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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

'Ordinary' Israelis to represent the country abroad

In a program that is the brainchild of Minister for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora (how's that for a title?) Yuli Edelstein, 'ordinary' Israelis will be taught how to represent the country abroad.
In a campaign initiated by Yuli Edelstein’s Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora, Israelis will be invited to learn how to present a positive message to the world from pocket pamphlets that will be distributed at Ben-Gurion Airport, the new Web site, masbirim.gov.il, and from training workshops across the country.

Varied groups will be invited to attend the workshops, including politicians, diplomats, retired generals, businessmen, tour guides, celebrities, athletes, youth group delegations and ordinary Israelis.

“In light of Israel’s negative image in the world, we realized that Israel had to counter the vast sums of money available to Arab countries for propaganda by taking advantage of our human resources,” Edelstein said. “We decided to give Israelis who go abroad tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people, media appearances and lectures before wide audiences. I hope we succeed together in changing the picture and proving to the world that there is a different Israel.”

Edelstein called the initiative Tsva Hasbara LeYisrael, the Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces, based on the Hebrew name of the IDF.


A poll sponsored by the ministry found that 91 percent of 495 Jewish Israelis surveyed believed that Israel had a bad or very bad image abroad. The same percentage said Israel was seen as a country suffering from terror and wars, 80% said Israel was considered overly aggressive, 30% said the country had an unfriendly image, and 26% thought the world saw Israel as undeveloped.

Asked whether they would want to help represent Israel when they were abroad, 85% said “yes.”
So I went to check out the site. How's this for an inauspicious start: It's only in Hebrew.

About a year and a half ago, some bloggers were asked to install a program on our computers that would enable the Foreign Ministry to push content they wanted us to discuss on our blogs. The content turned out to come from YNet, and every time it popped up my browser became impossible to run. On top of that, invariably, they were pushing things about which I had already written. I uninstalled it.

There's also someone with a YouTube account who - I am fairly sure - is connected to the Foreign Ministry. Every few days I get an email from her (at least I am reasonably sure it's a her) in which she sends a link to a video and something she thinks I should discuss. Invariably, it's something I've discussed already. I've stopped opening the emails.

Hasbara these days is done in real time. And it can be done without leaving your home. Too bad the government still doesn't seem to get it.

If I had to choose one way in which Israel needs to fix its hasbara, it would be to try to make them understand that the government is not the 'client.' The people who view or read what you put out are the 'client.' I try to post things that I think people will want to read - first and foremost. And those things happen to push what I believe is a strong pro-Israel position. But I'm not serving the government - I'm serving all of you. The government doesn't seem to understand that if those people at the 'training sessions' don't walk out of there fired up about the great things there are about defending Israel abroad, they're just not going to bother. The people going to those training sessions have to be sold on the great contribution they're going to make to Israel's future.

I'm not optimistic about this.


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