Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee for Foreign Policy Chairman and former Israeli ambassador to the US MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said on Wednesday, “You cannot seriously combat the delegitimization of Israel phenomenon and the BDS movement with an advertising and marketing budget of $3.5 million (which comes out of the Foreign Ministry’s budget) when, for the sake of comparison, the advertising budget of the Israeli food producer Osem is $27.5 million. How can the State of Israel fight the boycott movement in Sweden when its advertising and marketing budget in that country is $19,000 per year?”
The subcommittee met on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) efforts amid the boycotts and the BDS movement’s activities against the Jewish State. Representatives from every government office that deals with Israel’s PR efforts took part in the meeting.
Yarden Vatikai, head of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, who is in charge of coordinating Israel’s hasbara efforts, told the subcommittee, “Our budget is limited, as is the workforce at our disposal. This has frequently hurt our ability to achieve our goals, mainly regarding long-term projects.” He added that one of the main problems is the shortage of Arabic speakers in Israel’s hasbara activities.
Foreign Ministry representative Noam Katz told the subcommittee that some 1,000 foreign journalists work in Israel at any given moment – the third highest in the world. Most of the global media coverage of Israel is negative, he said, while Israeli missions abroad are understaffed and therefore cannot adequately support the country’s public diplomacy efforts.
Katz revealed that the Foreign Ministry’s annual hasbara operational budget is $3.5 million, and this amount is distributed among all 106 Israeli missions overseas. “This is a miniscule budget that does not allow us to carry out significant projects,” he complained. “For example, Israel’s annual budget for hasbara in Sweden is $19,000.”
Nir Amsel of the Finance Ministry said the Foreign Ministry’s budget is more than one billion shekels (about $250 million) and it cannot be claimed that only $3.5 million are directed to hasbara efforts, because many of the Foreign Ministry’s activities are indirectly related to hasbara, “such as the salary of an Israeli representative abroad who gives an interview to a foreign news network.”
“Moreover, a report prepared at my request by the Knesset Research and Information Center showed that the budget designated for Israeli public diplomacy is not fully utilized, and despite the fact that there is cooperation between the various entities, there is no one entity that concentrates all of Israel’s hasbara activities,” he added.
“The international boycott phenomenon is a threat of the highest level on the State of Israel’s national resilience,” Chairman Oren said, commenting that “we must budget the public diplomacy array accordingly and ensure that the budget is [allocated properly]. We are far behind in the battle for the State of Israel’s image. We must roll up our sleeves and fight in the international public diplomacy arena.”