Jewish Communities Need to Play Chess and Avoid Whack-a-Mole to Fight Antisemitism

The adversaries of Israel and Jews started making their moves decades ago; and hard as it is to acknowledge, we have made fewer effective moves and spent far less resources.
February 9, 2024
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The American Jewish community is losing an information war.

There’s a gnawing feeling in our guts that we’ve fallen inexorably behind in a competitive marketing war that paints Israel as an aggressor in the minds of a generation of young people. Disinformation regarding Israeli and Jewish values has successfully colored the perceptions of a great many Millennials and Gen-Z’ers. They hear the false, but simplistic, messages spread by our enemies over-and-over again and buy into the narrative that the Jewish state is an oppressive aggressor and that the so-named Palestinians are hapless victims.  Those people who experienced or know 20th century history recoil at this concept as if somebody was telling them that gravity makes things fall up, not down – for no nation or people have been victimized in contemporary times more than Israel and the Jewish people.

Across U.S. local Jewish communities, people newly awakened to the threat of antisemitism due to the post-October 7th news cycle and daily, publicized local activism are shocked and horrified. But’s it’s no surprise that, in the absence of accurate, impartial information about Israel that is equally simplistic and repetitive, that disinformation has rushed in to fill the void. In an ill-advised reaction, some in our Jewish community wrongly cast blame on Jewish organizations that they feel are not doing a sufficient job fighting this misinformation. This criticism has been directed at organizations from the national to the community level.

Humans have a natural inclination toward fight or flight. An increasing number of Jewish leaders are choosing to fight by playing “rugby,” engaging in local scrums with college campuses, city councils and school boards because they feel pressure to confront activist-driven and creeping institutional antisemitism in visible, head-on ways.

This can be a useful tactic, as the Jewish community needs groups that are willing to debate its adversaries head-on. But jumping into a scrum with anti-Israel activists does not always align with objectives of this war and can often serve to publicize the misinformation narrative. In a rugby match, the opposition puts the ball in play, and the players soon cluster around it and engage.  But we’re playing a game where the ball bounces across many fields, and there are no referees.

So, instead, the game becomes multi-dimensional whack-a-mole. In this game, the moles pop up and spew vitriolic antisemitic and anti-Israel hate.  And it should not be lost on anybody how the misinformation war bears similarities to the physical war of whack-a-mole going on in Gaza as Hamas moves fighters and weapons underground and then pops out of its tunnels.

What many outraged Jews do not realize is that we’re not playing whack-a-mole, we’re playing marketing and messaging chess. And we’ve been playing chess since at least 1948.

The opening move came from Israel’s enemies, who callously turned the 700,000 displaced Arabs into political pawns, now numbering approximately 6 million permanent “refugees.” The establishment of the United Nations only a few years prior in late 1945, meant that the rules of international engagement were still being written. The next move was one of vocabulary: Israel’s adversaries weaponized academic terms like “Palestinians”, “refugees”, “occupation,” “Zionist,” “resistance,” and “decolonization,” to deepen their portrayal of Israel as an oppressive, racist, irredeemable settler colony.  These adversaries never dare mention that Jews are only .2% of the world population, that Israel has only .1% of the land area in the Middle East, and that Israel has endured multiple genocidal attacks.

For the past 20 years in the United States, there has been a concentrated, centrally organized effort to institutionalize the false narrative regarding Israel and Jews. Anti-Israel activists have infiltrated colleges and universities, K-12 education, teachers unions, school boards, local city councils, courts and even law enforcement agencies. Today’s resurgence of antisemitism can be traced back to these efforts.

Unlike whack-a-mole, chess has two players. The adversaries of Israel and Jews started making their moves decades ago; and hard as it is to acknowledge, we have made fewer effective moves and spent far less resources.  Thus, we must make stronger and better moves going forward with the recognition that you cannot revise decades of indoctrination overnight.

As chair of the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, I have been fortunate to work with a group of community leaders since 2006 who play the long game and recognize that comprehensive, multi-step strategies are a better play in the information war than getting into a visible scrap with every antisemite and Israel-delegitimizer who pops up.

We need to step back and play chess by understanding the multi-dimensional way that a worldwide marketing campaign of antisemitism and Israeli delegitimization is being funded and executed in a well-planned, multi-generational way.  Reactive tactics cannot, alone, defeat strategy.  Although occasional punches in the nose can throw adversaries off their plans.

The Jewish community needs to remember that across our history, our biggest defeats have come when Jews work against the interests of other Jews.  As American Jews, we must understand that marketing and messaging propaganda against us is powerful, and not have false security in our local communities that atrocities of the past cannot recur here at home. Our communities need to combine the strengths of strategy and direct engagement to avoid wasting energy on a game of whack-a-mole that is meant to exhaust us and our resources.

When we come together, our community achieves great successes—unprecedented successes—from winning Nobel Prizes to realizing the dream of Jewish statehood. Now, we must come together once more to reframe the narrative around Israel and ensure that future generations know Israel not as an evil oppressor, but as the emblematic conveyance of democracy and peace in the Middle East.

Jeff Margolis is chairman of the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation of Orange County.

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