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Israel Fails to Counter Arab Propaganda

YOWUSA.COM, 08-December-02
Marshall Masters


The "Karine A" PR Fiasco

One of the greatest challenges facing the government's information efforts involves the release of sensitive IDF information that could compromise Israel's national security. In the case of the dramatic capture of the "Karine A" weapons ship on route from Iran to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF's desire to withhold sensitive information cost Israel a critical PR victory.

Karine AOn January 4, 2002, the IDF Spokesman notified the international media that the "Karine A," packed with 50 tons of advanced weaponry, was on its way to the Palestinian Authority's Gaza port. Unfortunately, the premature message and initial press conference for the foreign media was held while the boat was still 300 kilometers from Israeli-controlled waters, making verification of the story impossible and Palestinian deniability easy. Government spokesmen then waited more than twenty-four hours for the Israeli censor to clear the details of the story, which finally occurred at 10 p.m. Saturday evening, Israel time, one hour past the New York Times deadline for Sunday publication.43 Moreover, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman's Office was not immediately updated by the IDF after the first announcement of the ship's capture on Friday. In fact, most of the information about the "Karine A" capture was issued by the IDF without coordination with the Foreign Ministry.44 The head of the Government Press Office also heard about the ship's capture on the radio and his office was not involved in disseminating the information. The result was that many leading foreign journalists based in Jerusalem were not even invited to the second press conference in Eilat on Sunday, January 6.45

The uncoordinated IDF release to the foreign media undercut Israel's initial claims for what should have been a major PR victory for Israel. The government only succeeded in making an international media splash after Israeli officials made a special trip to Washington to present the evidence proving the Palestinian Authority's terror connection to Iran.

Sharp public criticism of PR mismanagement of the "Karine A" capture resulted in certain improvements in inter-office coordination and communications. However, short of a binding agreement between the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry, and the Defense Ministry clearly defining areas of responsibility and authority regarding the coordination of Israel's information strategy and messages to the media, such improvements will have a limited effect.46

Servicing the Foreign Media
with Limited Resources

Government budgeting and staffing to assist foreign journalists and TV crews has not been commensurate with Israel's interest in having foreign news organizations file balanced stories. Most of the 800 foreign journalists stationed in Israel and the 1,500 who arrived to cover Operation Defensive Shield were not educated in the historical context or narrative of the Middle East conflict, and they require background information, story angles, and interviews that are labor-intensive for Israeli government representatives. The IDF Spokesman has virtually no budget and only three permanent spokespeople. The Government Press Office has five staff members and a total budget of around $100,000 for foreign press support in 2002. Only about $27,000 of that total is budgeted for direct activities with the foreign press.47 The Foreign Ministry maintains a staff of eight professionals and has a total PR budget of about $8.6 million for all foreign media activities in Israel and abroad, including that of more than 100 Israeli consulates and embassies.

Madrid to Oslo: Israel's
Information Paradigm Shift

OsloThe difficulty Israel's information policy faces today must be understood in the context of a fundamental paradigm shift in Israel's PR outlook as a result of the Oslo Accords. In 1993, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres noted that Israel's new policy of territorial concessions to the PLO in the framework of the Oslo Accords would obviate the need to explain Israel's position.48 For Peres, good policy was good PR. Ironically, though, Peres' conciliatory policies would put Israel on the PR defensive once Israel stopped making territorial concessions to the PLO.

Oslo's central message -- that Israel would finally enjoy security and the Palestinians their right to a Palestinian state -- would also boomerang. This moral asymmetry -- Palestinian rights versus security for Israelis -- undercut Israel's longstanding policy of asserting both its historical rights in Judea and Samaria and its demand for security. Every previous Israeli prime minister, from Labor's Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir to the Likud's Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, underscored Israel's historic rights to the disputed territories, and at the same time expressed Israel's willingness for territorial compromise based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Shamir's dramatic speech at the opening session of the 1991 Madrid Conference, made in the presence of representatives from most of the Arab world, underscored this theme. In contrast, Oslo's unprecedented focus on Palestinian claims in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and even Jerusalem sent a disconcerting message to Israel's supporters and reinforced the belief among Israel's detractors that the Jewish state was indeed a foreign occupier of Palestinian land.49

A second Oslo message that continues to put Israel on the defensive was Israel's failure to insist on the cessation of Palestinian claims of "occupation" following the Israeli army's withdrawal from all Palestinian cities on September 28, 1995, leaving the PA in control of the daily lives of over 97 percent of the Palestinian population. This has further strengthened the legally mistaken claim that Israel remains an "occupier" until it abandons all the territory it captured in 1967, thereby prejudging any future negotiations.

Perhaps most important, three successive Israeli governments since 1993 neglected to freeze implementation of the Oslo process in the face of the murderous incitement against Israel that became a fixture of Palestinian television as early as 1995. While some Israeli governments pointed to the high level of Palestinian incitement, they nevertheless proceeded to sign new agreements with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, despite his failure to terminate his media's hostile rhetoric, which stood in blatant contravention to the Oslo agreements. Although the Foreign Ministry was aware of widespread Palestinian incitement as early as 1993, directives were issued to Israeli officials to ignore it in the interests of advancing the negotiations.50 While prior to Oslo, Israel had enjoyed world sympathy over the Palestinian covenant's call for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel's failure to stand up to this clear violation of one of Oslo's founding principles undermined Israel's case to the world, once negotiations collapsed and the Palestinian violence began in September 2000.

The shift in the Oslo PR paradigm thus transformed Israel from a small democracy struggling against terror to an "occupier" of lands belonging to an indigenous population, and became a major contributing factor to Israel's current international isolation. Despite Israel's unprecedented unilateral concessions to the PLO and a two-year war of terror that has killed hundreds of Israelis and wounded nearly five thousand, Israel's international image is at an all-time low.51

Toward an Aggressive,
Principled Information Policy

September 11, 2001The terror attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, have created an important window of opportunity for Israel's public relations. In the post-9/11 world, Israel's image in the United States has largely improved due to the fact that Israel is now viewed in the same light as the United States views itself -- both are combatants in the West's war against radical Islamic terror. A recent U.S. poll confirms that a majority of Americans identify with Israel's democratic values and its battle against Islamic and Palestinian terrorism.52 This broad American support for Israel's struggle requires the government to repackage a more aggressive message, emphasizing:

  • Israel's position as a small democratic state (the size of New Jersey) engaged in a decades-long, front-line battle for freedom and democracy against hostile Arab states that seek its destruction. The Arab-Israeli conflict is between Israel and a coalition of Islamic and Arab states including the Palestinian Authority, not between Israel and the Palestinians alone.
  • Israel's commitment to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, calling for peace based on secure and recognized borders.
  • Israel's sacrifice of land for peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
  • A call to Israel's peace partners -- Jordan and Egypt -- to share the responsibility to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem that they helped create when they invaded Israel upon its birth in 1948.53
  • Israel is the only custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem that can guarantee freedom of worship to members of all faiths.

Just as significantly, Israel must divorce itself from the Oslo messages of 1993 to 2002.

  • Presenting Israel as "Goliath" and the Palestinians as "David."
  • Arguing that "security" is Israel's only moral claim.
  • Acquiescing to Palestinian charges of Israel's "colonialist occupation" of Arab Palestine and Jerusalem.
  • Neglecting Israel's longstanding "birthright" claims in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.

Reasserting the Principles of
Security, Reciprocity, and Democracy

Benjamin NetanyahuFormer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently Israel's Foreign Minister, told the U.S. Congress in mid-1996 that lasting peace must be based on security for Israel against terrorist attacks; reciprocity, in which all disputes are peacefully negotiated; and democracy and human rights in the Middle East. He also called on the United States to lead an international effort to isolate the "despotic regimes" of Iran and Iraq and prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons.54 Since the attacks of 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush has made security and democracy the foundations of his own international anti-terror strategy. Now, Israel has the opportunity to link the messages of security, reciprocity, and democracy to these newly adopted principles of American foreign policy.

Putting the Palestinians
on the Diplomatic Defensive

Israel's aggressive peace and democracy rhetoric must also be accompanied by unilateral peace proposals presented to the Bush Administration based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Israel can no longer allow itself to be cornered opposite unrealistic peace offers made by the Arab League, the Saudis, or the Palestinians that call for a return to June 4, 1967, borders and a divided Jerusalem. Israel's more aggressive peace posture must demand from the Palestinians a true compromise on their part within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel must also vigorously reject the political nomenclature advanced by the Palestinians, who call the West Bank and Gaza Strip "occupied Palestinian territories." In order to advance the idea that there are Israeli territorial claims in these territories, which are officially recognized in Israel as Judea and Samaria, after their biblical names, Israel would be advised to adhere to the term "disputed territories," that at least puts Israel and the Palestinians on equal footing with regard to respective rights and claims. Even if the UN or other bodies do not accept Israel's terminology, the very effort by Israeli spokesmen would sensitize the international community to Israel's claims and historic rights.

Toward Effective Information
Policy Execution

The Prime Minister's Office must be the command and control center for Israel's information policy and public relations. This office currently includes the National Security Council's public relations/intelligence capabilities, the Government Press Office's long-term relationship with the foreign media, and the prime minister's own domestic and foreign media advisors. The extent of the prime minister's control over information policy and the execution of a disciplined message should be the subject of coalition agreements.

Once the prime minister and the Cabinet determine the government's information policy and message, they may then be directed to the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, IDF Spokesman, GSS, and Police. Such an orderly flow of authority and responsibility should maintain a single reporting dynamic, help ensure communications discipline, and eliminate current information bottlenecks.

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1. State of Israel Comptroller's Report #53A, October 7, 2002, p. 42, #27, 29.
2. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 37, #2.
3. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 39, #9.
4. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 38, #6.
5. Interview with Danny Seaman, Government Press Office Director, September 26, 2002.
6. Interview with senior IDF official, September 26, 2002.
7. Meeting with senior government official close to the prime minister, September 28, 2002.
8. Danny Naveh, "Government Hasbara Can be Done Differently," Shalem Center Research Report #9, January 1995, p. 2.
9. "The Media Environment and its Implications," conference on "The Balance of National Strength and Security," Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, December 17, 2001, transcript, p. 18.
10. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 39, #13.
11. U.S. Department of State, International Information Online, September 26, 2002, http://U.S.info.state.gov/U.S.a/infoU.S.a/.
12. Israel Defense Forces Website, http://www.idf.il/daily_statistics/english/6.gif, December 1, 2002.
13. Interview with senior advisor to the prime minister, June 25, 2002.
14. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 40, #16-25.
15. "Information Policy in an Information Age," Communications Taskforce Working Paper, conference on "The Balance of National Strength and Security," Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, 2001, p. 10.
16. Daily Alert, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, September 20, 2002.
17. Interview with Danny Seaman, Government Press Office Director, September 25, 2002.
18. Iinterview with senior IDF official, September 28, 2002.
19. "What Really Happened in Jenin?" Jerusalem Issue Brief, May 2, 2002.
20. Interview with senior IDF official, September 25, 2002.
21. Zeev Schiff, "Back to Jenin," Ha'aretz, July 17, 2002.
22. Ibid.
23. Interview with General Ron Kitry, former IDF Spokesman, September 28, 2002.
24. Zeev Schiff, "Back to Jenin."
25. Meeting with senior Sharon advisor, Jerusalem, July 17, 2002.
26. Private meeting with Ariel Sharon, New York City, April 18, 2001.
27. Eliel Shachar, "Lesson in Public Relations," Maariv, May 14, 2002, p. 2.
28. Haim Handwerker, "Don't Blame the Messenger," Ha'aretz, June 20, 2002.
29. Ibid.
30. Shachar, "Lesson in Public Relations," p. 3.
31. Senior Foreign Ministry spokesman, April 2002.
32. Interview with prime minister's foreign media advisor Raanan Gissin, IBA Satellite Channel, October 8, 2002.
33. Only six of Israel's English language spokesmen are fluent in idiomatic English. Spokesmen include: prime minister's foreign media advisor Raanan Gissin, GPO Director Danny Seaman, former UN Ambassador Dore Gold, Foreign Ministry Legal Affairs official Danny Taub, European Desk Head Danny Scheck, Consul-General of Israel in New York Allon Pinkas, and Israel Embassy in Washington spokesman Mark Regev.
34. According to Ed Belson, Senior VP, Hill and Knowlton, in written correspondence, January 10, 2000.
35. Comptroller's Report #53A, p. 38, #6-8.
36. Foreign Ministry public affairs official, September 28, 2002.
37. Official in the Prime Minister's Office, July 15, 2002.
38. Press Conference with Minister Tzippi Livni, Jerusalem, October 7, 2002.
39. Interview with Ido Aharoni, media affairs official, Israel Consulate in New York, August 30, 2002.
40. Interview with General Ron Kitry, former IDF Spokesman, September 28, 2002.
41. General Giora Eiland, "Media and the Current Conflict," conference at Tel Aviv University, November, 2000.
42. "Foreign Media Coverage of Israel," UJA Canadian Leadership panel, Jerusalem, October 19, 2002.
43. Meeting with senior government spokesman, September 29, 2002.
44. Shoshanna London Sapir, "Israel's PR Apparatus Flawed," Jerusalem Post, Internet Edition, October 8, 2002.
45. State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, press conference, Jerusalem, October 7, 2002.
46. According to Danny Seaman, Government Press Office Director, July 15, 2002; and Gidon Meir, Deputy Director General, Foreign Ministry, August 25, 2002.
47. Interview with Danny Seaman, Government Press Office Director, September 28, 2002.
48. Danny Naveh, "Government Hasbara Can Be Done Differently," op. cit., p. 3.
49. Interview with Dr. Yigal Carmon, Executive Director, MEMRI, September 28, 2002.
50. Former Foreign Ministry official, September 26, 2002.
51. Independent Research Poll for The Fairness Project in December 2001, in a confidential memorandum, March 2002.
52. "Stand For Israel," International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Daily Alert, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, October 11, 2002.
53. Egypt and Jordan's roles as partners in peace negotiations are enshrined in UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the 1978 Camp David Accords, and the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.
54. "Netanyahu Tells U.S. Congress: Jerusalem Won't be Divided," CNN Interactive, July 10, 1996, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9607/10/netanyahu.congress.

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