Latest update: October 22nd, 2012
Throughout its 62 years of independent existence, Israel has had to defend itself from attacks by Arab states and in more recent decades from Palestinian terrorism and the Lebanese Shi’ite Hizbullah. Despite its existential struggle against the genocidal intentions of the Arab world and the Palestinians, Israel failed to establish an Information Ministry that would contextually present a Middle East reality: A Jewish democratic state struggling against dictatorial regimes that deny democratic rights to their people and religious freedom to minorities, and who choose to impede the progress of their people while using Israel as the scapegoat.
In the early days of the state, the horrors of the Holocaust loomed large in the minds of Europeans and Americans, and the bravery of a band of Jews who defended themselves, and ultimately defeated five Arab armies, elicited the admiration of the political Left as well as segments of the political Right. Israel was portrayed as the proverbial “David” fighting the Arab “Goliath.”
Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War changed the way the country was viewed. No longer the perennial “victim,” it was now seen by many in academia and the media as a tool of “American imperialism.” The Left resented Israel’s strong pro-American tilt and, in short order, found a new “victim” to support – the Palestinian Arabs. Little attention was given by the Left to the foundational underpinnings of the Palestine Liberation Organization or that it was created by Egypt’s dictator Nasser to harass the Jewish state. Moreover, they ignored the fact that the PLO was formed in 1964, long before the Six-Day War and that its charter called for the liquidation of Israel.
In other words, the true “struggle” of the Palestinians was not to create a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza but rather to replace the Jewish state of Israel.
Israel’s policy makers were and have been dismissive of allocating resources for a Ministry of Information or to a central agency that would articulate Israel’s side of the story. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and with the help of billions of petro-dollars, the Arabs were able to enlist the services of the best European and American P.R. firms and lobbyists. They created a powerful narrative: Israel as “occupier” and “victimizer,” the Palestinians as “victims.” The Left, historically attracted to “liberation,” whether in theological or political terms, quickly embraced the narrative and the cause.
The 1977 surprise victory of the Likud Party in Israel over the establishment Labor (in power since the founding of the state in 1948) presented an immediate need to create an Information Ministry. Menachem Begin, the newly elected and much vilified Israeli prime minister, asked a trusted colleague and friend, political commentator Shmuel Katz, to head the new ministry. Begin had selected Moshe Dayan, the symbol of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, to be foreign minister. Dayan gave Begin an ultimatum: either Information stays as a section in the Foreign Ministry or Begin would have to look for another foreign minister. Begin relented.
In an August 16, 2001 Jerusalem Post piece, Shmuel Katz wrote: “To the aid of the Arabs have come a host of allies. Classic anti-Semitism, of course, now posing as ‘legitimate’ political anti-Zionism, but also a battery of the leading media in the world. Examples: The Times of London, Le Monde, the BBC, CNN, etc. In all of them there are regular distortions or suppression of news – so as to make the Arabs look good and the Jews look bad . Israel’s reply is exemplified by the opinions expressed by two foreign ministers, each in his time responsible for hasbara: Moshe Dayan, who said ‘We don’t need hasbara. It is important what we do, not what we say,’ and Shimon Peres who believed that we shouldn’t trouble our heads with history.”
Katz saw the role of Israeli hasbara (public relations and information) as one of not just “occasional sudden sallies” but as a separate and permanent department in the government headed by a minister dedicated to this specific mission. “He can have no other business, and in the debates at the cabinet table he must inject an appreciation of the impact of information. His senior staff must maintain a 24-hour-a-day service, must be experts on all the subjects which have a bearing on the dispute with the Arabs: Jewish history in Eretz Israel, Zionist history and the British Mandate, the history of Arab claims “
As a result of the failures of Israeli hasbara, media coverage has led to negative perceptions of Israel resulting in, among other actions, calls for boycotts in Europe, especially in Britain, and even in the U.S.
Israel’s hasbara has been scattered and ineffective. Israel needs to recognize that there are military wars and communications wars. Israel needs a war room in every major country ready to move into immediate response mode when necessary. Experts from the world of marketing, PR firms, business, and academia must work together to forge a campaign that is not propagandist but educational and one that puts a positive face on Israel.
Competent individuals in the local languages rather than Israeli officers in military uniforms should serve as spokespeople. And most of all, Israel needs an effective and centralized Ministry of Information.
Joseph Puder, a freelance journalist, is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI). A somewhat longer version of this article originally appeared at FrontPageMag.com.
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