Former Sharon adviser doubles as media mastermind and Holocaust educator

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Click photo to download. Caption: Raanan Gissin (right) in conversation with Flame Society founder and vice president Rabbi Yaakov Thompson. Credit: Flame Society.

NEW YORK—For more than two decades, Raanan Gissin has spoken on Israel’s behalf in many capacities.

Gissin—a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now a strategic consultant who often represents the Israeli government as a commentator on television networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News—says his military background helps him “identify who is a friend and who is a foe.”

Applying these skills, he advises to “make the interviewer your friend.”

“Before the eye of the camera, you have to defend yourself,” Gissin explains during an interview in New York with JNS.org. 

Gissin calls the media “an intriguing game.”

“Make your point—tell what you want to say, say it, and then say it again!” he exclaims.

Using this tactic when he is interviewed on such stations as Al Jazeera helps Gissin protect the integrity of his statements. 

Click photo to download. Caption: Raanan Gissin. Credit: JNF.

“Even on Arab TV, they can’t edit me—and there are 1.3 billion Muslims watching,” he says.  

The first lesson in how to behave on the air, Gissin says, is “realizing that it’s a lot like jumping out of an airplane.”

“You have to train yourself so when you stand at the door and know you have to go do it yourself, you do,” he says. “Fear? You get over it by training.” Gissin acknowledges that on Israeli TV, some people are even afraid of him.

When Cantor Emil Levi needed someone to carry out the message of The Flame Society, a Holocaust education initiative, he sought a spokesman with a great love for the Jewish people as well as the skill to communicate the group’s mission. He turned to Gissin, now director of international affairs for Flame.

Gissin’s outreach on behalf of Flame is both national and international. He lectured for the society in New York this June, returned to Israel, and in July was in California introducing Flame’s work to several Christian congregations. On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, he spoke to an audience in Orlando, Fla., that approached 1,000 people, of which 500 were Evangelical Christians.

Flame provides educational materials, including a series of computer modules and a program of special training for teachers, dedicated to making sure the Holocaust is never forgotten. The information it develops centers on the personal stories and experiential responses of the people who lived through the horrors.

Development of “Through Their Eyes: Reliving the Holocaust,” a series of stories of survival and rescue told by those who lived them, is a prime goal. These narratives detail unique journeys and show how Jews are experts in the art of survival. 

Gissin sadly acknowledges that soon there will be no Holocaust survivors left.

“Today, people are still available to speak,” he says. “In 15 or 20 years, there will be no one. The future has no constituency unless we create it now. Elie Wiesel has said, ‘it a temporary window of opportunity.’”

JNS.org asked Gissin how the material gathered by Flame differs from other Holocaust education programs. 

“The curriculum depends less on the facts and more on the stories—the personal reminiscences, the human aspect,” he says. “These are real stories remembered. They create pictures. Making education both personal and mandatory is much more effective. It’s important to create interest, even when the facts are horrendous.” 

Gissin advises that every high school student “should receive lessons in remembrance,” noting that in Florida, former governor Jeb Bush made Holocaust studies a mandatory part of the high school curriculum.

Recalling his depth of emotion, and of pride, as he watched Israeli F-16 jets fly over the Auschwitz concentration camp, Gissin says, “At least one of the pilots in each ‘fly-by’ [was] a member of a Holocaust survivor’s family… The clear reminder is that we have the means to assure it will never happen again.” 

One of Gissin’s foci is getting SNCF, the French railroad company that provided trains for the Nazis’ deportation of the country’s Jews, to take responsibility for its actions. SNCF is now seeking to do business in Florida, home to a significant community of Holocaust survivors. Bernard Anselem, now the company’s Deputy Vice President for International Affairs, has been asked to establish a 1 million Euro fund for Holocaust education that will provide prizes and scholarships for scholars working “to prepare for a future without Holocaust survivors.”

Gissin is also well versed in Iran’s threat of a 21st-century Holocaust. Asked for his thoughts about Israel’s ability to protect itself from an Iranian nuclear strike, he notes how “times are changing.”

“In 1942, 70 years ago, Nazis planned the destruction of the Jews at the Wannsee Conference,” Gissin says. “This year, Germany delivered the fourth Dolphin submarine to Israel. The Dolphin is built in the same boatyard that once constructed the infamous U-boats. German naval engineers now use their skills to build the weapons that help the Jewish people defend [themselves]. The same Germany that wanted the final solution is giving Israel the means to assure that another Holocaust will never happen.” (The Dolphin is considered to be the world’s best non-nuclear submarine.)

Gissin acknowledges that “anything other than an [Israeli] airstrike [on Iran]” reaches only “the peak of an iceberg… We have to have many other elements in place. The reality is that no one except the United States has the capability to undertake a full blown attack.” 

“There is great cooperation between the United States and Israel,” says Gissin. “The United States is still the strongest military power. The less spoken, the better.”

Gissin says Iran “thinks we have a loaded gun in hand.”

“Israel has to have a plan to work inside Iran—not to stop he bomb, but to stop the regime,” he says. “This will not happen overnight.”

Asked about the value and effect of economic sanctions on Iran, Gissin says he believes those are “needed, but are not sufficient—I believe more are needed to be effective.”  

Posted on August 6, 2012 and filed under Features, Holocaust, Israel.