Yaakov Dayan is Israel’s consul general for the Southwestern states. He is a 14-year veteran of the Foreign Service, has served in Europe and the United States and has conducted sensitive negotiations with Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian officials. The Jewish Journal interviewed Dayan last Sunday.
Jewish Journal: It’s been widely remarked that both Israel’s military and public relations arms were better prepared for the Gaza operation than, say, at the start of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Did you receive an advance tip-off and instructions from Jerusalem before the air attacks started on Dec. 27?
Yaakov Dayan: I won’t go into specific details, but we knew exactly what to do; we didn’t have to wait for instructions. On the first day alone, I handled 15 media interviews, and the pace hasn’t slowed down. Today is Sunday and [Deputy Consul General] Gil [Artzyeli] is meeting with the media in Denver, Shahar [Azani, consul for media and public affairs,] is speaking at a rally in Phoenix, and TV crews have been coming to my home all day. In between, we’re calling governors, senators and local officials for public declarations of support, and so far we have about 60 such statements.
JJ: Your base is in Los Angeles, but it seems that Israel expects you to reach out well beyond the city and the state in the global public opinion struggle.
YD: You have to understand that Los Angeles is one of the top three or four pro-Israel strongholds in the world, matched in importance only by New York. Most everywhere else in Europe and Asia, there are mainly pro-Palestinian voices. So Los Angeles has to fill in the gaps in our strength. For instance, CNN’s worldwide service broadcast clips of pro-Hamas demonstrations from all over the world, but at least it was also able to show the pro-Israel rally in front of the Federal Building here.
JJ: With television and newspapers constantly showing pictures of injured Gaza children and distraught parents, what can you do to counteract the image of Israel as a heartless aggressor?
YD: It’s difficult, because photos are stronger than words. However, we must keep conveying the fact that we’re dealing with a brutal and cynical enemy who takes advantage of Western values and respect for human life by using civilians and children as human shields.
For instance, last week our air force targeted a Gaza building full of ammunition. We first phoned the Hamas activist inside that we would bomb the place in 30 minutes and that he should evacuate his family. Instead, he sent his four wives and their kids to stand on the roof of the building.
JJ: How would you evaluate media coverage locally and elsewhere?
YD: Fox News definitely has the best coverage, from our point of view. In general, the media are a little more balanced than on previous occasions, but I can’t say I’m not upset when I see on the front page of the Los Angeles Times a photo of two dead Arab girls. Admittedly, in a following issue, the Times showed a hole in the roof of a kibbutz building, hit by a Hamas rocket. Sometimes, I cringe at the op-eds, but occasionally, they’re all right. Interestingly, the Arab coverage in Egypt and Jordan is relatively all right, they understand that we are fighting an Iranian proxy.
JJ: What do you expect Los Angeles Jews and Israelis to do while the conflict lasts?
YD: We now have an Israeli flag flying outside the consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, and I am calling on everybody to stand by that flag, literally and symbolically. Everyone has an obligation to stand for Israel; that’s such a rewarding act, and I’m not speaking about money.
It’s great that 1,000 turn out for a rally, but why not 10,000? Write letters to the press, write op-eds, join solidarity missions, be active in your professional or social organization.
JJ: What was your toughest assignment during the last two weeks?
YD: I was on Air America [a self-described progressive talk radio network] for a national call-in program, and for an hour I answered comments and questions, all of them negative. No one called in to support Israel. At the end of the scheduled hour, the host said there were still lots of listeners wanting to talk to me, so we went at it for a second hour. At the end of this, I was completely exhausted.
JJ: So how are you holding up personally?
YD: Look, here I’m running between TV interviews, but in Israel they’re running between missiles. Who am I to complain?