For as long as I can remember, supporters of Israel have complained about how poor Israel is at hasbara (literally “explanation,” but in this context, “public relations”).
To those of us who love and support Israel, it has always been especially frustrating because it appears so obvious that objective analysis by any rational person would lead to the conclusion that Israel’s cause is just and right.
Contributing to the problem was the fact that for the longest time the Israeli government did not appreciate the importance of the PR war and therefore did not take seriously the need to explain its cause or to justify its positions.
At long last, it appears the problem is being addressed. New, creative ways to reframe how the situation is perceived are being developed in a concerted effort to improve Israel’s image and public opinion about it. The way things were handled recently with “Pillar of Defense” reflects this new appreciation for the importance of good PR.
Another factor is that talented Israeli diplomats serving in the United States, and their staffs, realize the importance of winning the battle of public opinion and are spearheading the
Michael Oren is probably the finest, most articulate and brightest Israeli ambassador to serve in a long line of extremely talented individuals since Abba Eban. Oren tirelessly and energetically lays out and explains the justness of Israel’s cause in countless forums, and has made many friends of Israel through his determined efforts. As a scholar, his insights and explanations carry special weight and significance, especially since he articulates the case for Israel so logically and coherently. He has been extraordinarily effective making connections and strengthening relationships in both the Jewish and non-Jewish community.
Ido Aharoni, the consul general of Israel in New York, an extremely bright and thoughtful Israeli diplomat, acknowledges that part of the problem is that when people think about Israel, they automatically think of the conflict with the Palestinians and the confrontation with its Arab neighbors. He recognizes that allowing Israel’s enemies and detractors to frame the terms of the debate and focusing only on the conflict puts Israel at a disadvantage. Being on the defensive is a losing proposition from the outset. He contends that Israel needs to be proactive and the one to define how people think about the situation.
He proposes we replace associations of Israel with strife with positive images that better reflect the diversity and admirable aspects of Israeli society. It is part of the effort introduced a few years ago to broaden the conversation about Israel so that it is defined not by its problems, but by its creative spirit.
His proposal is nothing short of revolutionary.
Imagine if people did not think about Israel as an embattled place, but instead envisioned Israel’s contributions to the world. He wants people to think of Israel as the “startup nation,” a hub of technological innovation. When they hear the word Israel, it should be thought of as the leader it is in ecological advancement through its contributions to water conservation. It also should get greater recognition in the realm of human rights, such as equal rights for gays, especially since this is in such stark contrast to the situation in the Arab world. Its robust lifestyle and vibrant culture, nightclubs and arts scene is dynamic, exciting and attractive, especially for young people. The diversity of its population and its commitment to and leadership in the area of tikkun olam, as manifested in its far-flung international humanitarian aid programs around the world, is another source of pride that can be highlighted.
I think Ido is on to something.
He is not alone in his willingness to think boldly. Rounding out this accomplished team in New York is a staff that complements his work.
At the United Nations, Israel is represented by Ron Prosor. Ambassador Prosor has rejected the old policy of allowing anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist statements to go unchallenged in the corridors of the United Nations. He has instructed members of his staff not to refrain from responding to ludicrous and outrageous charges about Israel. The result of this new found willingness to be assertive is greater understanding and sympathy. Armed with a wonderful sense of humor and warmth, Ambassador Prosor is making inroads in a place not known as being friendly or receptive to Israel.
I have met and heard other talented diplomats, such as David Siegel in Los Angeles, who are effective representatives and emissaries of Israel. The Foreign Ministry has been making
extensive use of modern social media to get out Israel’s message. Regardless of one’s feelings about Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he deserves credit for dispatching talented diplomats to the United States who are creative and innovative and who recognize the importance of helping Israel win the war off the battlefield, as well as on it.
Stuart Weinblatt is rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac.