The State Comptroller’s Report, “Mukata”: A Classic Case of Ineffective PR, Information Policy in the War Against Terror, Losing the “Al Aqsa” Brand War, The Case of Jenin: How Poor PR Planning Led to False Charges of “Massacre”, Undermining Israel’s PR: A Fractured Unity Government, Wanted: Disciplined Messages and Effective Messengers, Managing an Unwieldy Information Apparatus, The “Karine A” PR Fiasco, Servicing the Foreign Media with Limited Resources, Madrid to Oslo: Israel’s Information Paradigm Shift, Toward an Aggressive, Principled Information Policy, Reasserting the Principles of Security, Reciprocity, and Democracy, Putting the Palestinians on the Diplomatic Defensive, Toward Effective Information Policy Execution
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
The 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 2001, 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
Losing the “Al Aqsa” Brand War
Naming the current war the “Al Aqsa intifada” proved to be a stroke of Palestinian PR genius, as much of the Western news media adopted this Palestinian brand name that casts the conflict internationally in the image Arafat sought.16 For its part, Israel’s failure to “rebrand” the conflict on its own terms to reflect the conflict’s true nature — a pre-planned war of terror against Israeli citizens — placed the Jewish state on the defensive in the international court of public opinion from the first day of the conflict.
Israel’s past wars, from their outset, were promptly named by the IDF, and the name gained currency in the international news media. The 1967 Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the 1982 “Peace for Galilee” Operation had all been named on Israel’s terms.
This time, however, military and political assessments on the ground led to Israeli hesitations to “brand” the outbreak of violence in Israeli terms. This occurred, first of all, because few IDF and government officials anticipated that the initial weeks of the conflict would evolve into a full-blown war of terror.17 Second, political considerations prevented Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and senior Foreign Ministry officials from rushing to brand the conflict a war of terror. Branding the armed conflict at any stage would have been a clear admission of failure of Peres’ own political vision, enshrined in the Oslo peace process, and a bedrock of the Labor party’s platform. Therefore, Peres sought to push a fundamentally less aggressive message to the foreign media than both the Prime Minister’s Office and the IDF.
The Case of Jenin: How Poor PR Planning Led to False Charges of “Massacre”
Although some Israeli officials were aware of the possibility that Palestinians would fabricate charges of a massacre in the IDF’s operation in Jenin, Israeli military spokesmen did not successfully intercept or counter these mendacious claims. A major contributing factor was the fact that Defense Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer unilaterally barred the international media from reporting on the IDF’s anti-terror operations in the territories without first assessing possible negative media fallout with his senior PR advisors or the IDF Spokesman.18 Ben Eliezer even prohibited IDF officials from allowing a major network to receive “pooled” pictures, further feeding suspicions that the Israelis were hiding something. One week later, when TV crews were finally allowed to accompany IDF troops into the camp, correspondents worked overtime to verify rumors of a massacre by the IDF that had been claimed by Palestinian spokespeople on international television during the first six days of the Jenin operation. As a result, international organizations, UN officials, and even Western government leaders echoed the Palestinian claims that were trumpeted on most of the world’s major TV networks.19 Even though senior IDF spokespeople took leading foreign TV news crews on aerial tours of the Jenin camp to point out the limited field of battle — a 100-square-meter area comprising only nine percent of the camp — Israeli officials monitoring foreign news coverage said they did not see any aerial shots or readily available maps used in foreign TV news broadcasts.20
While Israel was being accused of war atrocities and crimes against humanity by much of the international media, Israeli government spokesmen could not convince the foreign press to report on the widespread humanitarian assistance the IDF was providing to the Palestinian civilian population including, food, blood, generators, and ambulances.21 Not only were these efforts left largely unreported, but senior government spokesmen were themselves unaware of the extraordinary humanitarian efforts made by the IDF while still under fire.22 Although three months later, an official UN investigation absolved Israel of all charges of massacre and war crimes in Jenin, the initial television reports broadcast throughout the world inflicted lasting damage to Israel’s international image.23 A subsequent report by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies sharply criticized the government’s information breakdown in Jenin, noting that the army “has still not integrated public relations in its strategic assessments.”24
Undermining Israel’s PR: A Fractured Unity Government
Although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defeated former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the special elections of February 2001 in an unprecedented 63 percent landslide victory, Sharon inherited the Knesset originally elected with the Barak government in 1999. Thus, Sharon was forced to operate a “post-Oslo” government with an “Oslo” parliament.
In addition, Sharon offered the leaders of the defeated Labor party control of the foreign and defense ministries in order to entice them to join a national unity government that would present a united front in the fight against terror. The result was a government that frequently issued conflicting and even contradictory statements about Israeli policy to the international media.
Yet, going to battle with Peres over PR discipline was not a top priority for Sharon.25 A month after his election, the prime minister told this author that Israel’s information efforts were “problematic” and that the complicated political reality of his main coalition partner prevented him from doing what he would like to do in public relations.26
Finally, the need for consensus in a national unity government made it difficult to appoint the most effective Israeli spokesmen to key diplomatic posts abroad. At one point, Foreign Minister Peres considered appointing Minister Dalia Itzik as Israel’s Ambassador to Great Britain, despite the weakness of her spoken English. In another instance with more serious diplomatic ramifications, for months Sharon and Peres could not agree on a replacement for David Ivri, the outgoing Ambassador to the United States.
Wanted: Disciplined Messages and Effective Messengers
Leading U.S. media relations experts sent to Israel by private sponsors in May 2002 described Israel’s PR efforts in the United States as “disastrous.”27 Israel’s Consul General in New York, Allon Pinkas, complained that Israel’s image in the U.S. suffered from a lack of clear and “disciplined” messages.28 International media consultant Lillian Wilder, a media advisor to former U.S. President Richard Nixon, noted in an interview that Israelis are often unprofessional and “wordy” on television.29
Frequently, Israeli spokesmen fail to use language that rings true with American audience. According to Washington, D.C.-based media experts Dr. Frank Luntz and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, many Israeli spokesmen spend too much time engaging in diatribes against Arafat and the Palestinian leadership’s role in terror instead of focusing on words such as “peace, democracy, security, and freedom.”30
Government spokesmen are also inconsistent in presenting Israel’s case to the international media. According to official government policy, Israel has longstanding rights and claims in the disputed territories captured in 1967. However, some senior government spokesmen fail to refute the Palestinian charge that Israel is an illegal “occupier” of Palestinian lands. Instead, they emphasize the point that Palestinian violence preceded Israel’s entry into the territories.31 On the other hand, the prime minister’s foreign media adviser, Raanan Gissin, has stressed the fact that Israel’s central moral claim to the territories captured in the defensive 1967 war cannot be based strictly on security needs but also on the Jewish “birthright,” which creates a moral parallel to Palestinian claims.32
The government also fields an unwieldy number of spokesmen for English-speaking international media, most of whom do not boast English as their mother tongue.33 Two of Israel’s frequently called-upon spokesmen, Dr. Dore Gold, Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Zalman Shoval, former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, volunteer their services to the government’s information effort while maintaining full-time careers.
Since 1999, the Foreign Ministry has worked with the New York-based Howard Rubinstein public relations agency to assist in advancing Israel’s positions in the United States. More thorough research into the leading government relations agencies in the United States would reveal several Washington-based agencies with worldwide reach and influence. For example, several Middle Eastern countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have substantially enhanced their relationships both on Capitol Hill and in European capitals via representation by leading Washington-D.C based government relations agencies. 34
Managing an Unwieldy Information Apparatus
Who’s in Charge?
Responsibility for Israel’s information effort is currently divided between several government offices. The Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the IDF Spokesman, and the Israel Police have all played central roles in disseminating information to the foreign media. However, each government office operates independently, and is physically located in a separate area of the nation’s capital, making daily inter-office coordination difficult.35 Moreover, due to the lack of a central information authority empowered by the government to determine information strategy, policy, and crisis management communications, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, and IDF Spokesman are forced to rely on mutual good will to coordinate their activities. Unfortunately, “good will” has not worked, as these offices have frequently ended up competing for PR authority, thereby forwarding uncoordinated positions and messages, and even carrying out redundant information activities.36
The Foreign Ministry
A 1999 ministerial committee under the Barak government appointed the Foreign Ministry to be responsible for coordinating Israel’s PR and information efforts. However, the decision lacked Knesset legislative backing, which accounts in part for the ongoing competition for PR authority with the Prime Minister’s Office.
On the face of it, the Foreign Ministry is the most appropriate address to carry out the task. With more than 100 embassies around the world, Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem receive constant feedback from the field as to what strategies and messages work best in different parts of the world. Moreover, the Foreign Ministry’s $4 million annual budget for Israel-based media and PR activity, however small, is still much more substantial than that of any other government ministry. However, Foreign Ministry officials have little incentive to embrace PR as a career objective if the political echelon of the Foreign Ministry does not value PR as a primary task for its diplomats.
There is an unprecedented need for Foreign Ministry officials in Israel and abroad to commit their attention to executing a comprehensive PR plan to battle the worrying upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe and on college campuses throughout North America. The Jewish communities of the diaspora require full-time support in fending off PR attacks in the local media and by private and public institutions, and in galvanizing support for Israel. Yet, every Foreign Ministry PR professional working under Deputy Director General Gidon Meir since the outbreak of hostilities in September 2000 has been reassigned to a new diplomatic post in recent months. This constant rotation of public relations civil service professionals out of the Foreign Ministry’s Public Affairs Division and the commensurate need to train new PR professionals is costly and inefficient. However, the Foreign Ministry has demonstrated that it has skilled PR manpower in Israel and abroad that can successfully present Israel’s case to the international community when called upon to do so.
The Prime Minister’s Office
Following sharp public criticism of the lack of coordination of Israel’s information apparatus, Yossi Gal was appointed to fulfill a strategic information policy role similar to that of the White House communications director. Gal’s responsibilities were apparently not clarified and he soon resigned, dissatisfied that he was not interacting directly with foreign journalists.37 Then in August 2001, former Regional Cooperation Minister Tzippi Livni was made responsible for coordinating information policy in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Prime Minister’s Office includes a number of PR advisors and information resources including the Prime Minister’s domestic media advisor, foreign media advisor, the National Security Council, and the Government Press Office. When it soon became clear to Livni that she would not have the authority to coordinate the effort because the PR bodies involved had not agreed to take instructions from one authority,38 she declined to continue in the post.
The Government Press Office
Under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s Office, the GPO’s mandate is to provide a one-stop solution for foreign journalists working in Israel, from providing press credentials to arranging briefings and interviews with Israeli officials. However, GPO activities have been reduced substantially over the past six years in line with the consolidation of PR control in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, the GPO has always been an integral part of the government’s communications efforts. Its staff is comprised of seasoned PR professionals, most of whom have decades of experience working with foreign journalists and film crews. The recent weakening of the GPO has sent a negative signal to members of the foreign press corps regarding the office’s relevance and authority.
The IDF Spokesman
Since so many of the reportable news stories coming out of Israel stem from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the IDF plays a key function in influencing journalists’ perceptions on the ground.39 However, since the IDF carries out the orders of the government, it frequently had to “tiptoe” between the differing political positions of the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.40 Moreover, the IDF does not have the staff to accompany hundreds of journalists onto the field of battle. However, when journalists have accompanied IDF operations, there is often a marked improvement in the media coverage Israel receives.41 A senior news producer from Reuters television, responding to criticism of imbalanced reporting, said that she would be prepared to send news crews out into the field with IDF units at every opportunity. However, invitations from the IDF have not been forthcoming.42
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.
On 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
The 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
The 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
Former 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.
* * *
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.
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.
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 conversations with senior executives of leading international government relations agencies, January 2001.
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.
* * *
Dan Diker is a Knesset and economic affairs reporter for Israel Broadcasting Authority’s English News. He is also media affairs consultant at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs, founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation.