Israel Advocacy - Audience

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Handbook of Israel Advocacy

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This may be the most important chapter of this handbook. It points out the biggest problem of Israel advocacy: It is not reaching the right audience. The object of advocacy is primarily to reach unpersuaded, neutral people. That audience must be the ultimate target of all advocacy. If you are not reaching them, your advocacy is not effective. Understanding who is the audience, who is not the audience, and trying to reach that audience with our side of the story are the most important aspects of advocacy. That's what we are trying to do. Israel advocacy often fails to reach the audience it should reach, because it is directed at closed forums and reaches convinced friends of Israel. When it does reach the general audience, it often reaches it with a message that is more appropriate for friends of Israel, couched in language that doesn't interest a general audience.

The challenge for Israel advocates is to transform their groups and strategies and messages from targeting Jewish and Zionist and sympathetic audiences to reaching the general public with a universal message. To de-emphasize Jewish themes that are the traditional stuff of Zionist advocacy, such as anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and to emphasize facts and themes that everyone can understand.

Who is the audience?

There are about six billion people in the world and most of them are our potential audience. When you appear on television you have no control over who is watching, and when you write a Web article in English, your potential audience is virtually the entire English-speaking world - not just other Jews, and not just other Zionists. That is good. You need to reach all those people, not just preach to convinced audiences of Jews or Zionist supporters. However, remember that what you write in your Web log, or say in a TV program, may be read or reported around the world. If it is extremist, racist or otherwise harmful to the Zionist cause, and if you have any degree of prominence, the anti-Israel camp is likely to pick it up and use it against us.

The object of advocacy is primarily to reach unpersuaded, neutral people. That audience must be the ultimate target of all advocacy.

Telling the World

Usually, your message has to be directed at a very broad and often less than sympathetic audience. You can do a lot of damage with an extremist message that doesn't really represent Zionism, or with information that you have transmitted in good faith, which is untrue. You have to be sensitive to how your ideas may be received by the people you want to convince -- not other Zionists. You have to speak their "language" in terms of vocabulary and values. To give a cynical and obvious example, Arab publications may describe a "glorious martyrdom operation" in Arabic, but the English translation will say that there was a suicide bombing.

The Self Selecting Audience

Your audience is going to be self-selecting to an extent. A very limited segment of the world's population is interested in international affairs and of these, not everyone is interested in the Middle East, Israel and the Palestinian problem. Most TV viewers will switch channels when there is a program about the Middle East and most Web surfers are NOT looking for information about the Middle East. The number of Google searches for word Sex in a typical month is reportedly 414 million. The number of monthly searches for "Middle East" is 1.8 million. We are talking to a fairly restricted audience. That audience often consists of the opinion leaders, however, so they are important. Almost everyone has heard of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is a hot topic. They probably have an opinion. But comparatively few people are interested in in-depth knowledge and will seek it out.

Who is not the audience?

Convinced anti-Zionists and anti-Semites are not the target of your advocacy. They aren't going to change their minds. They have set their opinions against us and they usually are not going to listen to contrary arguments. Don't waste time trying to defend Israel at a Palestine Solidarity Movement meeting and don't gear your arguments to convince followers of Noam Chomsky, Ali Abunimah or Norman Finkelstein. They aren't going to listen. There are not (yet) enough of them to make a difference anyhow. Try instead to convince the same neutral audiences that they are trying to win over. The purpose of picketing an al-Awda ("the return") meeting is not to get into arguments with their followers, but to show your presence and to call the attention of outsiders to the noxious program and activities of this group.

Convinced Zionists and supporters of Israel are not the target of your advocacy either. You want them to be there for you and to provide support and constructive criticism of talks and articles. They need information and "talking points" and motivation for activism and participation. However, you can't gear your whole approach to them. "Iran must be stopped because it is a threat to Israel" is a good argument for a pro-Israel audience." But Iranian leaders know that and try to discredit all their opponents as "neo-con Zionists" and "Israeli agents." American and European audiences have to understand that Iran is intent on a "World without America" and without western values, not just a "World without Zionism."

Don't mix Israel advocacy with religious issues. You want to reach all religions and all non-religious people as well.

Who are the audiences?

The large general audience is composed of sub-groups. You cannot completely control who will read your materials or hear your speeches, but you should be aware of the different types of audiences. Some are more relevant to you than others. Each may require different types of materials and appeals. Educational materials directed at elementary school students have to be written differently from materials directed at informed adults.

Local Audiences - Some of your advocacy and activism is going to be directed to local groups. It is best done by local meetings and by emailing people from a mailing list or contacting them by telephone, rather than posting at a Web log. If you are announcing a meeting or demonstration to an open forum such as a Web log or a wide distribution e-mail list, remember to tell people what city the meeting is in. Believe it or not, omitting that information is one of the most common errors.

The Palestine Solidarity Movement tells their people that it is easier to affect small communities. That's good advice, if you live in or near a small community. A local newspaper is more likely to publish your letter because your patronage is important to them and other readers are more likely to know you in a small community. You are more likely to get a hearing at a local branch of a church or activist group or union in your town, than on a national level.

Special Groups - At least some advocacy should be directed to concerns of special groups - women, gay people, African Americans, Hispanics, union people, academics, Christians and other religions. Web materials should be produced in different languages. If you are going to be addressing a special group, make sure you are conversant with the issues that they need to hear about. Israel has good cases for almost every group and the Palestinians and Arab/Muslim world have very bad stories that they try to hide - persecution of homosexuals, blatant prejudice against Africans, repression of women, honor killings, persecution of Christians...

Aim for the Center

The central mass of public opinion includes the most people, who share a consensus of values and a common language and approach to problems. Most of your advocacy has to be pitched to that center.

Be Inclusive

We want everyone inside our tent.

Justice Louis Brandeis said over and over that every Jew should be a Zionist and implied that every American should support the Zionist cause. When he led the Zionist movement, he came close to performing the nearly impossible task of getting the entire Jewish community to support Zionism, and he got the United States government to support the Balfour declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine. He almost singlehandedly transformed American Zionism from a tiny fringe movement to a cause of American Jews recognized by the United States government.

Zionism is for religious Jews and non-religious Jews, for those who want to go to Israel and those who are only going to look on. Support for Israel is for leftists and rightists and in betweenists, Evangelical Christians, Unitarians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Greek, Armenian, Polish, Orthodox and Pravoslavic Catholics, Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and even Muslims. Yes there are Arabs for Israel and Muslim Zionists and we need and want their support.

That doesn't mean we agree with all the beliefs of these groups and accept their stands on all other issues. We must welcome their support for Israel and for Zionism as they understand it, but they don't set the program for us.


Obviously, the business of advocates and advocacy is outreach. However, Jewish groups don't seem to know that. Jewish groups by tradition are not geared for "outreach." This is true of non-Zionist Jewish efforts as well. Most "Jewish Outreach" groups are really engaged in reaching out to other Jews. Your business is to reach out to everyone!

Zionist and Israel advocacy groups are almost never in the business of real outreach, even if they say they are. Their materials and stands are geared to Jewish audiences and audiences that are already pro-Israel. Their goal very often is to demonstrate to their own supporters that they are doing a good job defending Israel and therefore deserve financial support. They are doing "development" under the guise of advocacy. It is necessary to build enthusiasm and motivation within the group of your own supporters. However, advocacy is pointless if it can't be made to reach outsiders who are not yet convinced of the justice of your cause. Conference calls of the convinced, closed e-mail lists, closed lectures and Web sites that are obviously Jewish and aimed at Jews only have a very limited utility for spreading the word.

Make sure that what you write, say or do appeals to a general audience. Don't fill your speeches or your writings with unexplained and unnecessary Yiddish or Hebrew words, so that they become one big "in-joke" that is of no interest to outsiders. Don't take it for granted that your readers or audience know who the various politicians are in different countries or are familiar with details of the history and local customs. A person who begins reading an article and is assaulted with references to "Bibi" and "Abu Mazen," "Bil'in" and the "Jilbab" will stop reading if they don't know what those terms refer to. Ignorance is self-enforcing. Break the circle by explaining terms when necessary.


This material is copyright 2009 by Ami Isseroff and members of the Zio-Web group. No part may be reproduced without permission in any form.


See Also - Zionism and Israel- Issues and Answers   Zionist Quotes    Explaining Zionism Be a Proud Zionist 

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Zionism - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library

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Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs,  Jewish anti-Zionists.

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Zionist Precursors - US Library of Congress

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