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All of us know what a beating Israel has taken in the press. Newsweek's Michael Hirsh has taken note of Israel's bad image, but instead of naming the real culprit, he uses it as the occasion for another round of (relatively mild) Israel bashing. The entire problem, according to Hirsh, is Israel's inept public relations skills.

Books could be, and should be, written about the failings of Israeli public relations and press management. It is under-budgeted, inept, unresponsive and sometimes seems to concentrate on alienating the entire foreign press corps. All that is granted. But all the PR expertise in the world, and all the budget in the world will not solve the problem of Israeli public relations. According to Hirsh for example, it is Israel's fault that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian dictator, upstaged Benjamin Netanyahu when they were both in New York. Israel was at fault because the press found it better infotainment to give fawning interviews to Ahmadinejad, where only the right questions would be asked - the ones he wanted them to ask. Israel was presumably also at fault when Columbia university, having coincidentally gotten a $100,000 bribe from the Alavi foundation, a front for the government of Iran, invited the Iranian dictator to express his views about the Jewish problem, gay rights and democracy.

Carol Saivetz and Marvin Kalb documented how the media distorted the Second Lebanon war to help turn "nasty" Nasrallah into a hero and the Israelis into villains. Hirsh just might have been familiar with that study, though strangely, he didn't mention it. The staged ambulance chases, the fake smoke in the photos, the same "victims" showing up in different locations, products of Hizbollywood, were eagerly delivered by the media to an audience anxious for "real dirt" on Israel. Media coverage of the Gaza war was a barely disguised remake of the Second Lebanon war.

We are to believe that bad Israeli "PR" and not unprofessional and unethical journalism is what caused Newsweek, Time and the New York Times to print fabricated stories of Israeli atrocities following the Gaza War, often without asking for Israeli comment, without questioning how the same person could have died three different times in three different ways for example. Bad Israeli PR skills were also responsible for the cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating babies and for the magazine covers that showed Jewish stars in the American flag. Bad Israeli PR skills are responsible, according to Hirsh, for all the straight news stories where Israeli officials and the Israeli government are singled out with the epithets "ultranationlist" and "right wing." These are not used, for example, in describing the progressive and democratic government of Saudi Arabia, and certainly never used to describe that liberal democrat, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or that paragon of tolerance, Hassan Nasrallah, General Secretary of the Hezbullah. They are not right leaning nor are they ultranationalist.

Bad Israeli PR skills are what made almost every major media outlet virtually ignore the huge shipment of arms Israel discovered in the Karine A ship captured by Israel. It was almost impossible to drag journalists to Eilat to see the arms display. The recent capture of the Francop, with Iranian arms bound for the Hezbollah, was a remake of the Karine A. It was hardly covered by media, and if it was covered, it was presented as "Israel says the arms originated in Iran" "Israel claims the arms were destined for Hezbollah." always in quotes and in a way ensured to convey total disbelief.

Show them one fake victim of a nonexistent Israeli atrocity though, and the press corps will all be there. The headlines will say "Israel Massacred" "Israel killed" with no attribution and no cause for incredulity. Bad Israeli PR skills caused the press to repeat the unfounded libel of the Jenin "massacre" for months on end. Poor Israeli PR skills caused Newsweek and every other media outlet to ignore the Hamas's own video footage that shows them exalting the use of human shields. Mr. Hirsh and his colleagues could not use YouTube either to view the numerous IDF films documenting Hamas use of human shields and showing the kinds of targets the IDF hit and why they hit them.

Neither Hirsh nor his colleagues knew anything about Hamas rocket attacks on Sderot, which must be a closed military area, since nobody goes there to interview anyone and find out about the lasting trauma caused by those attacks. These attacks, the rockets that fell day after day, must've been a closely kept military secret. Without an English language press conference, such as Mr Hirsh demands, it was impossible to know about them, or to know about the Hamas charter that outlines its plan to destroy the Jewish people. Why didn't PM Olmert explain why he doesn't like the nice Hamas in a press conference, in English? It is not obvious to Americans that if hundreds of rockets rain down on your cities, launched by a group that insists it is going to destroy you, you need to do something about it. It must be explained. In English please.

Nor it seems, could Newsweek or anyone else in the press possibly know about the Christians murdered in Gaza or about the churches burnt. No major American outlet was interested in knowing that the "moderate" (not ultranationalist) Palestinian Authority uses American funds to teach children that Haifa is the bigest port in "Palestine." It's all out there in plain English for anyone to see if they want to see it.

None of that matters according to Hirsh. What was missing, was that neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor PM Ehud Olmert gave sufficient English language press conferences and interviews. Perhaps Mr. Hirsh is not aware of what happens when an Israeli official gives an interview or a press conference. It is quoted selectively, only the "good bits" that can be used to show him or her up as a blood thirsty war monger are highlighted, and it spawns award winning cartoons of Israeli leaders eating babies.

I was witness to one such interview of Ariel Sharon broadcast on CNN. Over and over, Sharon repeated that Israel wants peace, and is doing everything possible to bring about conditions that would make peace possible. A reasonable and yet impassioned presentation. All the while, unbeknown to Sharon of course, CNN was running a marquee footer beneath the video that repeated, over and over, while Sharon was making his pleas for peace, a headline something like this, "UN highest human rights body finds Israel guilty of flagrant violations of Human Rights and War Crimes." That was of course, one of the periodically manufactured UNHCR libels. To my knowledge, only one other leader of any country not at war with the United States was ever treated that way in the history of US television news. That was the bloody Soviet dictator Nikita Sergievich Kruschchev, murderer of millions, butcher of the Ukraine and Hungary. And when it was done to him, it caused a great stir and was considered impolite and bad form. For the evil Israelis it is Standard Operating Procedure. Press conferences and interviews are perilous undertakings for Israeli leaders.

Mr Hirsh also ignored the egregious role of Newsweek in another episode. There is a private American non-government organization that tries to present Israel's case to the media, called The Israel Project. The Israel Project is not run by Israelis nor is it affiliated with the Israeli government. They are American supporters of Israel with their own views. They try to do precisely the sort of things Mr. Hirsh demands.

They are constantly inviting people like Mr. Hirsh and his colleagues to English language tours of Sderot and Northern Israel and English language talks with Israeli officials, so that American media leaders can get all the information that Mr. Hirsh claims he is missing. It doesn't seem that many mainstream media people take advantage of those offers, to at least hear what our side has to say. Maybe Messrs Nasrallah, Haniyheh and Ahmadinejad are providence's gift to integrity, clean leaving, right thinking and democracy, but things are not all black and white. Maybe some Israelis don't have horns and tails and eat babies. Perhaps those reporters could learn a few things.

Newsweek didn't seem to notice much of that. But Newsweek did take note of the Israel Project after all. Every good deed has its punishment. Someone in Newsweek managed to get hold of a purloined copy of an internal, confidential, copyright guidance handbook issued by The Israel Project for its volunteer staffers. Newsweek would not publish the internal documents of the Fateh conference calling for the elimination of Israel, even though these were already public, or numerous public racist statements by leaders of Hamas that explain graphically what they are going to do to Israel. But Newsweek did publish this copyright confidential material from Israel Project, at the very same Web site that Hirsh published his article.

A few lines of that handbook had some ill considered advice on how to handle questions about settlements. These statements by a private group of American supporters of Israel were seized upon eagerly by all the Hamas groupies on the Web and turned into a sinister Zionist plot to promote settlements. Article after article and blog after blog ranted about about the Zionist PR conspiracy -- all because of Newsweek's "scoop" - publication of a stolen copyright confidential document of a private group. That was the major contribution of Newsweek to ensuring fair play for Israel in the media.

The media have stomped on Israel with hobnailed boots. They gave us two black eyes, broke our nose, kicked out our teeth and broke our jaw. Now they have sent a self-satisfied and self righteous Hirsh to stand over us and lecture, "Look at your face! You're a mess! Why don't you take care of your appearance? Don't you have any self respect?"

Ami Isseroff






Original content is Copyright by the author 2010. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000727.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 14 Comments

The problem is that Israelis don't use propaganda. They use "hasbara" which is Hebrew for "explanation." But explanations are complicated. They involve facts, history, knowledge, understanding, etc. Propaganda is war using words as bullets. Using half-truths as hand grenades. Israel needs a propaganda ministry, not an explanation ministry. Unfortunately, what people like is a good show, like a boxing match, and not school history lectures. Israel should talk about things like the beheadings and ethnic cleansing of Jews from Medina by Muhammad. But the enemy on the defensive for a change.

Jgarbuz, Saturday, March 27th


Brilliant, Ami. Evelyn Gordon in the Jan 2010 Commentary makes the point that Israel's image started drastically to decline since Oslo. The more Israel has talked peace, the more it has been delegitimised by the media.
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-deadly-price-of-pursuing-peace-15321

testking 70-680, Wednesday, February 10th


A British blogger has been intimidated by the police. The Reverend Stephen Sizer didn’t like comments and criticism made on the Seismic Shock blog, so got the police to physically intimidate the blogger, to take down that mild criticism.

This is a clear freedom of speech issue, the police should not be used to intimidate bloggers.

I urge you to publicise this issue and support Seismic Shock, as “I too am Seismic Shock”

For more information see http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/reverend-stephen-sizer-uses-british-police-against-a-blogger/

And http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/anglican-vicar-uses-police-to-intimidate-blogger/

modernity, Saturday, January 23rd


Good article but I don't agree.

Ayman Al Zawiri, Bin Laden's deputy said, and I think he's correct that the war will be fought through the media.

Without decent pr and an organisation that knows how to handle the media, Israel will always be perceived wrongly as the villain.

The Palestinians are brilliant at getting attention and sympathy, even with their transparent lies.

Israeli politicians and even the government press office with Mark Regev simply do not understand how to speak or deal with the international media.

I tell my friends the same thing whenever I'm in Israel but they simply shrug and do not understand.

We all have an enormous hill to climb if we are to begin to retake the 'hearts and minds' of the new generation - it can be done I believe but not if we keep doing what we've been doing in the past.

cityca, Wednesday, January 20th


Please consider joining the very large blog called Newsvine.com, which is owned by MSNBC. There are probably 500K members of Newsvine.com, and you will meet some very capable Pro-Jewish posters there. Unfortunately, there is a very well-entrenched, seemingly officially tolerated larger group of anti-semitic members who seem to have the run of the place. Please help fellow Jews there! Oh, tell them OSA sent you, and please tell Calvin (Newsvine's Co-Founder) that OSA is happy to recommend Newsvine.com to Pro-Jewish organizations everywhere! :-)

OSA, Monday, January 18th


I am going to have to disagree with the position taken here that the “media” is to blame for Israel’s bad image. The moment one bemoans a belligerent media, poor journalistic ethics and makes accusations of “blaming the victim” you have in fact lost the battle and proliferate a state of pathetic ineptitude which so clearly lies at the core of this problem.
Lets get this straight from the start – a hostile media is a given constraint. Why that may be, is possibly a subject of another discussion but it has no relevance to the point. So when all the wining and complaining about unfairness stops, maybe something can be done.

Israel’s bad image and its weak PR are resultant of two primary causes:
The first is an a-priory unethical political direction the State of Israel has taken in the last several decades. While some refer to it as “the Occupation” with a capital O a more reasonable term is “Settlement” with a capital S, referring to an aggressive expansionist vision of a greater Israel led by zealots who see no problem taking possession and occupying lands of local inhabitants in direct contravention of international law, with impunity, and in fact with the support of the government of Israel and under the cloak of military protection. With a demographic end-game of a disenfranchised Palestinian majority around the corner , the dreaded A word cannot but resonate loudly and the connotations thereof hold a power of there own, untamed by any PR effort no matter how proficient.

The other factor is the unbridled stupidity and lack of basic common sense in the way the state of Israel handles media challenges of any consequence. Never is a disadvantage turned into an advantage and more often than not an asset is turned into a liability: the government of Israel’s latest attempt at “capitalizing” on such an asset was the Turkish media’s portrayal of Israel in second-level soap operas. Rather than unleash a justified thrashing on the anti-semitic and hateful script writers and producers of such, the government chose to humiliate the government of Turkey and its ambassador in Israel. The rest, as they say, is history: Turkey 7, Israel, 0. Another chink in the armor of Israel’s attempt at public relations – courtesy of the new diplomacy known as “Lieburlesque”.

The thing is that that both these factors whether it be rampant settlement ventures or poor public relations are indeed factors that are within the control of Israel and its government. A hostile world media is extraneous to Israeli control. Internal policy and skilled PR are feasible. The day we see an end to self pitying blubbering about an unfair world press may be the day we see some creative solutions to real challenges.

jayzed, Saturday, January 16th


I agree with your points.

That said, Israel really does need to improve its PR. It could make a great start by creating an Israeli version of Al Jazeera for English speakers across the globe.

Israel has previously rejected this idea, though:

The War Of Words That Israel Must Start Winning:
http://ajewwithaview.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/the-war-of-words-that-israel-must-start-winning/

A Jew With A View, Friday, January 15th


Since the Arab/Muslim world was forced open to international media, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and all the rest have been falling over each other to gain market share within the vast ARab/Muslim audiences, and this means they must compete to see who can smear the Jewish state even more than the other. There simply has to be a defamatory anti-ISrael segment in every broadcast, or else that network will be skipped over. Any reporter or producer who tries to gets postive segment regarding Israel will be out of a job in a heartbeat. Israel will never again get positive press, so it must toot its own horn and must create an international pro-Israel network or it will continue to drown in the PR war.

Jgarbuz, Friday, January 15th


I guess SASS commented without reading a single word in your brilliant article, Ami. Keep up the good work. And Sass, reading is a very important skill in the electronic digital age. Spouting meaningless slogans just makes you look like a drooling ideological idiot.

vildechaye, Tuesday, January 12th


Too many SS in your name sass

Dvar Dea, Monday, January 11th


It's about what makes news, and what triggers a viewer's or a reader's interest more easily. A dog biting man is no news. A man biting a dog - is. There is a tacit low expectation from Arabs to know what is legitimate and acceptable in fighting for a cause. There is a high expectation from Jews to act more ethically and altruistically than all other human beings, even when such conduct might result in death and destruction of their communities. When Palestinians attack Israeli children on buses it is not news, it is business as usual. When Israelis, tragically, kill Palestinian children because those children were placed among militants who launch those illegal attacks on innocents, the reaction is that of shock and condemnation because it goes against the stereotypical expectation that Jews should learn to absorb these crimes and suffer nobly, while dying. There is something beautiful and comforting about this image of the perpetually helpless and self-effacing Jew, so morally elevated as to re-incarnate Christ at every stage. When Israelis refuse to conform to this image, it creates a dissonance, an anti-narrative which enrages people and causes them to come up with the most outrageous lies about Jews in order to brow beat them into compliance with that stereotype.

The antisemite who calls Israelis Nazis and the philosemite who is so pained by Israel's insistence on fierce self-defence are but two sides of the same coin: a stereotypical expectation which, when frustrated, morphs easily and smoothly into demonization.

This is of course a simplistic and partial theory but I believe it does explain why the media, who are very attuned to what their consumers want to see and hear, have internalized the anti-Israeli scorn that typifies the logic of its detractors.

I agree with Ami that the problem is not Israel's admittedly bad PR but faulty and muddled media ethics.

Noga, Sunday, January 10th


In the digital world it is hard for the zionist to explain their brutal racist action when there is so much evidence at hand. And its only going to get worse, but the zionist still will have their biggest weapon- the charge of anti semitism.

sass, Sunday, January 10th


Israel should talk less of peace and more of Jewish rights - without apology. An Israel that is weak and pusillanimous won't win much respect in the media. Ami Isseroff is correct its not a matter of Israeli PR. Showing how much the Jews want peace paradoxically enough have made them more hated by the world. Its time to change the message.

NormanF, Friday, January 8th


Brilliant, Ami. Evelyn Gordon in the Jan 2010 Commentary makes the point that Israel's image started drastically to decline since Oslo. The more Israel has talked peace, the more it has been delegitimised by the media.
http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-deadly-price-of-pursuing-peace-15321

Lyn, Friday, January 8th


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