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January 10, 2010

Too busy in a "knife fight" for PR?

Writing in Newsweek, Michael Hersh discusses "Israel's PR Problem" and what to do about it:

To survive in the long run, Israel must get better at fighting for itself on the "new battlefield" of world opinion, as a just-released study calls it. The only way to do so is to develop a long-term strategy and to go on the offensive. Israel is fiercely effective at taking the offensive militarily as well as technologically—as Dan Senor and Saul Singer point out in their new book, Start-Up Nation—but somehow it remains chronically inept at promoting its interests aggressively. The Israeli government continues to see this issue as a secondary matter of little substance. Its attitude seems to be: Why bother? The world isn't with us anyway. Never will be.

Hence, during the 2006 Lebanon war, then-P.M. Ehud Olmert never bothered to hold a news conference explaining himself in English. And in the middle of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when Israeli soldiers had to uproot whole towns of anguished Israeli citizens, the government failed to develop a PR campaign to win global sympathy. "When I asked them about their 'press strategy,' they just sort of looked at me. They didn't have one," says Senor, who served as communications strategist for the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq. "Whether it's tactics or strategy, they're terrible at it. Their attitude is, they're busy in a knife fight and don't have the time."

Update: Ami Isseroff replies that it's not all Israel's fault:

But all the PR expertise in the world, and all the budget in the world will not solve the problem of Israeli public relations. According to Hirsh for example, it is Israel's fault that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian dictator, upstaged Benjamin Netanyahu when they were both in New York. Israel was at fault because the press found it better infotainment to give fawning interviews to Ahmadinejad, where only the right questions would be asked - the ones he wanted them to ask. Israel was presumably also at fault when Columbia university, having coincidentally gotten a $100,000 bribe from the Alavi foundation, a front for the government of Iran, invited the Iranian dictator to express his views about the Jewish problem, gay rights and democracy.

Carol Saivetz and Marvin Kalb documented how the media distorted the Second Lebanon war to help turn "nasty" Nasrallah into a hero and the Israelis into villains. Hirsh just might have been familiar with that study, though strangely, he didn't mention it. The staged ambulance chases, the fake smoke in the photos, the same "victims" showing up in different locations, products of Hizbollywood, were eagerly delivered by the media to an audience anxious for "real dirt" on Israel. Media coverage of the Gaza war was a barely disguised remake of the Second Lebanon war.

We are to believe that bad Israeli "PR" and not unprofessional and unethical journalism is what caused Newsweek, Time and the New York Times to print fabricated stories of Israeli atrocities following the Gaza War, often without asking for Israeli comment, without questioning how the same person could have died three different times in three different ways for example. Bad Israeli PR skills were also responsible for the cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating babies and for the magazine covers that showed Jewish stars in the American flag. Bad Israeli PR skills are responsible, according to Hirsh, for all the straight news stories where Israeli officials and the Israeli government are singled out with the epithets "ultranationlist" and "right wing." These are not used, for example, in describing the progressive and democratic government of Saudi Arabia, and certainly never used to describe that liberal democrat, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or that paragon of tolerance, Hassan Nasrallah, General Secretary of the Hezbullah. They are not right leaning nor are they ultranationalist.

Posted by TS at January 10, 2010 04:52 AM


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