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Press Release – 19 September 2011

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Communicating Israel, Neil Lazarus style

The Zionist Council of Victoria hosted Neil Lazarus, well-known expert on Israel, the Middle East and communicating the complexities of both, for a brief visit last week.

At a public workshop attended by 150 people, Lazarus encapsulated the new challenges of communicating Israel with a personal humorous story about being stopped by a camel in the middle of a desert road on his way to the lowest point in Israel and on earth, the Dead Sea. “And then out of nowhere comes this young Bedouin guy to steer the camel away from the road. I tried to talk to him but he didn’t answer, he was busy…on his iPhone”. Such is the irony of today’s Israel, says Lazarus, it is the same traditional place it has always been, steeped in history, religion and custom but now expressed in cutting-edge 21st century technology, much of it developed in Israeli labs.

Lazarus says the rhetoric used by Israel’s detractors is factually incorrect and therefore massively misleading. “Israeli occupation? Where? Israel left the Gaza Strip and took every single Israeli Jew with them in August 2005; our own army uprooted entire communities. The only Israeli now left in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, kidnapped less than a year later and held captive by Hamas ever since.” 

The discussion on Gaza has become so distorted and weighed down with rhetoric that people forget who the Hamas regime is. “If you’re a feminist, how can you support Hamas? If you’re progressive, how can you support a regime that oppresses?” Lazarus argues.

Another classic example of rhetoric that Lazarus cuts through is “Israel’s disproportionate response”. “You know what?” Lazarus replies. “Israel does respond disproportionately. If they were proportionate, Israel would be exploding buses in the middle of the Palestinian street and launching, on average, a rocket a day at Palestinian communities, kindergartens, schools and businesses.”

Whereas the simple issues are muddled, the complexities are overlooked. On the issue of the West Bank as part of a future Palestinian state, Lazarus says “Are people actually aware? Israel without the West Bank is 15 kilometres wide.”

At Victoria’s Parliament House, Neil Lazarus was hosted by Parliamentary Friends of Israel, co-convened by David Southwick MP and Marsha Thomson MP, answering questions on this month’s Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood, as well as the racist, anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which has seen public disturbances in the Melbourne CBD lead to arrests. Outspoken, bi-partisan support for Israeli and Jewish-owned businesses by many state and federal politicians has followed. Labor and Liberal MPs attending the meeting used the opportunity to ask some tough questions.

“Even the most challenging of questions put forth by the parliamentarians was supportive of Israel” said Sam Tatarka, ZCV president who accompanied Lazarus to parliament together with communal leaders and key supporters of the ZCV.

While in Melbourne, Lazarus’s also included workshops on Digital Diplomacy, making sense of the online worlds of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and blogging. He spoke to Christian Zionist supporters at a local church. 

Neil Lazarus’ visit to Melbourne was part of a national tour of Australia, initiated by Keith Buxton, long-time supporter, friend of Israel and executive director of Bridges for Peace, together with the Zionist Federation of Australia.

For more information contact:
Jane Rapke – Executive Director, Zionist Council of Victoria 9272 5544
Elly Shalev – Director Public Affairs, Zionist Council of Victoria 9272 5519
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The Zionist Council of Victoria leads and encourages Jewish and Zionist activity and expression within Victoria, to represent the Jewish community, to promote and communicate Israel’s interests within the broader Victorian community and to promote Victoria’s relationship with Israel. For more information, visit the Zionist Council of Victoria website www.zionismvictoria.org.au