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Friday, January 02, 2009

The woman who would be Prime Minister blogs in Hebrew only

Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, whose poor command of the English language may have been a factor in Israel's agreeing to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 two and a half years ago, now has a blog. The text is in Hebrew only and most of the posts are videos of interviews with her on various television networks.

At YNet, Esti Applebaum-Polani argues that Israel's biggest problem with public relations is a lack of fluent English speakers.
Hamas’ professional assistance is manifested through Arab experts who reside in Western countries and are used as commentators on foreign media outlets when needed (interestingly, Israel academic experts who live abroad are often opposed to the Israeli government’s policy.) The campaign is also reinforced by Arab politicians who were educated in the West or lived there for a long time and speak fluent English. In addition, there are the foreign correspondents who view the battle as one pitting David (Hamas) against Goliath (Israel,) because on television it always appears as though one side is strong and the other is weak.

Meanwhile, Palestinian spokespeople who reside in the West and speak fluent English resort to “sweet talk” on global television stations.

And what does the Israeli arsenal include? What kind of forces do we have in the war for global public opinion? In order to convey messages in a convincing manner, several pre-conditions are required: Fluency, decent vocabulary, highly developed expression ability, and the ability to appear on television.

Our official spokespeople among members of the cabinet or the various government ministers are usually quite coherent, yet they are not fluent in English. As such, they come across as unpleasant, Levantine, and uncultured. The many spokespeople who are army officers are perhaps suitable for Israel’s public opinion, but not for global public opinion. Most of them have a rather mediocre ability to express themselves and are not fully familiar with the nuances of media appearances.

Meanwhile, our professional Foreign Ministry diplomats work hard, yet at times they too leave something to be desired in terms of expression ability and English fluency. We already mentioned Israeli academic experts abroad. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a limited number of PR professionals who are able to express themselves fluently and dignifiedly in English. We are also left with a negative balance of responses and appearances on global media outlets, because we do not have enough troops to send on a media war. We also have an inferiority complex with our image stemming from our history, yet in addition to that we possess numerous justifications that we have not yet used in this battle: Mothers and children who have lived in the shadow of rockets for years now, who could have been trained to appear in the English-speaking media. We have fluent businesswomen (females always elicit more empathy than men on TV) who can be enlisted for the cause. We also have female directors in the municipal government that can be trained to offer media responses.
You may have noticed over the past week that the IDF spokesperson's office has gotten into the Internet - setting up a YouTube account (and then a LiveLeak account) and a blog. All of this is being done by the North American desk - an outfit that may not have existed two and a half years ago (they didn't contact me if they did exist). I've had people read this blog and send me emails saying they had worked for the dover tzahal (IDF spokesperson) and that they were frustrated because the IDF would never let the 'Anglos' take the lead. Now, the woman with whom I'm corresponding at the dover's office is the daughter of an American blogger whom I've linked several times. She got to me through a mutual friend who writes for Contentions and worked at the Shalem Center. The IDF may have gotten the message.

But the foreign ministry apparently has not gotten the message. There are American immigrants all over this country - thousands of them. There is at least one American blogger - that I know of - in Sderot. Why aren't these people all over the media? Why isn't the government media office sending the foreign networks to interview them? Is the government afraid they'll make it look bad by telling the truth - that this government is weak and indecisive and that's why we're in the position we're in today?

Shabbat Shalom everyone.


At 4:12 PM, Blogger AmPowerBlog said...

Great post, Carl. Your blog's really insightful, and a pleasure to read. Thank you.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Soft power matters. Tzipi Livni's inability to speak clear English is hurting Israel. One may not care much for Bibi but you can at least say he knows how people in the West think and talk. Israel cannot afford to leave the PR battlefield to the enemy. If you cannot explain your case to a foreign audience, you will not enlist the support you need to prevail in what truly matters. Which is a pity since Livni has made Israel inaccessible to all those who need to know its position and that is the last thing one needs in Foreign Minister. She would be a disaster as Prime Minister.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There may be an advantage to having a female PM, however. Not that I admire Livni.
By the way, I think that air power can work just fine, assuming Israel is actually willing to continue to do real damage to Gaza. I'm not sure what the hurry is for a ground invasion. Continued bombing from the air sends a signal to Hamas, and other terror groups, that Israel is perfectly willing to defend itself WITHOUT losing its own lives in a ground invasion.
Hamas is COUNTING ON a ground invasion. I really think Hamas would be very surprised if Israel simply continued its air strikes, which to date have been very effective.

At 12:46 AM, Blogger Concerned UCI Student said...

Nothing new here - the accented and often flawed English of the Israeli ministers and spokespeople who speak to the American media has been a problem for years. Vilnai proved this most recently with his threat of creating a Palestinian "holocaust". We paid for that poor choice of words this past May at UC Irvine.

The only person who I've found to be able to communicate with American media is Bibi.

At 2:31 AM, Blogger Ma Sands said...

Well, Carl, looks like your job's cut out for you --when you gonna hit the road? :)

I'll be watching out for you, to get to places I know need such a speaker..... :)

Ma Sands

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Butchie! said...

She can't speak English, yet she is the Foreign Minister?

Carl, when are you going to be the next foreign minister?

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering the VAST number of olim who are English-speaking PROs, journalists, etc, etc. I always wonder why they are never used to take Israel's case to the world?

Oh, OK, I know why, it's the arrogance of the Sabra.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Butchie! said...

Russel, why are you attempting to seed divisiveness?

As far as I am concerned it is everyones responsibility.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger joelhar said...

Great post! Actually, the National Information Directorate, formed in 2007 under the PM's office, is working closely with her office and is largely responsible for the complete reversal of the "information war" from 2006.

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Orchid said...

Carl, I like the post a lot, though not sure if I can agree with the suggested statement that it's your English language knowledge that determines whether you can make a fine PM.
But you are very accurate on the lack of proper PR issue, that's why my colleagues and myself joined so-called "public diplomacy" mission and organized a group of journalists, young diplomats and PR (moi) to take over web explanation efforts. We collect all the true facts and useful links for the use of other bloggers and ours, and try to publish those as much as we can in web media - in Russian and English.
If you can recommend more such medias where our help is needed - you are welcome to let me know!
hopefully we continue our activity when it's all over in order to build and keep Israel's image, no matter who the PM will be )


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