June 27, 2010
Israel's PR Is Not the Problem
When Israel loses yet another PR battle, many of her friends complain that she is partly to blame because she is woefully inept when it comes to PR. I am not one of them.
Glenn Jasper, Ruder Finn Israel, recently suggested that Israel should have all its spokesmen deliver the same message. After all, that's what the Palestinians do. That might be a good idea, except that Israel is a nation of presidents, and each president will deliver his or her own message. They can't be disciplined.
Alex Fishman suggested that Israel should consider the PR battle as more important than the military battle and organize accordingly.
Hence, the manager of this war on our side should not be the army via the IDF spokesman, but rather, someone on the highest national level, with the best professionals, who would have the knowledge and ability to write the "scripts" for the war and enforce them on all our executive arms, including the army.
Good as these suggestions are, they don't go to the heart of the matter.
To start with, there is a coalition of forces, including anti-Semites, leftists and Islamists, that is dedicated to Israel's destruction. They couldn't care less about truth and justice, so a better PR campaign would be irrelevant. Then there is the main stream media, which presents news to support their agenda rather than the truth. The fact that they suppressed the flotilla videos, which made Israel's case better than a thousand words could have, is testimony to this fact. They have constructed a narrative in support of their agenda, and any facts not in keeping with it are ignored.
But there is something more going on that is little-noticed yet quite determinative. Governments like the U.S.'s also construct a narrative depending on their agenda, and they don't let truth and justice get in the way.
Long before the Oslo accords, the U.S. began to suppress negative information on Arafat and the PLO, as she wished to build a peace process around them. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, the U.S. made no issue of the violation of them by Arafat. She was not about to let such violations scuttle the peace process. In effect, Arafat could do whatever he wanted, and this included killing American diplomats, so long as he gave lip service to the peace process. Caroline Glick called the "peace process" an "appeasement process."
Iran and Syria also learned this lesson. They could keep killing Americans in Iraq as long as they denied their complicity. The U.S. rarely called them on this because if she did, she would have to do something about it.
President Bush waged a campaign against Syria to hold them accountable for the assassination of Harari and to get them out of Lebanon. Syria put up a strong enough fight to get Bush to abandon his original agenda. Bush then started a process of accommodating Syria rather than attacking her. Pres Obama has continued this process. Now Syria is openly arming Hezb'allah in violation of Res. 1701 and aligning with Iran. The U.S. response is to embrace her, to engage her, to send envoys, and generally to make nice. Obviously pointing the finger at Syria is inconsistent with the present U.S. goals.
Similarly, the U.S. has been attempting to engage Iran and to co-opt her into helping in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the U.S. refrained from supporting the green movement when it challenged the government. For the same reason, she is unwilling to verbally attack Iran or to apply effective sanctions. She is even prepared to live with a nuclear Iran if only Iran will cooperate, and even if not.
In the last year or so, Turkey has taken center stage in the Middle East and is throwing her rhetorical weight around, especially since backing the flotilla. Not one critical word did Obama utter. To the contrary, he believes that "Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process."
Examples are legion, but what has this to do with Israel's efforts at public relations? Lots.
The flip-side of this coin is that when the U.S. wants to force someone, either friend or foe, to do something, she must first demonize that entity. But the U.S. can't demonize a friend without a pretext, so she first creates a crisis as her springboard.
In March of this year, the U.S. feigned outrage over Israel's announcement of a housing project in Ramat Shlomo. Similarly, Israel's legitimate self-defense in the flotilla attack, in which she killed nine violent "activists," was enough of a pretext for demonizing her and putting pressure on her. On May 31, after news of the deaths surfaced, Obama was a bit more restrained in his condemnation of Israel than his European allies and called for all the "facts and circumstances." Had he been genuine in this, he would have, after the videos of the attack on the IDF went viral the next day, totally sided with Israel and nipped the demonization in the bud, but he didn't. He had an agenda, and he wanted to use this crisis to announce that the blockade was "unsustainable." He allowed the pressure to mount so he could achieve his ends.
Shelby Steele argues most convincingly that "the end game of this isolation effort is the nullification of Israel's legitimacy as a nation." He attributes this scapegoating of Israel to a "deficit of moral authority" in the West. While that is sadly true, it ignores the fact that realpolitik, which has taken hold of the Obama administration, dictates a similar result.
Yet I would argue that the pursuit of self-interest by the U.S. is assured greater success with Israel as a strong ally rather than without her.
This is not to say that Israel should cease its PR efforts. She shouldn't. She should continue to provide her friends with the truth so that they maintain their friendship, lest they be infected as well. Notwithstanding all the demonization she is subjected to and the realpolitik, she has managed to keep the goodwill of the American people and others who value truth and justice. Ultimately, this is her trump card.
Ted Belman is a retired lawyer and the editor of Israpundit. He made aliyah a year ago and now lives in Jerusalem.