January 25, 2010
I am indebted to Mondoweiss for this (Israeli media consultant in Maariv: ‘The Haiti Disaster is Good for the Jews’):
The Painful Truth: The Haiti Disaster is Good for the Jews
As sorry as we are about the horror in Haiti, the current positive attitude to Israel – thanks to the IDF delegation – shows that the country must engage in proactive as well as reactive hasbara.
Tamir Haas 21/1/2010, Maariv-NRG
At a time when our country is under media attack on the basis of harsh and anti-Semitic reports, and we are forced to contend with terrorists who have assumed the winning image of victims of war, one could say that the Haiti disaster is the best thing that could have happened to us. So why are blood, destruction, poverty, hunger and orphans good for the Jewish State? First of all because global attention has been drawn elsewhere and the international media have a more interesting story to cover. Second, because every disaster-area needs a hero, and right now we are it. I must admit that I would not be surprised if the image aspect of setting up a hospital in Haiti, as well as the IDF rescue efforts, was given greater weight than humanitarian considerations. If I am right, then finally, someone in the Knesset has done the right thing, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to prove to the world how kindhearted and capable we are. And if the Foreign Ministry manages to make further use of the Israeli success stories in Haiti and market them to the world, all the better. We can only hope that none of our talented politicians is caught in front of a camera saying “We showed the world. We were really awesome in Haiti,” or something like that – a distinct possibility considering the recent mess with the Turks. Better to be modest.
Those in Charge Don’t see Hasbara as Warfare
The tough question raised by our success in Haiti is why we do well in the media only when we have the opportunity to star in another country’s disaster, and not on a regular basis? After all, you can’t have a natural disaster every day. The answer to the question is a lack of concerted effort to garner sympathy from the countries of the world, alongside behaviour that actually creates antagonism, such as humiliating ambassadors on camera. Before criticizing current hasbara practice however, we must realize that our biggest problem lies in the way we approach the entire issue of image. First of all, our elected representatives see themselves as politicians rather than statesmen, and so prefer to focus on their own personal interests, rather than on those of the country. Every Israeli citizen is knows this, to the point that we can’t stand our own leaders, so why does it come as surprise that the rest of the world isn’t too crazy about us either? Second, those in charge of the country’s PR don’t see hasbara as warfare, just like any military operation, intended to safeguard and promote our national and security interests. If hasbara were to receive the attention it deserves, with the kind of funding that security gets, our media performance would be better, Foreign Ministry officials would be more professional, foreign ministers would not act like rookies, and most importantly, we would have long-term plans and strategies.
Proof of Amateurishness and Lack of Professionalism
You want proof of the amateurishness and lack of professionalism I’m talking about? Here: “Hasbara is the responsibility of the IDF, not the Foreign Ministry”. This is what Danny Ayalon told participants at a recent conference of the Israel Public Relations Association. Does this mean that there is no hasbara coordination between the IDF and the Foreign Ministry? Is this how Ayalon washes his hands of Israel’s image problem? If so, is it any wonder that he behaves so recklessly, setting the Turkish Prime Minister up for a slam dunk? After all, he seems to think that the consequences, in terms of Israel’s image, are not his responsibility. In the above statement, Ayalon doesn’t even bother to hand some of the responsibility to Information Minister Yuli Edelstein. If the Foreign Ministry doesn’t give a damn about the Information Ministry, why should anyone else?
We have to stop concentrating all of our efforts on reaction and start taking the initiative. There are a lot of things we can do to facilitate hasbara: subsidizing tourism from countries in which Israel suffers from a relatively poor image, or a hasbara unit that would focus on marketing the stories of victims of terrorism (like they do in Gaza), or hasbara designed specifically to appeal to countries with strategic importance, etc. But before we do anything, we must first understand that hasbara is war and should be treated like any other aspect of homeland security. After that, we can move forward.