Not the Same Old Talk! Meet TALK17

by Zev Shandalov

A groundbreaking move in the area of Hasbara (public diplomacy; explaining Israel to the world) has recently hit the ground running. In their own words:

Talk17 will allow the public to learn about Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”) – by providing TED-style talks with voices you’ve never heard before.

We’ll be featuring speakers from all different backgrounds, with different stories, around different themes – all of them vital to the story of Israel post-1967.

Talk17 events will be held at the Ariel Center for the Performing Arts in January, and made available globally.

A new project of Friends of Ariel, Talk17 has (already) embarked on a very ambitious goal: to influence the WORLD conversation on the Israeli-“Palestinian” issue. This will be accomplished through the aforementioned Ted-style talks, which will be shared broadly on social media and other platforms.

The obvious question when reading this would be: “How is this hasbara different from all other hasbara? After all, there are numerous hasbara organizations out there!” Perhaps the answer to that, and perhaps the key to their eventual success can be found in the opening talk given by Avi Zimmerman, Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel.

This opening talk is the first of fifty such talks that lays the foundation for their mission.

Mr. Zimmerman explains, in a very calming tone, what seems to have been certain factors that have always colored the public discourse on this subject. He refers to the idea of “silencing a community or a population.” He declares that both on the “Palestinian” side and on the side of Israel, populations have been silenced. The imposed silence on the side of the “Palestinians” is, as he states, “very aggressive.” It manifests itself by some individuals who “grab a microphone, go on stage and drown out the voices of those who are actually there.” The international community continues to provide legitimacy to a Palestinian Authority that claims to speak for “Palestinians,” whereas many of their supposed “constituency” would not agree with what is being said or presented, in their name.

In addition,  Mr. Zimmerman reminds us of the BDS movement in the world. This movement seeks to de-legitimize Israel and its residents, all over the world. These movements use these same pawns (the “Palestinians”) to achieve a certain political objective. But how do the Palestinian workers themselves feel about the actions of the BDS movement? How does a man trying to feed his family feel, when the very business he works for is being “de-legitimized” by the BDS movement?

That is the first community that is being silenced. So-called leaders from the PA and so-called activists from the BDS movement all act on behalf of that community–but that community’s voice has been hijacked.

On the other side, he says that there is another, more subtle and perhaps more damaging form of silencing a community.

This form of silencing occurs when some of the Israel advocacy mainstream groups tend to ignore a population or sub-population in Israel. For example, he says, that when there are accusations that begin to fly: occupation, apartheid, etc, often the counter-balance to that will be ads showing the beaches of Israel, or the most recent advancement in medical technology and not actually countering the claims of apartheid head on.

(To be sure, there are some fantastic hasbara groups out there, who do, indeed, counter such claims. This refers more in general terms to organizations who do not actually try to respond in kind, but rather side-step the issue.)

But  many of those organizations are actually not going out there and advocating for the truth and presenting the truth along with counter-arguments. By not giving voice to those other ideas–the ones that counter the terrible claims against Israel, once again, an Israeli population is silenced and not given a voice. By avoiding the issues, says Zimmerman, you have undermined the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living on the “other side” of the so-called Green Line. In some cases an “apartheid week” on a college campus is countered with a “Hummus week.” What about the issues such as justice, international law, economic issues and more?  The voice and the message of those living in Judea and Samaria-and their legitimacy-are silenced, by many who seek to help.

These various issues can be and are used by some organizations already in getting their message out there.

Yet, according to Talk17, there needs to be a total paradigm shift in the message and the approach to this message. Talk17 is using Ariel as a “proving ground” for their thesis of silencing a population. They wish to make the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts a “bridge,” to bridge the message with the “silenced communities.” When the center was first set up, thirty-six ISRAELI performers and playwrights decided to boycott the center. However, in reality, when these boycotters felt they were helping,they were, in fact, hurting. There was a massive backlash against the boycott, and to this day, there is a waiting list of performers, who wish to use the stage in Ariel. There is a huge disconnect between how the “world” views these issues and how those living here day-to-day view the issues.

Talk17 seeks to change that with their message. Viewing  Ariel, where “controversy and consensus collided” as a jumping off point, they plan to bring their message not only to the Israeli and “Palestinian” populations; they plan on bringing the message of what Israel is-and what it stands for-to the entire world. Rather than hummus, they want to focus on countering the words and the images, that have become ingrained in the world view. They plan to do this with these talks and sharing them throughout the world, far and wide.

When it comes to advocating for Israel–and advocating in a positive, forward-thinking manner-we can use all of the help we can get. It certainly seems that Talk17 is going to be on the front line of that challenge. I personally wish them well and encourage you to view the video above and SHARE their video message. Be an advocate from the comfort of your chair! Pass along information. Do your part.

In the end, Israel will be better off, and this may actually help in affecting the public discourse shift in favor of Israel.


Originally published on Rav Zev’s Blog.