First HR Conference: Be a History Maker and Not a Bystander

On Tuesday 14 December, over 200 participants gathered at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel for HonestReporting’s first ever one-day conference under the theme Reclaiming the Narrative: Fact & Fiction.

Opening Keynote Speaker, journalist, broadcaster, author and blogger Melanie Phillips, outlined the threat to Israel from the international campaign of delegitimization and how anti-Israel discourse has entered mainstream liberal Western societies.

“We will never convince bigots that facts are as they are, or that the evidence of history tells a different story from the one they believe. We cannot fight prejudice with reason,” Phillips said. “But we have a duty to bear witness to the truth. And we have a duty to fight in our defense.

“We can best do this by getting off our back foot and putting western fifth columnists on theirs. We should accuse them, not of Jew-hating motives we cannot prove but of absurdities and contradictions and untruths they cannot deny. We should ridicule them, humiliate them, destroy their reputations; boycott them, not invite them to our houses, show them our disapproval and contempt. Treat them as pariahs. Turn their own weapons against them. In short, we must get up off our collective knees and fight. Justice, human rights and truth are on our side, not theirs. We must reclaim them as our own,” she added.

Click here for the full text of Melanie Phillips’ speech

Echoing Melanie Phillips’ views on the threat, former Israel Government Press Office Director Danny Seaman nonetheless maintained that Israel’s government does have a strategy for fighting its cause in the media, although he also stated his deep dissatisfaction with the inner workings of Israeli officialdom and a lack of willpower on the part of some government employees to take necessary risks as part of the battle.

During the day, the conference participants were armed with practical advocacy skills courtesy of Neil Lazarus, an internationally acclaimed expert in the field of Middle East, Israel advocacy and effective communications training who gave many tricks and tips on how to win a debate against anti-Israel activists.

Lazarus called on the audience to be history makers and not bystanders through getting involved and taking action, a sentiment echoed by HonestReporting’s CEO, Joe Hyams who presented the latest developments within HonestReporting, including its soon to be launched brand new website:

One of the most important things to come out of this conference was not simply getting 200 people to listen to an array of top speakers but to be empowered to do something on behalf of Israel. HonestReporting has been at the forefront of harnessing the platforms of new media such as Facebook and YouTube. If 200 people leave this conference with some more skills and the encouragement to do even just one simple action online then this will be a great achievement for Israel’s benefit.

The Anglo community living in Israel is an amazing grassroots resource. We have seen from the incredible number attending this conference that the enthusiasm and dedication is there – we hope that this will be the first of many future conferences where we will be able to channel this energy into real activism for Israel.

Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, a senior research fellow at the BESA Center, senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University and expert on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, explained who was behind the campaign and urged the audience to take whatever action they felt comfortable with, whether that meant counter-demonstrating in local supermarkets or actively buying Israeli goods.

Military analyst Elliot Chodoff examined how the media consistently fails to understand the realities of conflict situations and how an army operates, making use of examples such as a Red Cross ambulance falsely presented as the target of an Israeli missile during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit outlined the various ways that the IDF was now making use of Social Media outlets such as YouTube and Twitter to respond to incidents such as the Gaza flotilla, therefore reaching the online audience directly and bypassing the mainstream media.

The conference’s final Keynote Speaker was the award-winning Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh addressing the question as to whether the Palestinians are prepared for peace. He concluded that this was not the case, in light of internal divisions amongst the Palestinians, irreconcilable differences between Fatah and Hamas, the weakness of Palestinian President Abbas and the continuing reluctance to accept Israel’s very right to exist in the region.