Oct. 7 Exposed a Decades-Long Failure in Israel Advocacy. The Coming Years Will Be Very Different.

A growing core has been mobilized – a core that will now live more Jewish lives, invest and engage more in Jewish communities, and have the courage to stand up, speak out, and devote more resources to the fight against antisemitism.
February 15, 2024
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I remember the date I woke up to the reality many Jews discovered on Oct. 7. 

March 17, 2011. 

It was a week after the horrific murder of the Fogel family, in which a mother, father, and three of their children – including a three-month old baby – were brutally slaughtered in their home by two Palestinian teenagers. At that moment I was six months into the job as the speechwriter for Israel’s Mission to the United Nations. I was tasked with writing remarks for Israel’s Ambassador to deliver about the murders for a major event in New York. 

That evening, after the speech, I found myself at a dinner party in Brooklyn with a group of mostly Ivy League-educated 20somethings working in journalism and politics. 

I mentioned that I’d had a tough time writing this speech given its subject matter. 

One new acquaintance looked up from a different conversation from across the table and said, “Are you talking about that family that was killed in Itamar?”

I replied, “Yeah that’s the one.” 

He said, “I can’t imagine how you could feel good about writing a speech like that. Of course, it’s terrible what happened to them, but those people were settlers. They chose to live on Palestinian land, and shouldn’t have been there. What happened in Itamar is inevitable … oppressed people have no choice but to resist.” 

“By murdering a three-month-old baby?” I replied, genuinely shocked at this perspective. As my conversation with this guest continued and I looked around, I began to realize that most of the others at the table agreed with him. I wasn’t invited back. 

At that point, I had already spent six months as an Israeli delegate at the United Nations, working in the heart of an Orwellian world where Israel alone is relentlessly condemned in resolution after resolution, while Gaddafi’s Libya was appointed as Chair of the Human Rights Council. 

When I started working in that theater of the absurd in 2010, I had an implied sense that “serious people” – particularly in the U.S. – could easily recognize the U.N.’s take on Israel as total garbage. I had not internalized that this same crazy thinking could so deeply infect the circles I’d comfortably traveled in my entire life. 

Yet, at that dinner table I saw the same hateful insanity that places Jews and Zionists at the center of every evil and provides “context” and justification for any Palestinian crime, even the brutal murder of a three-month-old baby. 

In that moment, I recognized that the differences of opinion I had with a growing segment of America’s political and cultural elite were not about this Israeli policy or that Israeli government. They were about something more fundamental: the right of Jews to self-determination – to defend ourselves living as a free people in our own land. 

These elite are critical – sometimes disdainful – of Jews exercising military power. I, on the other hand, believe it is the only thing standing between Jews and another Holocaust. The gap in those positions creates a steep hill to climb for every Zionist. 

In the years since, this subject has continued to occupy a huge part of my brain space – and the situation has only gotten worse. Much worse.

By so many measures, we are losing the information war: Tik Tok trends; newspaper headlines; polling among young people, progressives, and other growing segments of voters.

[.speaker-mute]By so many measures, we are losing the information war: TikTok trends; newspaper headlines; polling among young people, progressives, and other growing segments of voters; the extreme hypocrisy and disregard for Jewish life shown by those in positions of power and influence – from University Presidents to celebrities to corporate HR professionals. 

The situation calls for a reckoning among advocates no less serious than the one that must occur in Israel to account for the colossal intelligence and military failures of Oct. 7. 

We are losing for several strategic and tactical reasons. 

Israel’s enemies have systematically invested many billions of dollars in an ecosystem of influence, with nodes that all work together as part of a massive network – from lobbyists, think tanks, universities and NGOs to media outlets, influencers, bots, social networks, Wikipedia editors, and K-12 curricula. 

As the head of a strategic communications firm for the last eleven years, I’ve seen the erosion of our position up close. While our firm has advised many pro-Israel and Jewish groups, most of our business is outside of the Jewish world. Like many others who do strategic communication for a living, I have seen clearly that there is only one side driving forward a dynamic, effective, outcome-driven strategy relevant in 2024. It is not ours.

As the environment in which information is consumed and opinions are shaped has shifted, Israel’s enemies have anticipated where the field is headed, hired talented professionals, and invested with a systematic and long-term view, building influence platforms over the course of decades. 

They have understood that this is not just a question of educating people who don’t understand, “building allies,” “reaching young people,” or “getting out the facts”; it is an information war that requires armies of people with deep subject matter expertise in areas from intelligence and forensic accounting to media and digital strategy to law and policy – all working together toward the same strategic purpose. 

The other side has been relentlessly aggressive, working to impose a social and professional cost on donors, students, activists, and advocacy professionals for being openly Zionist.

On the other hand, too often, we have relied on well-meaning volunteers and underpaid nonprofit professionals to fight this fight, staffing this project not much differently than the way we run a local Jewish Community Center. 

For the last two decades, pro-Israel groups have operated in silos, with many pursuing redundant, competitive and overlapping projects and far too few focused on building a broader ecosystem like the other side. Our groups are weakened and distracted by their rivalries with each other, and their need to fundraise and respond to the whims and preferences of donors who have no idea what it means to fight an information war. 

We have not effectively anticipated social and political trends like intersectionality and rising populism, or navigated the dramatic changes in how media is produced and consumed. 

We have allowed a Jewish educational infrastructure to exist in America that has left the vast majority of Jews without basic knowledge of their faith or any sense as to why a connection to Israel is relevant. For many – if not most – American Jews, Israel is a two-dimensional cartoon that they learn about through the same biased and captured media and academic institutions educating the rest of the country. 

We have not funded enough innovative projects that reach hearts and minds outside of our echo chamber – and we have not provided enough funding to scale up those that have been effective. 

We have not built a large pipeline of talented professionals devoted to pro-Israel work. The high-quality candidates who do take these positions burn out after a couple of years because of the lack of opportunity, low salaries, and the dysfunctional and mediocre nature of so many groups in the space. 

We have allowed countless zombie organizations to continue sapping donor resources and the attention of media and policymakers even though they no longer have a constituency or efficacy. 

That said, I am cautiously optimistic that Oct. 7 is going to shift this paradigm – that our two-decade collective failure has reached its nadir. 

Why? First and foremost, so many Jews – and some non-Jews – who thought this was not their problem before Oct. 7 have had the same wakeup that I had in that Brooklyn apartment 13 years ago. 

The shock and horror of Hamas apologists and propagandists taking over our schools, streets, and institutions in the wake of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust has sparked a surge of activism, energy and conviction like I have not seen in 20 years in this space. 

Since Oct. 7, I’ve been flooded with inquiries from college students and professionals eager to figure out how they can make a difference for Israel and the Jewish people full-time. In many cases, they are looking to give up lucrative careers in tech or law or finance to do so. 

Our firm has advised dozens of people and organizations facing antisemitism in workplaces and schools – most of whom never felt compelled to speak up on this issue before. 

Something I never thought I’d say: Jews in the entertainment industry are furious and focused. I’ve seen this up close through our work representing the families of hostages and other victims of Oct. 7. There is not a night on the calendar in L.A. when there is not a high-level meeting or fundraiser in support of the hostages, the fight against antisemitism, or Israel more broadly. The folks showing up to these meetings are not “the usual suspects.” The same can be said about Silicon Valley and Wall Street. 

In the coming months, some of this energy and money will be frittered away. Some people will get discouraged, disinterested, and distracted. Some will get intimidated into silence. Some will feel compelled to join the other side. 

But a growing core has been mobilized – a core that will now live more Jewish lives, invest and engage more in Jewish communities, and have the courage to stand up, speak out, and devote more resources to the fight against antisemitism.

This group is beginning to see clearly how the other side has fought this battle. It is incubating, building and funding the organizations, initiatives, and programs – some that exist and others that do not yet exist – that will form a powerful new ecosystem. I am hopeful that this surge of interest will not only provide exponentially more resources, but also expertise – particularly in reaching the “cool kids” — and a higher level of accountability and scrutiny for pro-Israel groups, improving or eliminating the ones that have grown complacent and anemic. 

There are other reasons that our advocacy efforts may get easier in the U.S. over the next decade. 

The inclusion of the Palestinian cause as part of an intersectional social justice coalition was the other side’s most powerful strategy of the last two decades. There is a backlash now underway that will make this approach less effective – and maybe even harmful to them going forward.

The outrage over the Congressional testimony of the Harvard, Penn, and MIT Presidents was not only about antisemitism. It was driven by a broader sense – including among many of the elites who once championed these ideas – that the radical ideologies incubated on campuses have gained too much currency in the culture and need to be curtailed. Like generations before them, many of the young people who now champion radical leftist ideas about Israel will abandon these ideas as they get older, particularly if the wider culture is shifting against these beliefs. 

Although no one knows where this war will leave Israel in the next decade, I think the most likely scenario is that the Jewish state emerges stronger, more integrated with its Arab neighbors, and with even more to offer the world on both the security and economic fronts.  

While the other side has been preparing for this war for decades, we have been playing dress-up and talking to ourselves. As the communications environment and culture shift, the question for our moment is who is going to more effectively prepare for the information war to come? 

Will we emerge from this moment more united, more focused, and more strategic? Or will we allow the dysfunction and failed strategies of the past to continue to define our work? 

I pray we can get our act together, because one thing is certain: the cost of failure in the next decade will be exponentially higher than it was over the last one.

Nathan Miller is the CEO of Miller Ink, a strategic communications firm headquartered in Los Angeles. He served as the Director of Speechwriting at Israel’s Mission to the United Nations from 2010-13.

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