Govt’s attack and occupation of Hama in 1982 or the Lebanese Govt’s attack and occupation on the Nahr al-Bared camp in 2007.

      Still waiting for an UN investigation though on any of these. Sort of puts the focus on Israel into perspective doesn’t it?

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  2. Sisu says:

    Looking at Krauz’s post, and in comments about another article published in today’s The Age by Albert Dadon, I am struck at how the debate over casualities is reduced to mere numbers. Getreu’s statement is perfectly valid and true – any compassionate person would acknowledge that any civilian death is “much higher than in needs to be”. Just as the casualities in the Gaza strip are to be lamented, so are the casualities on Israel’s soil. And this isn’t a zero-sum game – we don’t need to have equal casualities on both sides.

    However, it is a sign that Israel has effectively lost the PR battle when there is a perception that Israel is to blame for protecting its citizens. Certainly a sign that a new method of dialogue needs to be established. So kudos to Getreu, but I don’t think it’s enough to stem the tide of bad PR. But if he is the future, there may be some hope.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Sisu, from one perspective, reading those comments in response to Dadon’s piece is quite scary for an Israel supporter. The levels of vehemence and outright disgust for Israel’s very existence send a chill. But I do not believe these folk are representative of Australia as a whole – inasmuch as the ordinary Aussie wouldn’t bother to comment at all.

      What Australian Jews need to understand is that we are not Israeli proxies doing battle with Palestinian proxies for a result that will occur in Israel/Palestine.

      Israel and Palestine are completely unaffected by almost all of the venom coming from the rabble here.

      All that’s at stake in these skirmishes is the Jewish place in Australia. Do we alienate the average Aussie or do we present him/her with a narrative that demonstrates our essential philosophical sameness (as opposed to the rabid leftists whose worldview is likely to nauseate most Australians)?

  3. stostosto says:

    Hi Alex, you wonderful, funny, brilliant person.

    Long time no communications. You may remember me from “The Perfect World” from way back in another galaxy. Anyway, having stumbled upon you, I have an observation on this remark:

    “The simple truth – that I’ve been promoting since this blog’s inception – is that we Jews do not live in a bubble, that outside perceptions of us do matter.”

    This is a paradoxical paragraph: Your’e not living in a bubble therefore outside perceptions matter?

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Sto! Small world! Nice to see you here.

      Regarding my comment, well – perhaps I wasn’t clear. Because we don’t live in a bubble, we are not innoculated against ousite events. These events occur – or don’t – based on the way others feel. If they feel negatively towards us, they are more likely to engage in beaviours that impact us badly. Their opinions therefore matter.

  4. Sisu says:

    Alex, I disagree. I think there is a level of animosity towards Israel in the wider Australian population, and it doesn’t take much for it to come out. I don’t equate it with anti-Semitism (although that is present as well).

    My take is that the representative Australian has some level of guilt associated with our colonisation and disenfranchisement of the indigenous populations, which then leads us to empathise with the “underdog” Palestinian. Certainly the words used to describe the conflict give more sympathy to the Palestinian side – occupied Territory, Settlers, etc. I was watching one of the Superman movies with my (then) 10 year old nephew, and there is a line where an onlooker says about Superman, “Of course he’s Jewish!” My nephew said to me, “What, he kills people?” And that from doing nothing more than watching the news.

    So don’t underestimate just how negatively Israel – and by extension, the Jews of Israel – are seen by wider Australia. It does lead to the equation that the Palestinian dead in Operation Cast Lead are more tragic than the Israeli dead due to Hamas attacks prior to OCL. The liberation / anti-”coloniser” theme does resonate, as does the natural Aussie tendency to root for the underdog.

    Getreu’s article was of a completely different type than is normally expressed – and the commentary was limited. I do agree that such a new way of representing the Jewish community is needed.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Sisu, although what you write has the ring of truth about it, it’s really hard to quantrify broad public sentiment, and I prefer to be optimistic.

      Whichever way you look at it, the Getreu approach really needs to be implented broadly and quickly.

    • Morry says:

      Sisu, whilst Liam Getreu demonstrates very well how these things can be addressed, you indicate very clearly what needs to be addressed, starting with the indigenousness of Jews and the absence of “colonisation” in Palestine. The reality that this is a Jewish home (for a whole bunch of reasons) that is being constantly invaded and has been since 1920 is a vital message. This is where that much maligned “history” creeps in, and its importance in gauging the accuracy of narratives. I recognise that it’s a very uphill battle as long as there is such a large cadre of media obsessed with the “colonised Arab land” narrative, and the “underdog” liberation perception you cite.

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  5. stostosto says:

    Actually, Alex, what I was thinking is that your entire comment on Getreu’s piece has the distinct air of “bubble” about it – and the very paragraph in which you state that you (Australian Jews) don’t live in one contradicts it insofar as if there is an “outside” perception, there is an “inside” as well, and some implied membrane that seperates the two.

    If you remember, I have always wondered about your seemingly complete lack of identification with Australia. But then, maybe no one identifies with Australia much? Maybe everybody has this “inside”-”outside” identity, be they Scottish, Irish, Serbian, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Aboriginal, whatever?

    (Btw, I wonder generally about the need to tell Jews, of all people, that the perception of others matter…)

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    • Morry says:

      Hope you don’t mind my 2 cents worth. I’m not sure how widely travelled you are, stostosto, but that’s when Australians identify as Australians (Americans as Americans etc). Here, in your own environment its the height of redundancy, unless discussing the effects of immigration, or foreign TV programming on Australian culture. Even then I doubt anyone would come out with “I’m very Australian so….”.

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  6. stostosto says:

    Morry,

    I am moderately well-travelled though not to Australia, and I know exactly what you mean. But I also have some prior (and highely pleasant) experience interacting with Alex on the internets in quite diverse settings, nationality wise. I hasten to add there is nothing wrong one way or the other with whom or what you identify with.

    I also realise this place, sensiblejew.com, might be very well be conceptually designed and intended as a forum for intra-Aussie-Jewish debates on how best to advance the Zionist cause in Australia, and so I am just stating the obvious…

    Further, I realise (also from experience) that whenever the Is-Pal conflict is involved in a debate, you risk having all sorts of hidden motives ascribed to you. So, by way of prevention, I assure you I personally ascribe no such motives to anyone, nor do I have any hidden ones myself.

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  7. Mohan says:

    Reply to Alex Fein about rabid leftists. I must say I am a “rabid leftist” and If Alex fein is concerned about the situation of Jews in Australia and not about Israel-Palestine, then there shouldn’t be this concern for Israei PR. Let it fight its battels and let the Palestinians fight theirs.

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  8. Sisu says:

    Mohan, I describe myself as a Leftist too, but past my rabid stage. :) I think Alex does acknowledge that there are many levels of “Leftism” (see her most recent post, for example).

    Israel/Palestine is part of the Leftist manifesto – with their talk of “neo-Colonialism” (whatever that is meant to be) and linking Zionism=Racism. The line between being anti-Israel and being anti-Jewish is a fine one indeed. Plus, just as people on the Left have a right to speak against Israel, others have a right to support Israel and its citizens.

    Hence why the I/P situation is of concern to … well, anyone who wants to have that concern. But when the line is crossed between criticism of Israel as a nation and people who are Jewish, you can see why I/P is important to Australian Jewry.

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    • Mohan says:

      Hello Sisu

      Palestine is a long standing problem that will not go away even if the Australian left collectively decideds to ignore it. There is a wid range of persons fom Palestinian refugees to Greens and church groups who support thei cause. The left supports it because it knows the history of the Palestinian movement.Zionists on the other hand choose to either ignore the history or try to explain it away or deny the very existance of the Palestinian people.
      Neo colonialism is the renewed wave of colonisation after WW2 ended the first European colonies in Asia, Africa. The new phase is based on military presence of the US and other countries in other parts of the world, renewed occupation of countries, toppling of government from Iran to Chile to Indonesia and reducing indpendent countries to client regimes.

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  9. Sisu says:

    Again, Mohan, we come up against your dichotomy that Israel-Palestine is an either/or situation (“There is a wid range of persons fom Palestinian refugees to Greens and church groups who support thei cause”). Many Israelis, and to them we can add people like Alex and other posters here, accept and want a solution in Palestine – they clearly do not want to “deny the very existance of the Palestinian people”.

    As for your neo-Colonialism review, the problem with the term is its lack of specifics. The US, I believe, is the only country with an extensive military presence elsewhere in the world; so how can your definition of neo-Colonialism apply to Israel? Namely, “…military presence of [presumable Israel]in other parts of the world, renewed occupation of countries [presumably the Palestinian territories], toppling of government from Iran to Chile to Indonesia and reducing indpendent countries [again, presumably Palestine] to client regimes”?

    The argument Zionism = racism = neo-Colonial exploitation of Palestine = Zionist thuggery is wholly circular and wholly false. Just saying that Israel is acting in a neo-Colonial fashion does not make it so – especially since your definition applies to the USA post-Friedman/Kissinger and not Israel.

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    • Mohan says:

      Sorry Sisu

      I had left out part of the answer. I had tried to seapk about neo-colonisation as broadly as possible. If you choose to narrow it down to israel-Palestine that is your privilege. Toppling governments was from Iran (Mossadeh) to Honduras. It did not occur to me to think of Gaza and the US/Fatah coup attempt by Dhalan, thank you for reminding me. Again military presence was as broadly as possible – UK, France, Australia – all have military presence overtly or covertly overseas. Interesting that you should reduce a wide theoritical concept to just Israel.

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  10. Mohan says:

    Hello Sisu thank you for the reply. I can see that you have some diffuclty here. I used the US only as an example, Russia has it Warsaw pact weapons outside its soil. The US is the superpower of the club as Britain was in the 19th century. The colonisers of East Timor or Palestine acted undr imperial patronage, the USA, from courting the Ottomans to von Phelve to the Kaiser to David Balfour.

    The USA empire began in the 19th century, outside its continental borders, with the colonisation of Cuba and Phillipines. It had its troops outside its soil ever since, not since Kissinger, Friedman (Milton or Thomas). Total denial does not disprove an opponent’s points, critcicsm, analysis and exposure do.

    Na

    As I pointed out the “dichotomy” exists in the world. The political project of Herzl was a colonial project – he was openly emulating Cecil Rhodes and acknowledges it -. I would suggest a reading of Zionist leaders themselves Herzl, Jabotinsky, David Ben Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Moshe Dayan, Oded Yinon et al. Among themselves they did not hide the true nature of their project – “The Iron Wall”, Herzl’s dairies or “Der Judenstat”.
    Speaking of “dichotomies” only creates a straw person. Speak of the situation – palestinians are residents of Palestine, their homes, farms, towns and villages are being demolished to place settlements and exclusive roads. Any reading of Haaretz, Jeff Halper, Uri Aveneri et al will show the reoprts as will Amnesty International, ICRC, UN reports etc.

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  11. Mohan says:

    Just one more thing I had forgotten to respond to. Those who wish for a solution in Palestine will honestly acknowledge the situation – expanding settlemnts, siege of Gaza, armed settlers destroying Palestinian farms and shooting at people, terror by the army and border police against unarmed protestors opposing demolitions of homes and crops, the “offer” of a state that has no control over its borders, airspace and even electronic traffic and without the power to have its own armed force – all these are known and reading of Israeli papers will show them.

    Imposing a false equality between the two sides will not do.

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