Minister of Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein told students and young professionals not to blame reporters for Israel’s poor image at a conference on media and hasbarah at Ariel University earlier this month.
“Some reporters are anti-Israel, others are pro-Israel and most are objective,” Edelstein said. “The reporters are here for one reason, and that is to cover the conflict . . . [e]ven if they did write a nice article about Israel, it wouldn’t be published.”
Edelstein also urged citizens to take an active role in Israel’s public diplomacy efforts, stating that, “Citizens, who photograph and share it on social media introduce to the world our human face.”
The conference was part of the week-long New Media and Public Diplomacy Seminar organized by Ariel University’s School of Communications and sponsored by the Ministery of Hasbarah as well as the Prime Minsiter’s Office, held September 9-14th.
The seminar brought together 40 young students and professionals from around the world to learn about how public diplomacy shapes the Middle East conflict and the increasing impact of social media.
Seminar participants toured Israeli settlements and Palestinians villages, meeting with their residents, visited the Temple Mount, the security barrier and heard from Israeli professors, reporters and military officials.
Another speaker on the seminar, Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian originating from Jordan who is currently in political exile in London, spoke at the settlement of Eli and surprised local residents with his objections to the dismantlement of Jewish settlements.
Zahran claimed that the Palestinian state should be established in Jordan.
“The Palestinians have 78% of the land and the Jews have 22%,” he added “so it’s a fair deal.”
Zahran also praised the settlements for helping the Palestinians by creating jobs, and blamed the “Arab regimes” for “inciting against Israel,” so that their people will focus on Israel and not on them.
Students also heard from critics of Israel such as a Palestinian named Omar from the village of Kalkilia, who said he works in Israel and that he must pass through an Israeli military check point on his way to work every day.
“Imagine,” he said bitterly, “you had to go through airport security checks just to get to your own land.”
While Omar said he supports Israel’s security, he said that “instead of building barriers we should build the peace.”
At the Habla military check point outside Kalkilia, participants met with Daniella, a representative of the Machsom Watch organization, considered by many to be an anti-Israel NGO.
Daniella complained about the difficulties Palestinians had to go through getting permits to work in Israel, “even after getting the permit” she added, “they need additional permits for their car, cart, donkey and sheep.”
“We volunteer for the benefit of Israel and the Palestinians,” Daniella said, adding that the “situation at the check points has improved incredibly.”
Participants concluded the seminar with a more positive view of Israel and the settlements.
“In Denmark, settlers have been stigmatized as evil people,” said Magnus Franck, a participant hailing from Denmark. Franck said he was surprised to find them to be “very nice people.”
Swedish participant Doron Keidar blamed the world of being detached from reality, due to “misinformation of the media.”
“The Arabs build with no restrictions, while the Jew’s are restricted from building even the smallest thing,” Keidar said.
Lara Berman a participant from the U.S. said that the media could never replace the experience of actually visiting the settlements.
“You can’t compare seeing the areas that are in the news, and interacting with people that are living it, with an article or a YouTube clip,” she said.
Berman said that she concluded the seminar with “more compassion and information on the situation.”