Communications expert discusses public perceptions of Israel

Internationally acclaimed expert on the Middle East Neil Lazarus said the rise of social media and an increase in tourism to Israel can help bolster Israel’s image worldwide at an event Tuesday night at the Hillel.

Lazarus – who spoke to about 30 students on behalf of the Israeli Embassy – speaks to more than 25,000 people annually about how the world perceives Israel, and how the media shapes that perception. He helps train “Israeli diplomats as well as Israel’s army and air force spokespeople,” according to his biography.

Lazarus said a major issue with Israel’s worldwide perception is the lack of context that media outlets give on the conflict in the Middle East as a whole.

He said the media has taken a lot of information out of context, resulting in an unfair image of Israel.

“I think it lacks context; it lacks context of the conflict,” Lazarus said of many news pieces. “In other words, when you’re talking about a one minute story, it’s very difficult to explain 3000 years of history.”

Lazarus stressed that the current transformation of the media – with the addition of social networking tools such as YouTube – can help bolster the image of Israel and end the media’s reliance on the Israeli government for information.

“It really does empower people such as yourselves to get involved,” he said to the audience. “The concept of you picking up a laptop and just becoming a pundit is a reality.”

He encouraged students seeking ways to help the Israeli cause for peace in the Middle East to visit Israel, get involved in local events, and get informed.

“I want to promote a better understanding of Israel and its dilemmas, the reality on the ground and a fair and balanced understanding,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus said his main goal in speaking on campuses like GW’s is to “activate” young people to get involved and take the Israeli side of the conflict in the Middle East. Israeli’s believe that they have a right to the land they inhabit in the Middle East after enduring years of oppression.

You need to “frame the conflict in a way which is realistic, where it’s not Israel versus Pakistan; it’s extremists versus pragmatics,” Lazarus said.

Junior Sarah Ferst helped to bring Lazarus on to campus.

Ferst said she had heard many positive things about Lazarus from people who had heard him talk at Birthright trips – free trips for Jewish students to go to Israel.

She said she thought Lazarus’ view that tourism is important to educating people about Israel was the strongest point he made during his talk.

“The thing that stood out to me the most was how tourism is so important in Israel and how Israel can’t necessarily show both sides of the conflict so much because if a tourist were to see a bomb, they’re not going to want to go,” Ferst said.

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