"Explain that," Letter to the Editor, Jerusalem Post
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While your May 27 editorial “Explaining Israel” correctly criticizes Israel’s shockingly inadequate public diplomacy efforts, your recommended solutions are unlikely to solve the problem. For example, “utilizing professional diplomats” who have “received training in the art of diplomacy and are therefore the best qualified to take up Israel’s case abroad.”
Diplomats are not public relations experts. For the most part, they talk to each other, while hasbara (public diplomacy) talks to private citizens. Even diplomats who have an aptitude for such work often are transferred to other jobs just as they develop the necessary skills and contacts to make a real impact.
Another recommendation is “coordinating the different hasbara efforts under a single body.” But coordinating is very different from devising and implementing an entirely new public diplomacy strategy – a sea change from the failed government strategies of the past. Contrast this with the tens of millions of dollars the PA expends to obtain the services of outside PR firms; the success of this PR onslaught in moving the world’s sympathies toward the Palestinian side is all too apparent.
What is needed is a dedicated agency – independent of any of the ministries or the government of the moment – whose sole responsibility is the dissemination of the truth of what Israel stands for and is doing. This is not a Goebbels-like ministry of propaganda, but an agency of communication.
We need an operation that is both independent and well funded, with the ability to contract with outside firms when necessary.
Israel must speak with one full-time voice that is expert in getting our message across. This task is too important to be left in the hands of well meaning diplomats who might have neither the time nor the skills that are essential if we are to succeed.
Israel must participate in the public diplomacy game with all its energy and resources. While hasbara, by itself, will not guarantee its survival, abandoning the playing field could well contribute to victory for the other side.
EFRAIM A. COHEN, NORMAN A. BAILEY, Zichron Ya’acov
Cohen, a former US diplomat, is a fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Center for International Communication. Bailey, a former staff member of the US National Security Council and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is professor of economics and national security at the University of Haifa. They are among the founders of “The Zichron Project,” an organization dedicated to developing creative approaches to Israeli public diplomacy.