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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Israeli hasbara needs a focus

You all have probably heard the term hasbara so many times that even if you're not Hebrew speakers, you know what it means. Basically, the term means public diplomacy aimed at changing public opinion in Israel's favor. At the Shmuel Katz blog, David Isaac argues that it hasn't changed much in the past 30 years, and that the biggest problem today is the lack of focus. While efforts by Isaac, myself and some more prominent sites (CAMERA, MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch) are helpful, they don't make up for the lack of focus from the government. This is how Katz describes one time - many years ago - that Israel's hasbara was effective.
And Shmuel felt that to properly counter the Arab propaganda juggernaut, Israel must have a juggernaut of its own, that its public relations efforts must have a focus. Shmuel described how he stopped the outburst of propaganda against Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of his election. Begin first asked Shmuel to go, but then Begin was advised to send a whole team. Shmuel said the team could go, but without him. There needed to be a focus. Begin acceded and Shmuel stopped the onslaught within 10 days of his arrival in the U.S.
Isaac then goes on to describe the present government efforts, and why in what appears to be the incoming government, they are not likely to be effective.
The need for focus brings up another problem — that leadership of the effort be in the right hands, lest it prove counterproductive. For example, a focus on Israel’s desire for peace and willingness to do just about anything to obtain it — a focus that no doubt some elements in Israel would find appealing — could only lead to even greater denigration of Israel for failing to achieve it.
Nor can an information campaign be conducted divorced from public policy. For example, in his effort to cobble together a governing coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to put Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua party, who made “peace” the focus of her platform, in charge of negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs. Aaron Lerner of IMRA (Independent Media Review and Analysis) points out some of the pitfalls. From day one, Livni will be making every effort to lay the failure of the talks on Netanyahu. One possibility is that Livni makes backdoor, unauthorized concessions to the Palestinian Arabs, putting overwhelming international pressure on Netanyahu to accept them. Or negotiations fail and Livni could have her staff prepare reams of working papers supporting concessions Netanyahu refused to approve that she would leak to the international press. Finally, Netanyahu might fire Livni leading her to launch a dangerous campaign along these lines against him.
No information campaign can counter the enormous damage stemming from the policy decision to put Livni in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians. But this also underscores how consideration of the strategic importance of public diplomacy could protect Israeli leaders from making policy decisions convenient in the short term but harmful both to themselves and Israel in the long-run.
Part of the problem is that we have a Prime Minister who has not yet decided who he is, or if he has decided, his decision and his vision do not fit with those of the people who elected him. Netanyahu wants to go down in history as a peacemaker. To do that, he must take major risks to bring about an agreement with the 'Palestinians' and yet to do so in a manner that will not see his legacy ruined by Israel being wiped off the map within a short time after the agreement is implemented. The conditions for that formula to happen do not presently exist. But given that Netanyahu is in his 60's and is seeking his place in history, saying that the time is not ripe does not resolve his personal issue.

On the other hand, most of the Likud's voters and MK's are now well to Netanyahu's right, at least when it comes to the 'peace process.' When Ariel Sharon was confronted with the Likud being too Right to accept the Gaza expulsion, he pitched Left and took a substantial number of MK's with him. Netanyahu cannot do that. He is one of only three Likud MK's in the top 30 of their slate who has accepted the 'two-state solution.' Were Netanyahu to pitch Left, it is doubtful that he could even take the one third of MK's necessary to set up his own faction in the Knesset, particularly if Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu split again once the government is formed as was the original intent.

Because of that, Netanyahu cannot decide what message he wants to send. And therefore Israel's hasbara efforts continue to languish. 

I'm not sure we'd be any better off with a government of the Left. We have tried - and failed - several times over the past 20 years to reach an agreement with the 'Palestinians.' And while those failures may have brought us some positive feelings in the short term, in the long term, the warmth from the 'international community' has worn off all too quickly.

Read the whole thing.

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