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Israel Fails to Counter Arab Propaganda

YOWUSA.COM, 08-December-02
Marshall Masters

Israel Fails to Counter Arab Propaganda While Arab propaganda is a grave concern for Jews and Christian Zionists, is this truly a concern for Americans in general?  Only if you agree in some part with the notion that Hitler's vocal anti-Semitism prior to WWII was a clear precursor to a horrible world war. This is because average Americans will do the brunt of the dying (and not the wealthy elite from the political left and right) if the Sharon government does not adequately address this growing crisis. Even if you hate the Jewish people but are able to view history with some measure of objectivity, the conclusion is obvious: Jews are the canaries in the propaganda coalmine.

Isn't dealing with Arab propaganda the responsibility of the new media?  Theoretically, yes, but one reason why many Western news sources are seen as embracing the Arab message without fairness is the actual news-gathering process, itself.  This is because most Americans are not aware of the keen differences between reporting news from Israeli and Arab controlled areas.

In Israel, reporters can move freely, because it is a democratic state where most of its citizens speak English.  However, when these same reporters go to cover stories in Arab controlled areas where English is seldom spoken, they are wholly dependent on Arab fixers as guides and translators.

Some foreign reporters intentionally overlook or downplay the fact that their fixers must report to heavy-handed leaders, such as Yassir Arafat or Saddam Hussein.  Others just accept it as a fact of life.  Besides, the arrangement always seems to provide content that pleases their profit-conscious management.

However, in many cases, the Arab fixers also work with terrorist planners to organize "photo ops" especially for foreign news correspondents and reporters. In what is usually a careful orchestration of time and location, the fixers guide the reporters to a place and time chosen by those who control the areas, from whom the fixers take their orders.

Then of course, there is always the possibility of reprisal. The reporters know that they are dealing with violent people of power, who are not subject to oversight, as in a democratic state.

The bottom line is that the Western reporters and journalists are often biased in their reporting against Israel because they are essentially operating as helpless unarmed babes with cameras and recorders in a strange and violent land.  It is no wonder that the horrible death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Perl sent a gut-wrenching shiver through the American press.  It thinned the veneer of smug invulnerability.

Nonetheless, to continue bashing American reporters for sloppy and inaccurate reporting is pointless because the fact is that, no matter what a reporter says, when reporting in non-democratic states, good reporting (in terms of the real truth) can get you killed, and they know it. So who, then, can counterbalance this intimidation of the media? As the old saying goes, "it takes two" and in this case that means average Americans and the Israeli government.

In this regard, average Americans have been voting with their TV remotes as CNN (which was nearly thrown out of Israel because of its biased reporting) continues to lose ground to FOX News, while MSNBC's ratings are sliding off the radar screen altogether. Were it not for CNN's strong command of foreign markets, FOX would be even more successful in shoving it towards the edge of the radar screen as well. Since Americans are already taking action, that leaves the Israeli government which, all in all, is doing a rather poor job of countering Arab propaganda.

While Arab propagandists may feel clever and successful at the success they enjoying (most especially in Europe), they are only rehashing and updated hundreds of years of anti-Semitic bile and adding their own spin to it. This in part is why they have managed to push the European continent back towards its old, and deeply entrenched anti-Semitic roots -- the same roots that helped fuel Hitler's rise to power.

This is one reason why Israel's PR efforts are so dismal. Jews have, in a historical sense, always been on the defensive and routinely denied a public forum in which to defend themselves.  All they could do was to hope the abuse of words would not be followed by the violence of steel, fire and death. However, things have changed. The Jews have their own state, and this antiquated mindset of helpless propaganda victim has to go, not only for the sake of Jews, but for non-Jews as well.

There is another reason. Israel is a young democracy with many voices and points of view, none of which are silenced by the threat of torture or death, as they are in non-democratic states. Now that the Labor party has withdrawn from Sharon's coalition government, the continual tug has ended between those who view Oslo as the name of a war brought upon Israelis by its own government and those who still cling to the intent of Oslo, despite the fact that there has never been a partner for peace on the Palestinian side.

Just as Americans have voted with their TV remotes, Israelis must vote with their ballots for a single, understandable voice. Likewise, Sharon must have the guts to push the usual political infighting aside and to make it happen. This brings us to a key question; is there a plan? Does anyone have a clear idea of where to go?  Yes!

Thankfully, there are new voices on the horizon, and they are doing everything possible to push against the antiquated mindset of the Sharon government in the hopes of funding a truly capable response to Arab propaganda.  Once such voice is Dan Diker, a well-respected reporter in Israel who has joined his voice with like-minded Israelis and Christian Zionists like Christian writer and broadcaster Dr. Elwood McQuaid.

In a November 1, 2002 article, commissioned and financed by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Wexler Family foundation, the most remarkable thing about this paper is the degree to which Dan is openly critical of his own government. He pulls no punches, and this paper will give you a real insight into what is really happening in Israel.

Simply put, Dan Diker has made a solid case for action with a clear plan, and if Sharon is ready to deal with this, Diker should be his first choice to lead Israel's efforts in this regard.

About Dan Diker

Dan is a reporter for Israel's Channel One TV News in English and an advisor in Media studies at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the JCPA. He is also a contributor to the Jerusalem Post and JPost Radio.

Why Are Israel's
Public Relations So Poor?

By Dan Diker

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints No. 487, November 1, 2002

The State Comptroller's Report

The Israel State Comptroller's report released on October 7, 2002, leveled unprecedented criticism on Israel's public relations efforts. The State Comptroller revealed that "since its establishment in 1948, Israel's intelligence organs have not succeeded to respond to the broad-based propaganda and incitement by the Arab world."1 The report also emphasized that "the lack of a central authority to direct and coordinate all government information bodies to execute a public relations policy is the main factor accounting for Israel's longstanding failures in this field."2

Other key findings of the State Comptroller revealed:

  • A lack of an overall strategic public relations conception and objective.
  • Redundancies, wasted resources, and lack of coordination between government PR offices.
  • No comprehensive budgetary analysis to serve government public relations requirements.3
  • Ill-defined areas of responsibility and authority between the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and IDF Spokesman.4 

"Mukata": A Classic Case of Ineffective PR

"Mukata": A Classic Case of Ineffective PRThe IDF's 11-day siege of Yasser Arafat's Mukata compound in September 2002, followed by a sudden pullback in the face of American pressure, is a classic case of mismanaged crisis-assessment and poor public relations. The hurried IDF operation that followed a deadly Hamas homicide bombing in Tel Aviv was undertaken without an adequate strategic analysis of potential American opposition to the move as the U.S. prepared the international community for an attack against Iraq. The operation was also carried out with virtually no government crisis communications support. From day one of the siege and the destruction of most of the PA compound until the unilateral Israeli pullback, there were no briefings or press conferences held for the foreign media by the IDF Spokesman, the Prime Ministers Office, or the Foreign Ministry explaining either Israel's actions or its objectives behind the operation.5

Government officials prohibited IDF spokesmen from briefing the foreign press on the tense stalemate, as the crisis was defined as "political" and not "military."6 Meanwhile, the standoff quickly became an international incident as the UN Security Council and the White House called for Israel to end the operation "immediately." Yet, the Prime Minister's Office directed government spokesmen not to talk to the press, preferring that Israel's crisis PR be handled by government ministers, many of whom do not speak fluent English and are untrained in foreign media relations.7

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was the only cabinet member who attempted a high-level international PR effort when he defended the IDF's actions in the Mukata to a large gathering of foreign ambassadors about a week after the siege began.

The State Comptroller's report and the "Mukata" crisis both illustrate a systemic problem with Israel's information efforts during the past two-year armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority. Despite the onslaught of Palestinian and Arab incitement and frequent cases of imbalanced and biased international news reporting, Israel's government information policy has been largely ineffective in both countering Palestinian propaganda and cogently presenting Israel's case to the international community. Israel's public relations have suffered from a fundamentally defensive PR posture, lack of coordination between PR offices, inconsistent and often-conflicting messages from a politically fractured national coalition government, decentralized and uncoordinated PR crisis management, and untrained government spokespeople.

Israel's information policy should be determined and directed by the Prime Minister's Office, and managed by a central information authority that coordinates all government PR and communications officials. The Prime Minister's Office, together with the Foreign and Defense Ministries, should coordinate positions and messages on a daily basis. Most important, perhaps, government information and media relations must become a strategic element of government decision-making, not only serving to provide ad hoc responses in times of crisis. This necessary conceptual shift in Israeli public relations can only take place if the government takes the necessary steps to make a more aggressive, unified, and consistent presentation of Israel's case to the international community.

Information Policy in the War Against Terror

Government communications in the age of mass media has become a key tool in influencing public opinion, which in turn can define the success or failure of government policies, especially in times of war and national crisis.8 In December General Uzi Dayan2001, General Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel's National Security Council, underscored the importance of integrating government information as a strategic component in Israel's war on Palestinian terror.9 The recent State Comptroller's report recommended that the NSC be responsible for integrating information and public relations as key components in a national security strategy.10

The new U.S. national security strategy that President George W. Bush presented to Congress in mid-September features a major international information effort as an integral part of its anti-terror strategy.11 The newly-created U.S. Homeland Security Administration also includes an aggressive information component in its war against terrorism. Daily information briefings to the press are central to the U.S. administration's unprecedented anti-terrorism campaign. An updated, web-based information "headquarters" features the principles of U.S. policy and includes hourly updates on U.S. diplomatic, political, and military activities both at home and abroad. In contrast to Israel, the U.S. information effort enjoys the advantages inherent in a presidential system in which the flow of information is highly controlled and messages emanating from the White House are consistent and disciplined.

To be fair, Israel's information effort has operated at a disadvantage. Over the past two years, Israelis have suffered more than 14,000 terror attacks, resulting in 687 people killed and over 4,800 wounded since September 2000.12 This astounding number of reportable news events -- more than one attack every two hours, on average -- places an overwhelming burden on government officials to respond in real time to events on the ground, and leaves little opportunity for strategic media policy planning and execution.13

Therefore, information remains fluid and policy must constantly be reviewed and updated, a process that sometimes prevents it from being pre-packaged and presented in a concise voice. Yet, the fact remains that the government did not prepare a clear information and mass media strategy before, during, or after the collapse of the Oslo peace process and in the ensuing war with the Palestinians.14 Neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Foreign Ministry held daily or weekly press briefings for the foreign press except for the three weeks of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002 after the Pesach Seder massacre in Netanya. Strategy meetings between the government's main information organs were not held until after this event. When Israel was forced to respond to Palestinian terror with tough government policies and military actions, Israel needed to explain those policies and actions to the press before, during, and after implementation of government decisions.15

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