WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
“Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions.”
OCTOBER 20, 2007 – Frank Luntz is a US-based political and business pollster. He recently expressed his view on why Jews make such lousy communicators in an article published in the UK Jewish Chronicle. His comments reflect the multi-million dollar question many ordinary Jews ask their peers.
As he points out, “Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions.”
“Why do Jews make such lousy communicators? For hundreds of years, we used the great art of language development to entertain as well as educate. It is no coincidence that so many of the great intellectuals, academics, writers and performers come from our ranks.
Let us hope that this is a lesson we do not have to relearn again and again.
The ability of Jews to understand and connect with people transcends international boundaries.
It is in our culture and in our blood. But over the past 20 years, we have developed some very destructive communication habits that have seriously undermined our efforts and the causes we believe in.
Our words lose their resonance and our style and tone offend. We assert when we should inform. We reject when we should interject. We push people away when we should pull them in.
And yet, looking at events from across the pond, it seems as if things might be changing for the better. The success in ending the UCU boycott is certainly a welcome victory for the British Jewish community in the battle against the anti-Israel and antisemitic hard left. It is proof positive that smart strategy, effective messaging and organisational co-operation can and do make a difference.
But that is just one battle in a war of ideas that we are far from winning – and the lessons learned have implications much wider than one isolated conflict.
One voice on is better than many noises off. Whenever a crisis like the UCU (University and College Union) boycott hits, the Jewish community is often torn between those urging private pressure and those preferring to express public outrage. Matters are complicated by traditional territoriality among Jewish community groups and occasional splits between the local Jewish community and Israel.
The genesis of the UCU success was in a mostly unified campaign with a clear communication strategy and effective, co-operative leadership by both BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre) and the Jewish Leadership Council. Finally, we worked with each other rather than against each other.
It does not matter what you say. What matters is what people hear. The hardest lesson for the Jewish community to grasp is that the best communication is education – and you have to listen before you can teach.
The reflexive, accusational approach, accusing opponents of antisemitism, may make us feel better, but it does not capture hearts or change minds.
A more positive, aspirational approach, “build bridges, not boycotts”, is almost always more effective. Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions.
Listen first, speak second. Instead of the usual make-it-up-as-you-go gut-instinct approach, the Stop the Boycott campaign used genuine public-opinion research to identify and hone the messages most likely to work with UCU members.
That is how they learned that the most effective message among UCU members was the fear that they were hurting the very people they claimed they were trying to help. By listening to the audience, the Jewish community was better able to communicate to them.
Early money works harder and does more. Jewish money is always forthcoming in a crisis, but getting money from well-heeled donors is harder than pulling blood from a stone.
Worse yet, the time taken to fundraise, organise and activate an infrastructure in times of great duress are valuable time lost. The Jewish community needs to invest more money in our Israel advocacy organisations that can be ramped up during times of crisis, rather than constantly reinventing organisations from scratch.
Greenpeace does not wait for the next oil spill or seal hunt. The Jewish community should not and cannot wait for the next bombing or boycott. The time to organise is now. The time to give is now.
Within its ranks, the British Jewish community has some of the brightest minds and best talents in the field of political campaigning and public relations – people with decades of success transforming the fortunes of major political parties and any number of non-Jewish issues.
It is time to engage them more often on more issues. Through its allies at home and abroad, the Jewish community also has access to some of the best professional minds from around the globe. It is long past time to activate our allies everywhere.
The fundamental lesson from the events of the past year is that we are safer and stronger when we plan, prepare and present.”
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