By Paul Rockower
Throughout my career, I have been a practitioner of public diplomacy. I did so as a press officer for the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest, directing media and public diplomacy outreach across a five-state region during the Second Intifada and Gaza Disengagement. More recently, I have run State Department cultural diplomacy programs all over the world.
With the rise of anti-Semitism and incidents like the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, I decided to change my public diplomacy focus and get involved in domestic, communal public diplomacy on behalf of the American Jewish community.
I am grateful for the opportunity to conduct communal public diplomacy on behalf of the Valley’s Jewish community as the new executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC).
Yet, what is public diplomacy and why does the Jewish community need to engage in it?
Public diplomacy differs from traditional diplomacy. Traditional diplomacy consists of high-level communications between governments, while public diplomacy is how countries and communities communicate their policies, culture and values to the outside public. In order to create relationships that will benefit the Jewish community, we need to engage in public diplomacy.
Public diplomacy represents the intersection of policy and communication, and is conducted domestically through the following elements: listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, and community media.
First and foremost, the key to good public diplomacy is listening. The act of listening is an attempt to understand our environment by collecting information from partners in the community and outside it. Through listening to our community partners, the Jewish community can advocate with a more cohesive voice to the general community; by listening to other communities and understanding their issues, concerns and values, we can create stronger partnerships and coalitions. As I get to know my new Phoenix home, I am on a listening tour to learn the values, interests and perspectives of our community. I invite the community to share perspectives with me.
The second element of public diplomacy is advocacy. Advocacy is how we actively project and communicate our policies, values and interests to the greater public. This is done through media and social media engagement, and through direct engagement with civic and community leaders, interfaith partners and elected officials. This includes both advocacy on behalf of the Jewish community’s interests and promoting Israel in her quest for peace and security.
The third element of public diplomacy is cultural diplomacy. This is the use of cultural intangibles such as art, music, food and dance to foster a tangible connection with other communities to help them better understand our history and culture. This includes projects such as the JCRC’s Multi-Faith Music Concert, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, the Jewish Federation’s Violins of Hope program and intercultural programs like the BBYO Global Shabbat. Fostering cultural exchange between the Jewish community and the diverse Phoenix landscape helps to connect us and leads to mutual understanding.
Finally, there is community media. Community media includes outlets like the Jewish News. Community media is a vital resource of communal public diplomacy because these are outlets where we can share our community’s stories in ways that the general media cannot.
The culmination of such public diplomacy outreach can be witnessed in programs such as the community-wide vigil co-organized by the JCRC following the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in October. The memorial brought together more than 1,200 attendees, including more than 70 faith leaders from various denominations and traditions.
The JCRC’s work to project the policies, culture and values of the Greater Phoenix Jewish community internally and externally will ultimately help protect and strengthen us. Using communal public diplomacy, we will seek to create more cohesive communication within the Jewish community and create greater partnerships and coalitions with our neighbors. Through communal public diplomacy, we will seek to create better communal communications and foster greater understanding as a means to counteract anti-Semitism.