There’s been plenty of ink (real and virtual) spilled over the issues of Israeli PR. Glenn Jasper wrote recently about the lack of a unified message coming out of Israel. Others say that Israel gets its story out too late to be the first account in the media. Others throw up their hands and say that the world and the media are constitutionally anti-Semitic and it doesn’t matter what we do or when. (There is a grain of truth to that; no matter how sympathetic to Israel a piece on the flotilla may be, the headline always refers to the “bloody raid” carried out on a “humanitarian” boat by the Israeli naval commados.)
I’m never completely satisfied with those explanations, since there will inevitably be differences in opinion and political view in Israel; it’s what makes it a democracy. And I commend Israel for making sure to have the facts straight before it makes its statements instead of getting a story out there riddled with errors that it ends up having to apologize for. And just because much of the world and the press wants to demonize Israel doesn’t make us demons; that’s their pathology, not ours.
I’ve been heartened in the last week or two to see a couple of pieces that put forward a REAL public relations program for Israel. In her June 4 article, “Israel’s daunting task,” Caroline Glick advocates that Israel turn the tables on a hostile UN and demand an investigation of Turkey’s sponsorship of the pro-Hamas flotilla. She also calls for Israeli embassies throughout the world to urge their host countries to outlaw organizations involved in the Gaza flotilla movement, and for Israel’s Justice Ministry to issue international arrest warrants for those involved in organizing and executing the flotilla, and prepare indictments for them in Israeli courts. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon seems to have adopted a similar attitude in response to Turkey’s call for an Israeli apology for the raid on the rogue flotilla, saying that it is not Israel who should apologize, but those who organized the flotilla in the first place.
But it’s Noah Pollak in Commentary magazine online who lays it out most clearly in his piece, “The problem with playing defense.” He praises Israel’s after-the-fact-truth-telling, but says “it is restricted to responding to lies, exaggerations, and accusations.” In his analysis, “Israel is on the receiving end of a viciously negative political campaign, and as any campaign strategist knows, you don’t respond to a negative campaign by expending all your energy trying to explain why the lies aren’t true — you go negative and play offense in return.” Among the many suggestions he makes for a formidable offense is expelling the Turkish ambassador and making his return contingent on “a full, credible, and public Turkish investigation of the terrorist organization that planned and funded” the flotilla; demanding reparations from Turkey for the cost of the operation, including the medical bills for the terrorists who received medical care here after the incident; and funding a Turkish language documentary on the Armenian genocide, putting it up on YouTube, and showing Erdogan that if he wants to call Israelis criminals and murderers, two can play at that game. Where Israel’s public relations strategy has focused for decades on “the persuasiveness of reason, evidence, context, truth, fairness, and apology,” Pollak points out that this strategy has failed. His final paragraph is a brilliant summary of what Israel’s PR should look like:
Israel’s hasbara strategy must shift to one that is based on power, self-confidence, and an eagerness to vigorously condemn its defamers. This is the difference between driving the debate and reacting to it, refuting lies and validating them, offense and defense, setting the agenda versus being on the agenda. If the Israelis wish to see a good model for how to set the terms of a controversy, they need only look at the Turkish prime minister’s brilliant performance this week.
In an ideal world where everyone was rational, everyone let the facts speak for themselves, and everyone accepted everyone else’s right to exist (pretty reasonable foundations, if you think about it), Israel’s antiquated PR methods would be effective. But in an international climate boiling with politics, nationalism, corruption, and calls for violence and the destruction of others, anyone who doesn’t play by the rules — no matter how distasteful they may be — gets eaten. Israel has shown a great will to survive against terrible odds, and one of the qualities that characterizes its success in that survival is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Well, Israel, perhaps it’s time to adapt again.