Timberland boss: Israeli message is not reaching US
By Etgar Lefkovits, JPost
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 said.
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 distributor, Sakal.
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 said.
"The Godfather was wrong when he said this is nothing personal, it's just business. This is deeply personal," he concluded.-Thanks to Maryam M