Enough with the Hostage posters!

All around the world, Jewish communities have rolled out “Hostage” posters. These posters have naturally become flashpoints, drawing antisemitic numbskulls like moths to a flame. Many an Israel-hater (and Jew-hater) has outed themselves through their attempts to tear these posters down.

None of it means a thing.

All around the world, Jewish communities have spent lavishly on Holocaust Museums. Their purpose has only secondarily been to memorialize those who were slaughtered (examples like the Yad Vashem databases enable this). Their primary purpose, from Washington DC to Washington State, has been to educate the broader public – to reinforce the “never again” message.

None of it has meant a thing.

The reason is simple: Nobody cares.

Jews get slaughtered or taken captive and it doesn’t really matter. By the way, Jews don’t have an exclusive relationship with this reality. Did you know over five million were killed in the Second Congo Civil War in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

More importantly, if you did know, did you really care?

The answer, for the vast majority of humanity is no.

Jews are hated by their neighbors, they get killed. That’s the way of the world. Maybe we should join in?

Africans slaughter each other. That’s the way of the world. Maybe we should raise tariffs on African exports?

Arabs killing each other. Same deal.

Nobody cares. So, all the Holocaust Museums are about as valuable as all the Congo Civil War Museums. They have no impact on anybody except the survivors themselves (which is why the monuments here in Israel should remain).

It all comes down to very basic marketing. If you want people to buy something, you have to have something that is valuable to them to offer in return. If you want people to care, you have to offer them something in return. That value can take many forms, but it has to be there. 

We see it in the story of Joseph that our current Torah readings are focused on.

Joseph preens and his brothers toss him into a pit and sell him. He had nothing to offer. If they’d interpreted his dreams correctly, he had an enormous amount to offer (their food and their fates would depend on him). But all parties were too busy thinking about how all-important he was. Then Joseph flourishes in Potiphera’s house. He’s got a lot to offer. Things go well when he manages them. Easy sale. Except his value didn’t exceed that of Potiphera’s reputation.

Tossed in prison, he’s a boon to the prison management. They do what they can for him in return. He gets the run of the joint. But when the next set of dreams come up, he’s careful about his interpretation (skipping the pretty obvious Egypt is going down, Israel is rising up storyline) but he doesn’t give the wine steward any reason to rescue him. He’s not offering him anything in return.

Then we get to the final set of dreams – Pharaoh’s. Joseph skips the whole symbolism of the cows (national potential going down the drain) and sells Pharoah hard on the biggest package of all: meaning in his life. Pharoah can rescue the land itself. That is marketing and it works, perfectly.

Joseph then uses the inverse technique to get his brothers to admit the truth and get past their deadly competition. If they fail to do so, they it will cost them. You can call it the dark side of marketing – if you don’t buy the life insurance your kids will be broke and hungry. Powerful stuff.

“Mommy, the Nazis were mean to me!” isn’t.

(I know it sounds callous, but I imagine that how many people hear our Holocaust messaging).

The message of the Jewish people shouldn’t be – can’t be – “we are victims, protect us!” There’s no reason for others to step up. The Americans and British didn’t fight the Nazis to protect us, they did it to protect themselves.

All of this has a vast bearing on our reality today. Israel and the Jewish people need a message – a reason for others to actually care.

Some of this message can be downright practical. The sanctions on Russia are extremely limited because even those in the West want Russia oil and titanium (and more). The West doesn’t mind killing lots of Russians (apparently Russians don’t even mind it), but I doubt even the Ukrainians want complete sanctions or a collapse of their state.

Israel doesn’t have any natural resources, but we have some very unnatural ones. The Wall Street Journal just reported on Europe’s militaries. The UK, Europe’s biggest military spender, has 150 tanks and a dozen artillery pieces. Germany has enough ammunition for two days of battle. They are unable to defend themselves.

A largely disarmed Western Europe is deeply and increasingly dependent on Israeli weapons systems. Israel provides surveillance, anti-tank and missile defense systems. This is an effective marketing message: “abandon us and good luck with the Russians.” Israel should extend this reality by moving down market. Israel should start making tank and artillery ammunition. The West has a tremendous shortage and this ammunition is not only critical to Israel, it is critical to Europe.

Of course, the provision of systems goes far beyond military systems. Israel is a leader in the SaaS market (software/systems as a service), in agriculture and in other specific fields like medical technology. Again what Israel did isn’t important (forget the whole stupid DiskOnKey, Intel Chips etc… list). What is important is what Israel is providing now that you rely on. In other words, what is important is what you need living and breathing Israelis in order to use. This isn’t about hardware, but integrated systems that require Israeli input to continue to deliver value (or prevent collapse). In other words, where Russia exports critical raw materials like titanium, Israel exports human knowledge and knowhow that are increasingly critical to keeping the world running.

As an extension of military systems offering, short-term Israeli marketing could shift to the Islamic threat. Instead of putting up billboards of hostage posters – Jews could put up billboards showing violent local Islamic protests or enumerating Islamist crimes. They could identify the threat that Israel shares with much of the indigenous population of Europe. We know this works. Wilders in the Netherlands and Milei in Argentina both shot up in the polls after Israel invaded Gaza. Both are identified with strong support of Israel. The ongoing war, global riots and terrorist arrests (in the case of Argentina where the incumbent party has had a fondness for Iran) reinforced their electoral position. Wilders doubled his vote take vs. polls prior to Israel’s invasion. Milei gained over 20% in the vote over that same time period. 92% of British Conservatives and 70% of British Labour supporters support deporting foreigners who glorify Islamic violence. There are massive challenges; and nobody is dealing with them.

Of course, just highlighting the threat offers nothing positive. It only identifies Israel as an ally. What Israel really needs is a solution that we can help deliver. This can be deeply positive. Israel can make solid moves towards one. How? Create an international coalition to rebuild Gaza. But don’t invite the usual players. Forget UNRWA, UNICEF, the Red Cross and the WHO. Instead, put Singapore and the UAE on center-stage. Israel will manage security while those two city-states manage civil governance. Both countries have managed their own Islamic threats remarkably effectively. Over time, as metrics are met, Gaza’s governance would be handed over to the local population (for example, rule of law metrics would precede fully independent local courts). That handover will culminate in security governance and a recognized State – again if defined metrics are realized. The funny thing about those metrics is that they require the creation of robust systems. In other words, they require the development of a functioning civil society.

Between them, Israel, the UAE and Singapore could develop the tools necessary to incubate and encourage forms of Islam that reinforce civilization – that complex social web that enables individuals to have the opportunity for productive and meaningful lives. Instead of purely negative posters, Jews could share posters highlighting the possibility of a better future.

This is something closer to marketing: We’re not offering you a cultural war; we’re offering you a path to a reinvigorated society that better integrates a previously alienated and dangerous minority. And… this path has been honed in that most difficult of ideological battlespaces – Gaza!

Of course, this isn’t the ultimate message. The ultimate message can’t be fear. Instead, it must be purpose. That is what Joseph offers Pharoah. The Jewish people have to offer themselves as a conduit of purpose for those around them. What can we offer?

We can offer civilization.

In the ancient story of Purim, the villain identifies the Jew as standing apart from his communities. No letters are sent to these people, who deign to live by their own laws and with their own language. They don’t fit and so the Empire would be strengthened by eliminating them – gotta keep things harmonious, you know. By the end of the story, that same Empire is reinforced by those same Jews. They form a web that crosses all 127 provinces and brings them all closer together. This web serves the King directly. As a result of this shift, the King is able to raise taxes (the ultimate sign of power). The tax increase is such a critical part of the story arc that it takes place in the third to last verse.

People may not like Jews much, but we were a part of many civilizations. Jews have played significant roles in Europe, North Africa, the Arab world, Ethiopia, Iran, South America and even the United States. We have lived in ‘all 127 provinces’ and we maintain connections in many of them. We reinforce the global cultural web. We have seen and lived the problems of the world. The Israeli ingathering of Jewish cultures – distinct and yet connected – has led to an unbelievable outburst of innovation and culture.

Ultimately, these are the billboards we should be sharing. They would say, simply:

Israel can help you…

And then show how.

  • Israel can help you farm sustainably (Netafim)
  • Israel can help you survive cancer (Outsense, MIA Medic…)
  • Israel can help you get home faster (Waze, Moovit)
  • Israel can help you protect your identity (Check Point)
  • Israel can help you enjoy your evening (Fauda, Homeland, In Treatment, Girlfriends…)
  • Israel can help you drive safer (MobilEye)
  • Israel can help you build relationships (Nice)
  • Israel can help you organize your work (Monday.com)
  • Israel can help you share online (wix.com)
  • Israel can help you play (Playtika)
  • Israel can help you work (Fiverr)
  • Israel can help you live securely (Arrow, Spike…)
  • Israel can help you realize peace at home (UAE-Israel-Singapore effort)
  • Israel can help your mental health (BetterHelp)
  • Israel can help you find meaning in life (just photos of a flourishing Jerusalem)

Why should Israel be allowed to defend itself? Because it is something you depend on.

That’s why you care. Even if you didn’t know it until now.

All of these ways in which Israel can help you reveals a fundamental truth about Israel and Jews. We crave lives of purpose. Whatever ideological package we wrap it in, we desperately want to live lives of productivity and meaning. Yes, first, we need to survive. But even as we struggle against those who have declared they want to eliminate us; we struggle to make our world a better place. Survival is never enough.

Our own internal education, from secular to religious, should explain why we are a blessing to the families of the world. Not what we’ve done, but the fundamental reasons why we’ve done it. Nothing else would better reinforce our own identify and purpose.

This Jewish drive is not something we want to hoard. It is a reality we want to share. It is, in fact, the greatest blessing we can offer. We want to share it with everybody – yes, even the Palestinians. While there is overwhelming support for crushing Hamas, Israelis don’t want to live in a permanent war and few are stupid enough to think Arab hatred ends at the River and Sea. We hate the choices the conflict forces on us and we want to move on from them.

Israelis want to live lives of meaning, of civilization, side by side with whoever will have us. We tried to in 1947. We tried again with Oslo, then the 2000 Peace Offer and then the Gaza Withdrawal. At this point, we’ll be ready to try again when our enemies stop saying they want to kill every one of us – and stop doing their best to execute on that desire.

So, enough with the hostage posters.

Let’s move on to something better.

Unspoken in the above is that the Palestinians would benefit from much the same. Few people really care about what happens in Gaza. The exceptions are those directly affected or those who benefit from Palestinian support. In reality that means politicians seeking swing votes in particular US states, powerful men trying to stay in power in the Muslim world (or distract from their own myriad sins), and intersectionalists who somehow imagine that the world will be perfect for trans, black and gay people if only the intersection of all oppression (Israel and Jews, duh) were erased.

Of course, we are an intersection – just not a negative one. 

  1. Selwyn Franklin says:

    Joseph, true to your name you have personified the essence of Jewishness in the world at large!! Given the chance, Israel will continue to be a light unto the nations!! You have literally hit the nail on the head. As I’m giving lots of talks around town, I will certainly capitalise on your amazing insights by sharing it with others! Kol hakavod!

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