How to make Israel's case
How can Israel improve its hasbarah - public relations? The question pops up after every round of fighting. Allowing that Israel made some improvements during Operation Protective Edge - its spokespeople were mostly native English speakers and the IDF was pro-active on social media -the overall picture was still dire. On our TV and in much of the press, the dominant impression was that Israel deliberately massacred innocents.
So, three suggestions to fix some of Israel's worst hasbarah mistakes.
1. Get more emotional. Israel advocates seem to believe that what the country's critics are missing is information. If only they knew how many rockets Israel's south has absorbed, surely they'd understand the country's predicament? If only the kidnapping of the three boys had been better reported, the world would accept Israel didn't initiate this round…
On social media, Israel supporters relentlessly tweet infographics mapping out Hamas's tunnels, outlining the range of Hamas's rockets, and listing all the ceasefires that Hamas has broken.
The problem is that even the most persuasive barrage of facts can never compete with pictures of dead babies.
Facts can't compete with pictures of dead babies
Israel's case can never be won with logic and sense. What matters is pulling at people's heart-strings. Every marketer knows this - and so do the Palestinians, who don't waste time compiling lists of items Israel bars from the Gaza Strip, or statistics about poverty (as Israel probably would if the situation were reversed). They emphasise human stories.
Israel's tragedy, of a population terrorised by a decade of rockets, is not as compelling. But Israel needs to find a way to make more of its victims' stories. The simulations of rocket attacks in London and Vienna by pro-Israel groups were a creative start. Similarly, Israel must bring to life the sheer misery of Hamas's victims in Gaza. In short, more emotion, less dry facts.
2. Spell out the global context. The Hamas threat is part of a larger regional and global trend, of the rise of Islamism and its confrontation with the West. Despite their differences, Hamas, the Islamic State, and other terror groups in the Middle East share the same hatred of non-Muslims, contempt for Western values, and murderous intent. A victory for Hamas will boost the global jihad movement.
This is a narrative that would resonate in the West, which is, perhaps for the first time, genuinely scared by the anarchy in the Middle East and the prospect of vicious jihadists returning, buoyant, to London and Paris.
As the flag of the Islamic State flies in London, Israel has an opportunity to make clear that we are facing the same threat and that, if it is not allowed to deal with Hamas, there are implications for Britain's own fight against Islamic terror.
3. Side with the West. Israel's supporters have repeatedly argued that the media is antisemitic because it focuses on Israel's killing in Gaza, while ignoring far larger death tolls in Iraq and Syria. They may be right but, this way, Israel's soldiers are inadvertently lumped with the terrorists of the Levant. "We're committing a small massacre, they're committing a large one, why is the attention on us?"
Argue, instead, that the media is antisemitic because it holds Israel to different standards from the UK and US, two other Western countries which fought among civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The massive civilian casualties they inflicted were barely noticed here.
When it comes to the West versus terrorism, Israel must take care to land on the right side of the equation. It's hasbarah basics.