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Karen Telleen-Lawton: Winning Hearts and Minds

A mural on the separation wall between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
A mural on the separation wall between Ramallah and Jerusalem.  (Karen Telleen-Lawton / Noozhawk photo)

 The United States has long nurtured a “special relationship” with Israel.

This relationship plays out partly in our willingness to use our United Nations veto power in favor of Israel.

We have done this 42 times out of 83 times we have ever vetoed.

But mostly the special favors are aid.

Despite Israel’s tiny population, and with one of the world’s largest per capita incomes, U.S. aid to Israel totals approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget.

Almost all the aid is in the form of military assistance.

A 2014 PR Newswire poll showed six in ten Americans believe the U.S. gives too much foreign aid to Israel.

Whether these surprising poll numbers are due to a changing attitude or a newfound awareness of the nature of the relationship is not clear.

Two approaches to improving citizen diplomacy for Israel/Palestine have captured my attention.

Las Vegas casino tycoons Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are working stateside.

When a Pew Research Center poll showed 27 percent of millennials sympathize more with Palestinians than Israelis (up from 9 percent in 2006), they established the Maccabee Task Force to “increase positive education” about Israel on American campuses.

The multimillion-dollar effort to “win hearts and minds for Israel” includes hosting “peace tents” for dialogue and Israel culture fairs with free falafel and iced coffee.

But the campaign also includes displaying inflammatory posters around campus.

The posters consist of lists labeling as “Jew haters” and terrorist allies students who have joined groups like Students for Justice in Palestine.

An African American UCLA senior profiled by the L.A Times was surprised to find himself listed on a poster.

He had joined one such group after perceiving a likeness between Israeli crackdowns on Palestinian protesters and police violence against black Americans.

He has since received death threats on line and been physically followed.

The campaign, which kicked off at five California colleges last spring, is being expanded to 20 more campuses this fall.

American-born Israeli Jew Elisa Moed has a very different approach.

She teamed up with Palestinian Christian Cristina Samara to bring “gastro-diplomacy” to the Middle East.

The women co-founded Breaking Bread Journeys, a cooperative tour program that brings visitors to Israel and Palestine.

The tour group was awarded a 2016 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.

Moed and Samara were both tourism professionals when they first met on a Holy Land Marketing Panel created by Britain’s former prime Minister Tony Blair.

They realized they both shared the same frustration with standardized tours in Israel and Palestine: with limited glimpses of real life.

“There’s so much that can be told through food,” Samara told Dera Kamin in an L.A. Times interview.

“You can dive into the roots the foods are coming from; learn about their national backgrounds. It’s a great way to understand the culture better and tell the folklore and traditions. Plus, the tastes that come out of it are excellent.”

Tour themes range from culture to sustainability, pilgrimage, or politics.

Each uses food to provide “a taste of life from both sides of the border,” breaking bread with locals whenever they can.

What is likely to win the hearts and minds of Americans? Hate posters are literally beyond the pale.

“Peace tents” with free falafel and tasting kitchens from both sides of the border are good places to start: through the stomach.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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