Jerusalem Post, April 26 2002:
Israeli message is not reaching US
By Etgar Lefkovits
Israel has failed in the public relations war against the
Palestinian Authority, and is likely to lose the support of
the American public unless it stops reacting and starts communicating
its own point of view, Jeffrey Swartz, president and CEO of
the Timberland Company said yesterday.
"I'm a shoe guy, and if I did as lousy a job building
my brand as Israel does in telling her side of the story,
than I'd certainly be fired," Swartz said in an interview
with The Jerusalem Post at the culmination of a four-day Boston
solidarity visit he made to Israel this week.
Saying "a truth not told is a truth not heard is no
longer a truth," Swartz, an observant Jew who oversees
operations of the $1.1 billion global footwear, apparel, and
accessories company, said part of the problem is Israel always
seems to be on the defensive - responding to Palestinian claims
- and does not succeed in getting its message across.
"We know [PA Chairman] Arafat is the bad guy, but how
are you going to solve the problem?" he asks.
The issue, he concedes, is exacerbated because it needs to
be explained in 10 second sound-bites for the American audience.
Swartz proposes that 100 reservists who took part in the
recent military operation be sent for a week to speak to thousands
of American Jews in the 50 largest US markets.
"They should tell the American Jewish community what
is going on through the eyes of a simple average person, which
will be much more informative, impressive, and effective than
your well oiled politician doing the same thing," he
The goal of such a mission, Swartz says, should be threefold
- encourage American Jewry to visit Israel and see the situation
for themselves; mobilize 100,000 American Jews to be more
politically involved; and encourage them to write a check
to help Israel.
Swartz voiced the hope such a campaign would bring 25,000
American Jews to Israel by the end of the summer, helping
Israel's ailing economy.
He said the editorial pages of most leading US newspapers
have turned against Israel in recent weeks. He noted the pro-Palestinian
attitudes prevalent on university campuses, which he said
are often an indication of future developments.
"You put CNN and [US Secretary of State] Colin Powell
together and this could make things very bad for Israel,"
he said, noting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN special
envoy Terje Larsen are "hard at work" trying to
reduce mainstream America's support for Israel.
Swartz said that after his 96 hour visit he is going home
with a "sense of duty" to ensure the "overwhelming
and life changing" things he saw during his trip - including
a bag of the steel shrapnel doctors at Hadassah-University
Hospital, Ein Kerem pulled out of the insides of a 25-year-old
reservist wounded by a car bomb in Hebron - are publicized.
Timberland operates six stores in Israel, and it products
are sold in 17 other sporting-goods stores owned by its Israel
Their store in Jerusalem closed several years ago due to
poor sales, but Swartz said he wants to see more stores open
- especially now.
Swartz said that he has heard of many American businesses
having second thoughts about investing in the country due
to "canards" spread in the US media. He said the
"canards" are based on unconfirmed rumors about
Israel's military operation, something he vows to fight with
all his strength.
"There is a right and wrong, and American Jews need
to be informed, inspired, and engaged because we are losing
the battle for their hearts and minds," he said.
"Did I come here as a Jew and as the CEO of Timberland?
Yes. Might my board of directors say to me - what are
you doing giving an interview to The Jerusalem Post expressing
such strong feelings? Sure. But I owe this to my children,
to my family, to you, and to the nation of Israel," he
"The Godfather was wrong when he said this is nothing
personal, it's just business. This is deeply personal,"