This is not a eulogy. The last thing that Joe Lerner would have wanted would have been a eulogy. I can almost Joe Lerner telling you his version about what the Rabbi talked about on Yom Kippur: About an hour too long.
Joe Lerner was a man who wanted everyone to learn lessons from life and from history, and he did not want to waste a minute of time. Meeting Joe twenty years ago was an honor. Not only because he had been the head of the emergency preparedness department at the White House from 1952 until 1976. Also because there were no pretensions and no awe about this man whatsoever. His passion was to impart what he had practiced. To help people. Especially the Jewish people, be prepared for all eventualities, and to develop a sensible strategy and approach to accomplish those goals.
Joe noticed early on that Jewish organizations has no organized way to cope with systematic media attacks against Israel or against the Jewish community.
For that reason, he developed his own network of personal relationships with reporters, editors, publishers and ombudsmen of the various major papers. For that reason, the ombudsman of the Washington Post gave him a send off when he relocated to Israel in 1986, devoting a full column to the effective ways in which Joe Lerner worked with the media on behalf of Israel.
It was from Joe that I learned the art of working with and relating to reporters, and news executives in a direct, effective manner.
It was this direct approach where Joe shined, which helped us learn how to successfully dialogue and adjust the news coverage of some of the most important media luminaries of our time, while there were still a few reporters whom he felt that he just could not influence, because of the agenda that these reporters brought with them to their desks.
Joe always noted that while there were rules of fair play and equal time in the print media, no such rules applied in TV media, which he why he so passionately defended our agency in the public domain when our news agency successfully fought off a suit by a major TV network for conducting showings of their material without their permission.
Joe also analyzed that the same ill preparedness of Jewish organizations in light of emergency aid to Jews that he had witnessed as a young man during WWII. Joe would wryly comment that with the improvement of technology, if Jewish organizations ever faced the possibility of Jews once again being taken to the camps, the most that they would do would be to make sure that kosher food was beings served in the dining car, and/or that the trains are environmentally safe.
Reading documents was a particularly important passion for Joe Lerner. How often it would be that a document would be discussed, and no one was bothering to discuss the document. So it was with the non ratification of the DOP and the PLO Covenant. So it was with Israeli government decisions to hand over all of Judea and Samaria and Gaza and the Golan in June 1967. So it was with the second Oslo accords, which the Knesset never received before voting upon them – until Joe Lerner commissioned a Hebrew translation of such. And when Bibi’s government did not distribute the PLO violations of the accords, Joe did so.
And Joe became the exclusive source for making sure that people would see what Egypt and Jordan were saying, publishing and teaching.
And Jow was disappointed with the slew of media monitor groups that have cropped up. The reason: You influence the reporter AFTER you have developed a relationship with that correspondent.
Joe had a passion for exposing UNRWA and reminding everyone of the fact that Arab refugees were left to wallow for yet another generation in refugee camps rather than solving the issue once for forever.
Joe had an uncanny ability to help people laugh at history and to ridicule today’s leaders by simply sharing their very words with the public.
All that Joe Lerner wanted you to know was that it is not hard to follow the media or to question a reporter. You do not need conspiracies. Everything is on the table.
Joe’s greatest fear was what he would characterize the art of omission. At his last appearance at an ADL press conference, Joe simply asked how could it be that ADL would forget to relate to the anti-Semitism of the Palestinian Authority by simply deleting a chapter in their final report.
Joe would always note that governments tend to distract the citizen with catchy phrases that belie reality.
The latest example: The Saudi Peace Initiative and the Prisoner’s Documemt, both of which are based on… the right of return
And Joe would often comment on the best lie ever communicated: that the Oslo accords called for an end to settlements.
Joe was also a pioneer in the field of challenging the reliability of human rights reports which singled out Israel for condemnation. He was an early challenger to the credibility of Rabbis for Human Rights and Bitzelem. The conference of The NGO Monitor on June 14th, 2006 could have easily be convened in his memory.
The adage in “Ethics of the Fathers”, a tractate of the Talmud, that “wise things are said softly” would best summarize twenty years of learning from Joe Lerner.