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Israel is Losing the Battle for Public Opinion

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Israel is Losing the Battle for Public Opinion

By: TJVNews.com

The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that began on October 7th has been marked not only by physical conflict but also by a significant battle for public opinion. Unfortunately, Israel’s efforts in this sphere have been notably ineffective, revealing a deeper, longstanding inadequacy in its strategic communication and public diplomacy. This failure is not a recent phenomenon but rather a continuation of historical missteps, particularly in addressing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has sought to isolate Israel on multiple fronts.

To understand the root of these failures, one must look at the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, established in 1999 under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Melchior. With a modest budget of approximately $2 million, the ministry aimed to foster better relations between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, combat anti-Semitism, and create educational and experiential programs about Israel..  This initiative was recognition of the need to engage and mobilize the global Jewish community in Israel’s defense on the international stage. However, to say that this kind of paltry budget could ever possibly serve to accomplish the lofty objectives set for it by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is beyond ridiculous.

However, despite these noble goals, the ministry was temporarily closed in 2007, and its responsibilities were transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office. This closure was indicative of a broader issue: a lack of consistent and coherent strategy in addressing the challenges Israel faced globally. The intermittent nature of the ministry’s existence and its limited budget undermined its ability to make a substantial impact.

Moreover, a problem that has existed for decades is the selection of Israel’s diplomatic corps; those people chosen to represent Israel around the world at consulates and embassies. Chief among the serious issues surrounding these foreign service personnel is that a great many of them are not fluent in English and are totally incapable of establishing effective contacts with the media. Be it in New York City, Washington or any city in the world, creating an efficacious media apparatus must be Israel’s main priority.

It is also noteworthy to mention that many Israeli foreign service personnel, particularly in New York City have been selected to serve not because of their stellar credentials or serious work ethic, but because of reasons that are highly suspect. In other words, the consulate and embassy personnel are those that Israel desires to place abroad as they are considered malcontents, trouble makers and those with an agenda that roils the Israeli establishment. As such, the personnel, once stationed in New York or elsewhere do not take their jobs seriously as was evidenced on previous occasions when diplomatic personnel hit the New York City night life scene with frequent appearances at the trendiest clubs and discos, Some had brushes with law enforcement, which reflected quite negatively on Israel’s image.

The BDS movement, launched in 2005, has aimed to exert economic, cultural, and academic pressure on Israel to achieve various political goals. Despite its significant impact, the Israeli government’s response has often been reactive rather than proactive. Instead of crafting a comprehensive and positive narrative that highlights Israel’s contributions to the world and its legitimate security concerns, the response has often been defensive, focusing on debunking BDS claims without offering a compelling counter-narrative.

This failure to effectively counter the BDS movement’s narrative has allowed the movement to gain traction, particularly in academic and cultural institutions. The movement’s success lies in its ability to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in simplistic terms of oppressor and oppressed, a narrative that resonates strongly with audiences unfamiliar with the complexities of the situation. Israel’s inability to present a nuanced and positive image of itself has led to increasing isolation and criticism.

Over a decade ago, the current Israeli UN ambassador Gilad Erdan them held the position in the government as Minister of Interior as well as heading up the Diaspora Affairs ministry. At that juncture, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs which was tasked with promulgating an effective public relations campaign has a $24 million budget to ensure its success. Unfortunately, no such campaign was undertaken due to infighting within the government and Erdan’s involvement in it.

During the 2023-2024 conflict with Hamas, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs attempted to step up its efforts by organizing delegations of security personnel from the Baltic states, Brazil, and Belgium to help combat anti-Semitic attacks. Additionally, in response to the global rise in anti-Semitism, the ministry allocated $2.2 million for protecting Jewish institutions and programs in Jewish schools.

While these efforts are commendable, they are reactive and limited in scope. The failure to communicate a positive and cohesive narrative during the conflict has resulted in widespread criticism and a lack of support from the international community. The ministry’s initiatives, though well-intentioned, have not addressed the root issue: the need for a strategic and positive communication campaign that can shift public opinion in Israel’s favor.

In January 2024, a report by the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University called for the dismantling of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. The report criticized the ministry as being politically motivated, lacking vision, and promoting few initiatives. It recommended that the ministry’s responsibilities be transferred to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office, echoing sentiments from Israeli diplomats who believed the ministry was ineffective.

This critique highlights a fundamental problem: the lack of a coherent and well-resourced strategy to combat anti-Semitism and improve Israel’s global image. The ministry’s limited budget and political motivations have hampered its ability to carry out its mission effectively.

On the issue of college campuses across North America and around the globe being besieged with the most egregious manifestations of virulent anti-Semitism that emanate from pro-Hamas student organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 3rd met with a delegation of American Jewish college students to address this very issue.

Netanyahu emphasized the critical importance of countering lies with truth, as was reported by the Algemeiner.com.  “We’re facing a world struggle to fight slander against the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” Netanyahu stated. “The most important thing is you have to fight. And how do you fight lies? With truth. A lie can circle the earth 1,000 times before a single word of truth gets through, but we have no other choice. We fight by exposing the lies,” he told the students.

Among the delegation was Talia Khan, a student from MIT who has garnered attention for her outspoken stance against anti-Semitic abuse by anti-Zionist faculty and students at her university.

Khan’s plea to Netanyahu was clear and passionate. “I  ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, to help us become better partners in this war on terror. We all in this room, and many others that couldn’t make it on this trip, we’re all ready to dedicate our lives to protecting democracy, Western values, and Israel and America,” she declared.

The problem here is that according to published reports, the Prime Minister did not offer any assistance in the war against misinformation and propaganda targeting Israel that is being extolled consistently on campuses. No offer to connect these students with experienced teams of public relations personnel from the Israeli government or in the private sector for guidance and instruction on these matters was provided. While the students intentions are quite noble as it pertains to defending and supporting Israel on campus and to providing counter arguments predicated on facts to Israel’s detractors, this monumental task can never achieve even a modicum of success without an experienced communications infrastructure and effective apparatus.

To address these ongoing failures, Israel needs to overhaul its approach to public diplomacy. This involves not only better funding and organization but also a shift in strategy. Israel must focus on proactive and positive messaging that highlights its democratic values, technological innovations, and contributions to global welfare. This includes creating compelling content that resonates with diverse audiences while effectively utilizing digital platforms to disseminate this content.

Moreover, there needs to be a concerted effort to engage with and educate the international community about the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, countering simplistic narratives that paint Israel in a negative light.

Israel’s ability to manage its image and narrative on the global stage has been consistently under scrutiny, particularly during conflicts such as the 2023-2024 war with Hamas. A critical element missing from Israel’s public diplomacy efforts is the effective engagement with Jewish media outlets worldwide, which could serve as powerful allies in shaping public perception. This failure reflects broader issues within Israel’s “hasbara” or public diplomacy strategy, which have long been criticized by both Israeli officials and Jewish media leaders.

Eylon Levy, a former Israeli government spokesperson, criticized the current state of Israel’s public diplomacy as “improvised,” highlighting the absence of a structured civilian communication effort. Levy emphasized the need for formalized and institutionalized communication channels that can operate effectively both in crisis and in peacetime, according to a report on The Jewish Insider web site. This ad-hoc approach has hindered Israel’s ability to build and maintain productive relationships with Jewish media outlets, which are crucial for disseminating Israel’s perspective and countering negative narratives.

Jewish media outlets, both in print and electronic forms, have expressed frustration with the Israeli government’s lack of engagement. Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forward, pointed out that while Jewish media are often at the forefront of addressing anti-Semitism and providing nuanced coverage of Israel-related issues, there is a disconnect in their relationship with the Israeli government​, as was reported in The Forward. This disconnect limits their ability to receive timely and accurate information, which is essential for breaking major news stories and for the purposes of effectively countering misinformation.

Israeli media have also scrutinized the government’s messaging strategy. Haaretz, a prominent left-wing Israeli newspaper, has been critical of the government’s failure to maintain a consistent and effective public relations campaign. The publication highlighted instances of misinformation and inadequate responses to negative press, which have contributed to Israel’s struggles in the information war​, according to Newstral.

A joint statement published by over 30 Jewish media outlets worldwide highlighted the rise of anti-Semitism in the wake of the 2023-2024 conflict and called for better coordination and support from Israeli authorities​,  according to a report in Israel Hayom.  Despite these calls, many Jewish media professionals feel that their potential as strategic partners in Israel’s public diplomacy is underutilized.

Israeli officials and media experts have acknowledged the shortcomings in the current hasbara efforts. Jonathan Conricus, a former IDF spokesperson, noted the importance of a well-structured communication strategy that includes professional, non-military spokespeople who can engage effectively with international and Jewish media. The Jewish Insider reported that Conricus advocated for the hiring of dedicated communication professionals, including social media experts and fact-checkers, to enhance Israel’s ability to manage its narrative​​.

Moreover, Matt Krieger, CEO of Gova10, a strategic communications firm, and the chief communications officer for a campaign to release Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin from Hamas captivity, emphasized the need for a more transactional relationship with key journalists. Krieger argued that building deep, lasting relationships with media professionals is crucial for ensuring consistent and favorable coverage​, as explained in The Jewish Insider report.  This sentiment is echoed by other media analysts who stress the importance of continuous engagement and information sharing, rather than sporadic interactions during crises.

To address these deficiencies, Israel must adopt a more strategic and inclusive approach to public diplomacy. This involves establishing a permanent, well-funded communication structure that operates effectively both during crises and in regular times.  It also involves proactively building relationships with Jewish media outlets worldwide, ensuring they have access to accurate and timely information. A third aspect would be hiring skilled professionals in various fields, including social media, graphic design, and fact-checking, to support a comprehensive and proactive communication strategy.

In conclusion, Israel’s failure to effectively leverage Jewish media outlets is a significant gap in its public diplomacy efforts. By addressing these structural and strategic shortcomings, Israel can better harness the influence and networks of Jewish media to support its messaging and counteract negative narratives on the global stage.

 

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