We Need to Communicate
NOV 21, 2017
By Josh Block
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Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Although he wasn’t talking about Jewish communal infrastructure, he might as well have been.
When we apply his rubric to our modern-day infrastructure, we see a landscape that is woefully inadequate to address the paramount problem of tomorrow and, to a more alarming extent, today: the war of public perception.
Our communal failure to adapt rapidly enough to shifts in how information is created, sought out and processed is eroding our community’s ability to define ourselves and accomplish fundamental common goals — from promoting Jewish pride and identity to defining the value of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions laws.
This strategic communications vacuum enables detractors of Israel to leverage digital media to malign Israel and sow relentless doubt and division, even among increasing numbers of young American Jews, mainstreaming anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Our challenge is not a lack of ideas. Rather, it is a dramatic misallocation of funding in our community.
The success of America’s Jewish community rests on a three-legged stool. The first leg, lobbying and politics, educates and builds relationships with decision makers, hopefully helping to turn ideas into legislation that’s good for America and good for Israel. We invest in this work at a high rate, in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with great effect.
Second are think tanks, crafting ideas to strengthen America and Israel — from Birthright and synagogues to Jewish Community Centers and social service organizations, all of which seek to enhance Jewish continuity. The vast preponderance of our philanthropic dollars, quite literally tens of billions, are invested here annually.
The third leg is strategic communications, increasingly critical to defining ourselves and conventional wisdom. If what we want to accomplish is falsely, but successfully, smeared as bad for America, we will lose. Today, everything our kids believe about Israel, what their peers think about Israel and Jews, and what Capitol Hill staffers believe is being defined and shaped in new, powerful ways.
This third domain is barely funded by our community: Less than $10 million a year is spent on strategic-communications efforts today. That figure must change if we plan to have any meaningful impact on our shared destiny.
Early in the 20th century, Jews in America were indigent — we couldn’t feed ourselves — so we built the infrastructure and organizations to thrive. After World War II, it was refugees and the nascent State of Israel. Later, the community came together and built the infrastructure to face down the threat to Soviet Jewry.
We should be proud. During the past 125 years, we have addressed the great existential problems facing our people and overcome incredible obstacles to build a foundation for thriving Jewish life.
Today, however, the threat facing Jewish peoplehood is again different and we do not have the infrastructure we need to survive. Our fight today cannot be solved through brick-and-mortar institutions. Instead, we must build a communications infrastructure designed to fight delegitimization and anti-Semitism hidden in anti-Israel sentiment.
Our challenge is not a lack of ideas, but a dramatic misallocation of funding.
Cisco estimates that by 2018, 86 percent of communications will be visual. More than 50 percent of Americans get all their news on Facebook. More people will watch video content online than on ABC, NBC and CBS combined.
Organizations like The Israel Project, which I run, are leading the way in using data-driven solutions and developing new platforms to fundamentally change public opinion on Israel and world Jewry.
Fortunately, the investment required to change course before it is too late is a fraction of what is already being allocated. With a few elite organizations like mine driving innovation and change, it is up to funders and philanthropists to step up and adjust their allocations to make room — at least 5 percent of annual distributions — to invest and expand this critical domain.
I recently asked a community leader if he agreed that our community and Israel face different threats than five or 10 years ago, and if those different challenges require different strategies. Yes, he said. So I asked him, “What is the definition of insanity?” Hearing himself give the answer, he understood immediately. It is critical for all of us to adjust and make room for this work, and make it a priority.
Josh Block is CEO and president of The Israel Project.