I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

Search This Blog

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Those who tell and those who don't (on the importance of 9/11 as a brand)

On Friday we commemorated 9/11 at work. It was a big event and coordinated among dozens.

Any event is hard to plan and this was no exception. But it was successful - the people involved took it seriously, knocked themselves out, and with G-d's help they delivered.

When it was over and we clapped for them it was a genuine acknowledgment. And the leader immediately responded by saying - don't thank me, it could not have happened without them. He meant it.

There was one person in the room who worked so hard, who jumped in so many times to fix things, who took it so much to heart that I thought she deserved an award all her own. I tried to tell her so. But she said, "No no no it's not about me. It's done now. I'm just glad."

My friend is not a spotlight-seeker. But in this world, it is only the spotlight-seekers who get ahead. It is only the ones who pick up a microphone who get the attention, the kudos, the reward.

In the aftermath of 9/11, it was the fact that people talked about its significance, its meaning, and turned it into a rallying cry - yes, a brand - that led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (I work there and am not representing them here; all opinions my own).

Whether you agree with everything it does or not, DHS clearly represents the response to many people shouting into the microphone: "Do something." The "something" is to unify the stovepipes - "connect the dots" - so that all parties are working together to avert another attack and prepare for recovery in case there is one.

At the same time, there are those who try to use "9/11" for the wrong reasons. People who pick up the microphone to serve themselves.

Also last Friday, ironically a day when we affirm our steadfast commitment to stop terrorists, hundreds of Egyptians carried out a terrorist attack at the Israeli embassy in Cairo with a curiously delayed response by the Egyptian authorities. They broke through the security wall, burst into the lobby, tossed documents out the balcony window, and burned the Israeli flag, terrorizing the ambassador and his staff, who had to be evacuated. On Twitter, the response was quick and celebratory: The evil "occupying" Jews had once again received their due.

Does everybody hate Israel and the Jewish people, and wish us harm? Of course not. But it's the ones who pick up the microphone who are listened to. They promote lies and hatred and the response is anti-Semitism, confrontations, physical violence and ultimately, terrorism. What is the line between a peaceful protest opposing a Israel's policies, and physically storming the doors of a college campus' Jewish student association, banging on the doors as if to break them down and attack those inside? Answer: none.

There is a saying that "words hurt." Words can kill. Yet words can heal, too. But you have to open your mouth and use them.

I didn't see any Tweets from Israel responding to the joyful celebration of an attack on the Cairo embassy. Surely the nation was too busy focusing on what mattered - getting the ambassador and his staff to safety. In this the country is like my hardworking, quiet friend. She does the work, avoids the microphone, and goes home pleased at the reality of her effort. She doesn't need outside affirmation. In fact Israel is famously averse to hasbara, public relations. Not only because they're about action, not talk, but because it is a bedrock of Israeli culture to battle ideas out in public regarding ethics and morality. Israelis, and I think Jewish people in general, are famous for disagreeing long and loud when it comes to these matters. We do not believe in groupthink or "toeing the line" - it is burned into our brains to follow our conscience.

Sadly, this is exactly why Israel is at a disadvantage when it comes to nation-branding. They are not into "messaging" and gaming the social media system. They are about facts. But facts are not enough anymore. You have to capture people's emotions.

One thing that might help Israel more, and for that matter DHS or any entity charged with doing unpopular things for the sake of security, would be to show more emotion about the devastating impact when security is breached.

For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not often let down his emotional guard. He presents himself as strong, almost defiant (others call it "hawkish") but his leadership comes from enormous personal sacrifice. He saw his older brother, Yoni, killed as he led a daring counterterrorist mission to save more than 100 Israelis taken hostage in 1976, in the operation known as the Raid On Entebbe. Yoni was killed after Israel, and its neighbors (including Egypt) tried diplomacy to get the hostages out - and diplomacy failed utterly.

Netanyahu cried when he spoke before the Israeli Knesset (Congress) in 2006 about the impact of his brother's death on his own life. But if you notice, he did not focus on himself, but rather on the suffering of other people, other parents specifically, who saw their own sons killed in needless wars driven by pointless hate:

"The death of a brother, whose life was cut short in its prime, is a traumatic event by all accounts. It diverted the course of my life to its current direction. But the grief of a bereaved brother, as painful or heartrending as it may be, can not be compared to the great suffering borne by parents who are forced to bury their son. We can only hope that these parents, who sacrificed the greatest possible thing, can take comfort in the fact that the story of their son and his brave friends in Entebbe reverberates with the bravery of all of Israel's fallen sons."

Today, 10 years to the day after radical Islamic hatred took the lives of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001, the same exact hatred took the lives of 77 American soldiers and wounded several Afghan civilians in Afghanistan, from a Taliban bombing of an American base in Afghanistan. Just like the haters of Israel (who are really the haters of all Jewish people), they pick up the microphone to justify their crime as self-defense against an occupying force: "American colonialism has shed the blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans."

The great gift of the Internet is that the average person now has a microphone. Even if you consider yourself quiet, uninterested in the spotlight, non-self-promotional, and so on - it is important that you use that microphone to speak. There are enough people out there using the microphone for bad things - extremists, haters, exploiters. Be one of the people who uses it for truth. You can do it, and the world needs to hear from you.