Yuli Edelstein: the man to save Israel's PR crisis?

Israel is suffering its biggest public relations crisis for 20 years, according to its information and diaspora minister.

Yuli Edelstein told 400 guests at the Zionist Federation dinner in London this week: "We are facing the 3Ds- deligitimisation, demonisation, and double standards, pretending to be legitimate criticism of Israeli policies."

While it had become "absolutely disgusting not to talk nicely about Jews," such a taboo no longer applied to Israel or its soldiers.

He said that while legitimate criticism was welcome, the international atmosphere and the Goldstone Report, had accelerated this. Putting much of the blame on Iran, he added: "When someone persistently says that he wants to kill me, I tend to believe him."

He was in London leading a campaign to improve the country's image. And, as a former prisoner in the Soviet Union - he reached Israel in 1987 after three years in labour camps - he recalled the ultimate success of the worldwide Soviet Jewry campaign.

"Thirty or 40 years ago Soviet Jews didn't stand a chance. But then we had each other, the Jewish community worldwide, and we counted on the right people - many of you are here tonight."

He added: "Millions of Israelis travel abroad every year. Eighty five per cent of those we asked expressed their backing for the national effort of trying to change the perception of Israel."

A website, www.masbirim.gov.il, has been launched with films in English, Spanish and French, giving an ironic view of how Europeans see Israel.

The English version has a fake BBC reporter walking through the desert with camels, which, he tells the viewer in all seriousness, are the primary forms of transport for Israelis, and even used to carry weapons. "The camels are used by the Israeli cavalry," he says.

Mr Edelstein said: "You can't preach all the time unless you want to sound like a Bolshevik."

And he advised Israelis not to get involved in discussing international politics. "Talk about your life, your neighbours, make your life sound normal. Don't be an expert in international relations. Tell people about going to a concert with your wife," he said.

On Monday, he told the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank, that he did not know who carried out the Dubai assassination.

But he added: "Even if it will turn out that the worst secret service of the worst country in the world had managed to get to that guy, I will still not call it murder.

"We are talking about the worst murderer in one of the worst terrorist organisations, so let's not get overly emotional about his death and let's not start mourning his death."

He added: "Millions of Israelis travel abroad every year. Eighty five per cent of those Israelis we asked expressed their backing for the national effort of trying to change the perception of Israel."

    Last updated: 10:42am, March 2 2010