Last Tuesday I was on my way out of Starbucks, when a middle-aged Caucasian male called out to me “Free Palestine!” I looked over my shoulder hoping to engage him in conversation, but alas he had slipped away leaving the catchy phrase playing over in my mind.
What struck me right away about the encounter was that this Middle East conflict lingo was not being heard on TV shouted by angry demonstrators, or seen on placards waved from the side of some Gaza bound flotilla, but rather heard right here in the heart of downtown Denver.
Although the catchy phrase, “Free Palestine” sounds like it was made up by a Madison Avenue marketing firm, it’s more likely just an imitation of the “Free Sharansky” and “Free Mandela” phrases that were so popular in the Soviet Jewry and Apartheid South Africa years of the 1980’s.
And regardless of how dissimilar the above issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict actually are, it has nevertheless managed to capture the imagination of people in the US and around the world. Many of these people are quite happy being in the dark about the heart of the conflict and just enjoy being involved in another “free something” movement.
This is not the forum for all the counter arguments of why the phrase “Free Palestine” is wrong. Let’s just mention the greatest one – that no one is holding Palestine “prisoner” except the Palestinians themselves, who have failed repeatedly to negotiate a settlement despite numerous attempts by Israel over the past twelve or so years. Nevertheless, the Jewish community needs a response that can capture the imagination, allowing people not to lose their footing against a well-oiled anti-Israel PR machine.
One response I suggest is to employ marketing gurus who can frame the conflict into a short phrase that will energize the Diaspora Jewish community. But rather than using borrowed, inaccurate phrases from a bygone era, let’s say it the way it is. Something that will encapsulate Israel’s eternal right to its homeland.
Bottom line: an unabashed campaign telling the world about the Jewish people’s historic rights to the Holy Land will allow Jews and friends of Israel to stand tall in the face of intimidation and to feel proud of their support for the tiny Jewish state.
Benjy Brackman is the Rabbi/Executive Director of Chabad of NW Metro Denver in Westminster