Sunday, July 15, 2018

Another triumph for American public diplomacy ....

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Prince Charles and Prince William were unwilling to meet Donald Trump on his visit to Britain, leaving the Queen to greet the US president alone. The first two in line to the throne let it be known...
John Brown The tie matches the colors! Another triumph for American public diplomacy ...


Friday, July 13, 2018

Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy

[JB note: This book (published and now online thanks to its editor and other colleagues) contains an article by yours truly, "Creel and Lippmann During the Great War," an effort to understand/trace the origins -- and recurrent inner tensions (broadly put, rhetoric vs. philosophy) -- of American public diplomacy.]

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As 2018 marks the Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] Council's 30th anniversary, the organization's latest book, “Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future,” is now available online.

The book, edited by CPD Research Fellow Deborah L. Trent, features 11 chapters that confront a variety of challenges in public diplomacy, analyze innovations on traditional practices, and examine nontraditional approaches to international scenarios.

The volume presents cases from around the world where the authors describe, evaluate and develop implications for the overall practice of public diplomacy across the U.S. government and conclude that building on these cases generates effective policy and programs.

"U.S. public diplomacy is a big tent, crowded with demands and potential but short on resources," shares Trent in her introduction to the book. "With so many diverse performers and acts under the cover, generalizing about them is risky. This volume aggregates nontraditional approaches to public diplomacy that have managed or might have managed particular international relations scenarios well, despite political and resource constraints."

The print edition was originally published by the Public Diplomacy Council in 2016 and is now available digitally here. The Council retains copyright of this version.

LibraryUnited States Diplomacy public diplomacy councilnontraditional diplomacyCultural Diplomacyexchanges

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In Run-Up To Summit, Kremlin Targets RFE/RL; via LJB

image from article

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of State has condemned “the selective targeting” of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in response to a July 5 ruling by a Moscow court finding that the media company failed to comply with requirements tied to its designation as a “foreign agent.”

Moscow’s Tverskoi district court ordered RFE/RL to pay 100,000 rubles ($1,600) for failure to provide timely financial reporting as required by a new “media foreign agent law” that Russia’s Ministry of Justice applied to RFE/RL last December. The company’s attorneys have defended its filings, saying there was a lack of clarity as to when the reports were due.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent deplored the prosecution of RFE/RL as a “sharp new escalation” in a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign against the company.

“Of all of the foreign news media serving Russian audiences,” Kent said, “only media supported by the U.S. Congress--RFE/RL and the Voice of America--have been designated as ‘foreign agents’ under the new law.”

Russia’s lower house of parliament is expected to review new legislation this week that would extend the “foreign agent” status to persons--not just media outlets--creating the authority to apply the label to individual reporters. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticized the bill on July 3 as the latest step in a "systematic policy" of obstructing the free flow of information in Russia. The State Department warned that it could serve as “a new tool to target independent journalists and bloggers in retaliation for their work.”

RFE/RL has been targeted by Russian authorities previously. Between 2004-2010, arbitrary administrative fees and political pressure were used to dissuade local affiliates from carrying its programs, reducing those affiliates from over 30 to just two. Its journalists have been physically assaulted while on assignment, threatened, interrogated, and detained.

John Lansing, CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the body that oversees the work of U.S. international media, denounced Thursday’s ruling as an “attack on independent media serving Russian audiences.” Citing a U.S. “firewall” legislation that protects RFE/RL’s editorial independence, he said “neither RFE/RL nor anyone who works for them is an agent of the United States government.”

The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media also criticized the court decision, saying it “clearly shows that the 'foreign-agents' law...narrows the space for freedom of the media in the Russian Federation.”

Despite ongoing Russian interference, RFE/RL continues to provide independent and reliable news and information on multiple platforms to Russian and Russian-speaking audiences through its Russian Service, Current Time TV, and regional programs. These, combined, drew 24 million page views on its websites, 26.5 million video views on Facebook, and 22.5 million views on YouTube in May 2018.

Monday, July 9, 2018

America's amateur diplomats

via Facebook

[JB: The Economist article available only through subscription]

Our colleagues in Columbia, South Carolina - 92 similar organizations across the countries. They show our visitors the real America, which thankfully is still out there.

Meet the corps of volunteers boosting soft power

Opinion Infuriated by Birthright Incident, Lapid Hatches a Dirty Deal

Lapid image (not from article) from

The Yesh Atid leader wants the Israeli public to shut up and perpetuate lies about the occupation just to protect Israel's public diplomacy [JB emphasis] efforts

[JB: Full article available only through subscription.]

U.S. Mission to Lebanon: Public Affairs Small Grants Program

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U.S. Mission to Lebanon: Public Affairs Small Grants Program
Deadline: 29 July 2018

The U.S. Embassy of Lebanon / Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] Section (PAS) of the U.S. Department of State have announced an open competition for organizations, individuals, and alumni of U.S. Exchange programs to submit applications for its Public Affairs Small Grants Program.

Program Objectives

U.S. Embassy Beirut seeks proposals that promote the following themes:
  • Youth engagement in community development;
  • Culture and the arts as tools to promote freedom of expression, youth engagement, and/or economic advancement;
  • Freedom of speech, transparency, and democratic values; 
  • Alumni engagement in community service initiatives (alumni networking projects are not likely to receive funding)
Funding Information
  • Award amounts: awards may range from a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $50,000
  • Total available funding: $250,000
  • Length of performance period: 3 to 24 months
  • Anticipated program start date: August 2018
Priority Region

Proposals must be implemented in Lebanon, with priority given to projects implemented partially or entirely in underserved areas.

Key Guidelines
  • Applicants can apply as individuals, together as a group (For example, a group of alumni), or as non-profit organizations.
  • For alumni proposals, partnerships with existing, active alumni organizations are encouraged.
  • Successful projects should identify and work with appropriate partner institutions. Partner institutions can be engaged to provide expertise as well as cost-share activities. Cost-sharing (financial and/or in kind) is encouraged for a competitive grant.
  • Each project will be considered for its potential sustainability; projects that demonstrate sustainability will be given preference.
  • All projects should be conducted in English or have a major English-language component.
  • Successful grantees should be prepared to share their grant activities, as appropriate, on social media.
  • Priority will be given to proposals that: 
--Target a large number of beneficiaries throughout and beyond the grant period.
--Engage Youth
--Touch on more than one theme

Eligible Applicants

The following organizations are eligible to apply:
  • Not-for-profit organizations, including think tanks and civil society/non-governmental organizations
  • Public and private educational institutions
  • Individuals
  • Alumni of Department of State-sponsored exchange programs.
How to Apply

All application materials must be submitted at the address given on the website.

For more information, please visit

New Beginnings…and a Few Endings

Image from entry, with caption: Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.

It’s been a wild week for geopolitics, and particularly public diplomacy [JB emphasis], from insults thrown at our allies at the G-7 to niceties, pomp, and circumstance (and even a little saluting) in Singapore.

But first, I have some personal news to share. After five wonderful years here at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I have made the decision to step down as Dean this August to pursue new opportunities in the world of international finance and consulting. ...

Public Schedule: July 9, 2018 - US Department of State; see also

image (not from entry) from video, under the title "Heather Nauert & Anna Kooiman ATSS 1 15 16"

JULY 9, 2018


Acting Under Secretary and Spokesperson Nauert accompanies Secretary Pompeo on travel to Pyongyang, Tokyo, Hanoi, Abu Dhabi, and Brussels July 5-12. Please click here for more information. ...

Sunday, July 8, 2018

UAE high school students can look forward to lessons in diplomacy

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Abu Dhabi: The Ministry of Education (MoE) and Emirates Diplomatic Academy (EDA) have signed a framework agreement to impart the year-round diplomacy programme to high school students in the country.

Since the diplomatic relations between the UAE and countries of the world are rapidly expanding, the country looks for training more and more diplomats who can represent the UAE overseas.

According to the MoE, the UAE had 500 ambassadors in 2014 for different countries but this year the UAE will be represented by 1,080 ambassadors in 11 different countries of the world.

The agreement was signed between Marwan Ahmad Al Sawaleh, undersecretary of Ministry of Education for Academic Affairs and Bernardino Leon, director general of EDA, on Thursday.

He said this is the first of its kind year-round diplomacy programme for high school students in the country.

“Our probation will also allow the EDA to fast-track the MoE prospective political science students and to the EDA higher education scholarship programme,” Al Sawaleh said.

He also highlighted the importance of training teachers and community-based diplomatic programmes.

He said the “UAE had 500 ambassadors in 2014 for different countries but this year the UAE will be representated by 1,080 ambassadors in 11 different countries of the world.”

When the decision was made to add diplomacy with us with the programme in the begining of this year, we could never had imagined the level of interest experienced into this programme across the emirates, he said.

“This year we have a total of 1,144 applications for our diplomacy ambassador’s programme with only 50 places available,” Al Sawaleh said.

The ceremony was followed by a panel discussion on ‘Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] in the 21st Century’.

He sought to remind that youngsters venturing overseas wield immense soft power in terms of diplomacy and they need to think as ambassadors of the country.

“You are the cultural icons of the country and the stories you tell the world make an image of the country,” Fletcher said.

The US authorities accused the Russian government in attempts to limit media freedom


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The US authorities accused the Russian government in attempts to “limit media freedom” ten days before the scheduled summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

“The Russian government continues to restrict freedom of the press and the independence of the media”, said the US Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] and Public Affairs, Heather Nauert. “We condemn the actions against Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, classified by the Russian media law as foreign agents”, added she.

These radio stations, which are funded by the US Congress, as well as seven other related media, are categorized as “foreign agents” in Russia.

The classification was introduced by a law passed in November in response to the obligation of Russian TV to register under this name in the United States.

The US State Department also condemned a draft bill that would extend the scope of the term “foreign agent” to include any journalist working for media in this category.

“The bill could give the Russian government a new tool for punitive measures against independent journalists and bloggers because of their activities”, says the US State Department.

I’m Viliyana Filipova, 27 year-old girl from Varna, Bulgaria. I’m founder and Chief Editor of Finance Apprise Journal, which will give you top quality information about news in business, economy, finance, stock exchange and forex.

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I selected high experience and professional team of analysts and writers, who will present you the latest finance and business news.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The UAE's culture and values set us apart. It's time to share them with the world

Zaki Nusseibeh,

Image from entry, with caption: The Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy [JB emphasis] will be launched by Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh at the end of this month. Victor Besa / The National

By merging robust foreign policy with our rich cultural tapestry, we can build international understanding of, and affinity for, the UAE's values, writes Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh

We are blessed to live in a stable, prosperous and optimistic country, but our turbulent region and changing world pose many challenges to the UAE. They are problems that can only be solved through more cooperation, and yet we are living at a time when we too often see division and distrust in place of mutual respect and collaboration.

Therefore, it is imperative that we work to build greater trust and understanding with other countries and their people. Whether they are global challenges such as tackling climate change, regional ones such as countering extremism, or domestic ones such as diversifying our economy, all require that we work hand in hand with the international community.

To build the cooperation we need, it is vital that we give other countries a better understanding of our culture and values, as this can provide the foundation for long-term partnership on political, economic and security issues.

By communicating our progressive culture and values to other nations, we can give people in our region something hopeful to aspire to, which is what so many young Arabs desperately need.

By demonstrating that pride in our Muslim and Arab heritage and culture can also mean being modern and cosmopolitan, we can help to show people a positive alternative.

For this reason, I am honoured to have been asked by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to establish an Office for Cultural and Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).

My core mission will be to work closely with the Federal and local Cultural Authorities in the UAE to help our wide network of diplomatic missions abroad build international understanding of, and affinity for, the UAE’s culture and values, to enhance political, economic and security cooperation with other countries.

One of the ways we can do this is through cultural exchange, whether in art, film, literature or music. This is why Louvre Abu Dhabi and Expo 2020 Dubai are so important, because they facilitate a powerful dialogue about our common humanity. But it is also why we will look to help our brilliant artists and the creative sector of the UAE’s economy to get exposure overseas.

The creative arts provide a powerful vehicle for conveying our culture and values. At their best, they engage people in a two-way conversation, tapping into emotions that all humans share and eliminating language barriers.

But the arts are not the only way we can communicate our shared values. We can also do so by bringing people to study in our universities and encouraging the study of our culture in foreign universities, by participating in international sporting events, or by finding new ways to engage the millions of people who visit the UAE each year.

I will work with colleagues inside and outside MoFAIC to connect the dots between our rich cultural tapestry and our robust foreign policy, and to ensure that the UAE’s embassies are doing as much as they can to support and amplify those efforts.

In addition, we will be exploring innovative new ways to expose people to the UAE’s culture and values. For example, we will consider how to build on the successful model of this year’s UAE-France Cultural Dialogue to engage young leaders from other countries in cultural exchange and to increase the visibility of our culture in foreign capitals.

We will also develop a "toolkit" for UAE embassies and work with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy to train our diplomats in cultural diplomacy. The priority is not on just communicating with political leaders but with opinion leaders in cultural, media, business, education and sports, as well as the wider public.

And our focus should not just be on Western countries, which the UAE has traditionally targeted. Naturally, countries such as the US and in Europe remain very important to us, but it is also a priority that we build stronger connections and cultural understanding in the major Asian countries, such as China and India.

Equally, we must do all we can to cement ties within our own region, working closely with our trusted allies and partners in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, and reaching out to strategic neighbours like Iraq.

Our cultural diplomacy should convey the non-sectarian and tolerant nature of the UAE’s values, thereby strengthening the UAE’s connection with all Arab people, whatever their religion or sect.

Despite the obvious transformations of our country over the last half century, our culture remains rooted in the same values as always: a commitment to women’s empowerment, to invest in the well-being of our people, to provide an open, economically attractive and culturally rich environment for expatriates and visitors, to constant innovation, to compassion for the less fortunate, to tolerance of other religions and cultures, and to respect and civility towards one another.

These values are demonstrated every day by the people of the UAE, whether they be Emiratis or foreign residents.

This makes my job easy: to give other countries a window into this culture and promote dialogue around a shared set of values.

For in a world in which too many people are closing doors, it is in the UAE’s national interest, and our national character, to keep pushing them open.

Zaki Nusseibeh is Minister of State in the UAE Government

Public Diplomacy Manager Job - Australian High Commission ...

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“Everybody Lies:” Public Diplomacy and Big Data


What can public diplomacy staffers learn from a data scientist?  A new book by a Google alumnus sheds light on how Big Data differs from opinion surveys, and how statisticians and social scientists find and use digitized public records to tease out insights on human behavior.
State Department public diplomacy staffers are learning to pay attention to data, for two reasons.  They want to focus on groups that are relevant to bilateral issues and objectives; and they want to know to what degree they are informing or influencing their audiences.  So when Will Stevens, director of FSI’s Public Diplomacy Training, put the book on his summer reading list I decided to check it out.
Author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz titles his book “Everybody Lies.”  Up front he takes us through a funny and often raunchy trip through the billions of things people type into their Google search box, which they would never reveal to a survey.  “Providing honest data” is one advantage of Big Data, he asserts.  Here are some others.
  • “Offering up new types of data.” Google’s record of searches, and Twitter and Facebook are just for starters. There are vast collections of digitized books and newspapers.  The author even found a digital audio recording of a large number of speed dates.  These provide insights from sentiment analysis, studies of how words are used over time, and other techniques.
  • “Allowing us to zoom in on small subsets of people.” Doppelganger research can search millions of medical records available to find people who share specific characteristics. It can predict, for example, whether a new treatment may help a specific patient.
  • “Allowing us to do many causal experiments.” With so many data points on so many subjects, A/B testing can reveal which of many factors is the cause for a change in audience behavior.
Stephens-Davidowitz also covers things that Big Data is not so good for (predicting the stock market, for example) and things it should not be used for (spying on individuals who are not suspected of crimes.)
The book’s scope is very U.S.-oriented and cites almost exclusively sources in the English language.  In much of the world, Big Data is less relevant.  Moreover, as the author admits, data analysis by itself can sometimes lead to false conclusions, so the researcher is well advised to use methods like key-person interviews or focus groups in addition to computerized analysis.
The book’s key quote is:
“To squeeze insights out of Big Data, you have to ask the right questions.”
I would recommend this book for public diplomacy staffers who are working with State’s experts in Washington to interpret web and social media analytics plus a full range of other social science methods.
In a given situation Big Data may help, or it may not.  It all starts with asking the right questions.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.  By Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.  2017

Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service.  He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More

Getting Up To Speed: USG Broadcasting Today

Here is the first of a series of factual updates about United States public diplomacy and broadcasting.  A link to each will be posted on our Advocacy page.
GUTS: USG Broadcasting

Fiscal Year 2018 spending level: $793,808,000 including capital improvements
2018 audience: 278,000,000 unduplicated users a week (TV, radio and internet)

VOA’s Studio 52 control room during a Russian Service broadcast.
Since the end of 2015, there have been striking reforms in U.S. funded international media.  Among the most notable are the following.
  • The first daily cooperative effort between two of the five networks in the 76-year history of taxpayer funded overseas broadcasting.  Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America (VOA) have launched an around the clock Russian language program called Current Time, or in Russian, Real Time Each network is assigned segments of the broadcast, formally launched in February last year and available in video and on-line formats, as well as radio.  In 2017, an estimated 150 million users accessed the new program.
  • Within two weeks of becoming the first CEO of U.S. international broadcasting in September, 2015, John Lansing established an International Coordination Council of all five networks to exchange ideas on content at least twice monthly.  This has greatly enriched content across the system.  As Lansing once said:  “On a dark night, two headlights are always better than one.”
  • There are five networks in the system.  In addition to the VOA and Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL), the BBG includes Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network in Arabic, and Radio-TV Marti in Spanish to Cuba.  Together, they reached 278 million unduplicated viewers, listeners and online users a week last year.
  • VOA, the only U.S. global network, broadcasts in 45 languages including English, plus English lessons that senior Chinese, Burmese and Cambodian leaders all called “indispensable” as they learned English.  Rigorous research in 100 countries in both 2017 and 2016 indicates that the Voice reaches 80 percent of the users of U.S.-funded international media, or 236 million different users every week.
  • All five U.S.-funded networks are required by law or in their corporate charters to convey the news of the day “accurately, objectively and comprehensively.”  VOA and the Middle East Broadcasting Network offer a combination of American news and comment. VOA Director Amanda Bennett has pressed for a steady increase of U.S.-related content since joining VOA in April, 2016.  The Voice recently opened a Silicon Valley bureau and produced a series of in-depth on-scene portraits on scene from a dozen Mississippi valley communities, large and small.
  • Abroad, the Voice has produced well more than a hundred on-scene reports from across drought stricken central African countries entitled “Hunger Across Africa”.  The series also includes news about appeals in Washington, at the United Nations, Rome and London to help six and a half million threatened people, from Yemen to Senegal.  To quote one World Food Program relief worker in Ethiopia:  “Looking into the eyes of a child dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
  • VOA today continues to report the facts, “good and bad” pledged in its inaugural broadcast to Nazi-occupied Europe in 1942. It has inaugurated two new multimedia program series these last couple of years designed to inform users and set the record straight. They are:
    •, that does extensive research on statements by Russian officials and corrects these as necessary, and labels the claims as “false” or “misleading.”
    • The Extremism Watch desk that focuses closely on the activities of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations and presents on scene correspondents’ reports — including eyewitness victims’ testimony — about their atrocities.
The BBG follows a unique method to measure its impact.  However, these examples show real impact on the ground.
  • Last year, RFE/RL broadcast a program documenting the Russian government’s failure to provide sufficient power and water to its provinces in Central Asia.  Soon thereafter, Moscow dispatched help – proving that even in Russia’s capital, officials were heeding the news heard on a U.S.-funded international broadcast.
  • North Korea’s highest ranking defector, Thae Young Ho, told VOA correspondents after an exclusive interview in 2017 in Seoul that the Kim regime requires its senior officials to read official transcripts of VOA Korean language broadcasts twice during their shifts at the foreign ministry in Pyongyang.  VOA director Bennett later pledged substantial increases in the Voice’s broadcasts as a prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.
  • VOA’s pro bono contributor and program host Greta Van Susteren had an exclusive interview with President Trump minutes after the summit communiqué was issued. And VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman, on the scene in Kuala Lumpur, posed the first question at a Trump-Kim joint news conference held after the historic encounter.
  • Senator John McCain is noted for traveling to even remote areas of the world in his investigations of interest to Congress. According to the Washington Post, he was greatly moved during a visit a couple of years ago to Southeast Asia when he met some former political prisoners in Burma, introduced himself, and they broke into tears.  “Why?” the Arizona Senator asked.  “Because,” they said, “we recognized your voice from hearing it on the Voice of America.”

Alan Heil
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 236 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More

Public Diplomacy is Not ‘Propaganda’

Donald Bishop,; see also

image from article

Some important essays and articles on Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] in the era of the U.S. Information Agency were published in its in-house magazine, USIA World. Copies of the magazine have never been archived on the internet, so its valuable record of USIA programs and concepts is largely unavailable for reference by scholars and practitioners.

In 1990 I wrote out a defense of Public Diplomacy against the loose talk that it was “propaganda.” The notion has not gone away, and every new academic course in communications, public affairs, and Public Diplomacy must mention and deal with the old charge. I pushed back: “The men and women of USIA are not payrolled shills for an American propaganda offensive.”

The full article, “USIA’s Work is ‘Not Propaganda,” appeared in the December, 1990, issue of USIA World. If you substitute “Public Diplomacy” for each mention of “USIA,” it still makes useful points – that Public Diplomacy provides “accurate information identified by source,” that American Public Diplomacy seeks to demonstrate that U.S. proposals offer mutual benefits, and the benefit of combining “information” and “cultural” activities in one organization. Click here for the full article. Here are some key paragraphs.

If “propaganda” is how information work that directly supports foreign policy goals is characterized, then it needs a new internal self-concept.

Let me suggest a new formula — that information officers are “honest advocates” of administration policies.

On one hand, USIA’s information officers are advocates because they hope the facts they provide, the briefings they give, the backgrounders they issue, and the statements they give the press as official spokespersons all demonstrate the logic of American policy. USIA is part of the Foreign Service, and information officers need not apologize that their work aims ultimately at persuasion.

Admittedly, the “U.S. policies” that information officers advocate are administration policies, and are concurrently Republican or Democratic policies depending on which party is in power. This is because the Foreign Service is pledged to advance the policies formulated by those the American people have elected. The entire process accords with the Constitution. If it is this that makes an information officer a propagandist, I recommend a refresher course in the institutional processes of American foreign policy, which works to meld different political and social perspectives into a foreign policy that is far more “American” than it is politically partisan.

In addition, Public Diplomacy officers are honest advocates because American political ethics and social morality proscribe the instruments of “propaganda.”

The tools and methods of U.S. information officers — open press conferences, interviews, provision of administration statements and testimony before Congress, Q&As with interlocutors representing all points of view — are straightforward and aboveboard.

Ambassadors who have been so brash as to tell the Voice of America what it should say on a given subject quickly learn that VOA writes the news based on journalistic, not political standards.

USIA has no directorate of “active measures.” A Wireless File writer is not an apparatchik consulting party doctrine before writing his stories. Information officers at embassies have no stable of paid journalists or suborned editorial writers that can echo propaganda themes on demand. These are the techniques of propaganda, the discredited methods of the opposition.

It was not USIA that propagated falsehoods about the generation of the AIDS virus in bacterial warfare laboratories.

What a company of honest advocates doesn’t need is for its work to be crippled or discredited — or its organization to be changed — because of loose thinking and careless talk about “propaganda.”

Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.

Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years. [...]

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Digital Battle Over the Narrative of the Gaza Protests

Yarden Ben-Yosef,

Image from article, with caption: Palestinians prepare to fly a kite loaded with flammable material near the Israel-Gaza border, June 4, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Few would dispute that the Palestinian narrative prevailed in the world media during the Gaza border fence confrontations in May. Some have criticized the decision of the IDF to deny Israeli and foreign press access to the Israeli side of the fence, while the Palestinians allowed the media to join the demonstration under the supervision of local authorities.

Others claimed that the battle was already lost before it began, because it was not possible to convince the leading voices in the international media to shed a positive light on the Israeli side, especially when the casualties were restricted only to one side of the conflict.

Yet, in a world where most of us consume news and form our opinions in digital media platforms, the diplomatic battle cannot remain narrowly focused on the words of Le Monde or The New York Times. The battle is increasingly shifting to social media platforms, where readers experience “engagement” with the content they consume and there are ways to influence how the reader understands the story — which, in many cases, is then shared elsewhere. Consequently, the reader’s opinion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can also be influenced, even when the content he or she consumes cannot.

The new battleground: Social media

The reasons why the Israeli narrative is always second to the Palestinian during crises between the two sides are numerous and varied; discussing them is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that adopting the Palestinian narrative is sometimes ideologically motivated, but is often also rooted in human psychology. Since the media is dominated by narratives of compassion and victimhood, it is the weaker side that ultimately earns the world’s sympathy. It is the job of Israeli official spokespeople and public diplomacy [JB emphasis] organizations to lay out the state’s narrative in the media, and to fight for its side to be heard in central arenas. This task is at best very difficult, and sometimes one which they often fail to accomplish, as an IDF spokesperson recently admitted.

In this day and age, a new dimension has been added to the consumption of news content — the reader’s ability to respond to it. The number of consumers worldwide who access news digitally on news websites or social media platforms has increased dramatically. Numerous leading media outlets further enable the consumer’s active participation and offer many ways to do so. Sharing a story over social media platforms, commenting at the end of an article, posting a personal opinion, or pressing “Like” are all methods by which an individual can express his or her opinion and, moreover, persuade others. In this fashion, an interactive debate between participants develops around the original news story.

This arena is devoid of government influence, and so it should be. No Israeli citizen would want the government, an IDF spokesperson, or any other official agency instructing him or her what to “Like.” However, this leaves a crucially important diplomatic arena virtually abandoned. When a story adopting the Palestinian narrative is shared and read over social media thousands and millions of times, its readers consume not only its content, but also the sympathizing reactions. The fact that the readers are seldom exposed to the Israeli version of events delivers an even greater blow to its international image.

First responders

Government agencies cannot, and should not, dictate to their citizens how to support their country. Yet in times of crisis, many in Israel and worldwide wish to criticize the international media for promoting the Palestinian narrative against Israel, and want to make the pro-Israel voices heard. However, until recently they had no organized and coordinated system for doing so. Without such a platform, these concerned citizens could only share their opinion with their immediate circle of friends — but their influence on the bigger picture was minimal. Lacking a systematic framework, their energies and positive efforts were mostly wasted.

Though we cannot influence what news items websites choose to publish, or the amount of “traffic” they receive, we do have the ability to affect the interactive discussion taking place in online news sites and social media platforms. The working assumption is that news consumers these days regard the comments section on news websites and social media as a significant part of the story. The article represents the journalist and the distributing media outlet, but the comments represent the so-called public. Their input holds significant sway over the way that other consumers form their opinions and stance regarding the news content.

Inserting ourselves in the early stages of the interactive discussion around a story can enhance the ability to influence its overall message. On many websites and networks, commentators who receive the most responses and “Likes” get bumped up to the top of the comments section. Subsequently, their opinions will be read first by new readers. The side who manages to keep its take on the story at the top of the list will have the upper hand. If the content discussed is negative and critical, the side dominating the discussion could balance the potential damage to its image, and make readers reconsider before they commit to the original content. If the story is positive, the dominant side can boost its image even more.

Such a reality poses a diplomatic threat, but also an opportunity. While we lack the ability to influence a printed news story, when that story is mainly consumed via digital media platforms, and leads to a heated debate, we can join in and leave a mark. In other words, though we lack the means to communicate with European commuters reading a printed pro-Palestinian story on the metro, we do possess the means for reaching out to him or her if they are reading said article on their mobile phone. Fortunately for us, most metro commuters are of the latter kind — and thus accessible.

The digital operations center

I serve as the CEO of — a joint civilian initiative of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and the Israeli-American Council (IAC). Our vision is to create an online community that will act to promote a positive influence on the international public opinion towards the state of Israel via social media platforms. One of our central tasks is promoting organized commentary on articles with the aim of balancing the narrative while a user is reading a story. If they have just finished reading a pro-Palestinian story, we are interested in adding an angle that they did not find in the main text.

As an example, we can look at the actions taken by Operations Center in order to fill the vacuum created on social media platforms during the latest Gaza Strip demonstrations. The ongoing crisis in Gaza and the deteriorating political and social standing of Hamas led many of the organization’s activists to rally near the border security fence, accompanied by tens of thousands of civilians. Their goal was to create violent altercations between IDF and Israeli police forces and the demonstrators, some of whom participated with the aim of damaging the fence and attacking those Israelis protecting it.

Hamas’ leadership obviously anticipated that Israeli security forces would respond to anyone attempting to approach, damage, or break down the fence. The Palestinian casualties were intended to serve a different, perhaps more important, purpose for Hamas: winning over world public opinion, a goal for which it had no qualms about paying with human lives. Over several weeks of clashes, more than 100 Palestinians were killed, most of whom were Hamas activists, while Israeli soldiers were not seriously hurt. This fact pushed many international media outlets to decry the violent Israeli reaction, publishing articles condemning Israel and adopting the Palestinian narrative.

Using various monitoring software, at we followed the escalation of these events into a real crisis — not only in the field, but also in the news networks and social media platforms. In the week prior to the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem and the Nakba anniversary, when it was clear that the worst was yet to come, we agreed on the need to carry out certain crucial tasks and to distribute specific messages. In addition, we alerted our five media rooms across the US — Boston, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and the OC — to be ready for action.

Controlling the online media discussion became our top priority that week, while other ongoing tasks were put on hold. Our goal was to use social media platforms to react to and balance the pro-Palestinian narrative promoted by leading media outlets worldwide. We focused on their Facebook pages, to which stories dealing with the Gaza Strip events were uploaded. Our team of staff and interns worked round-the-clock to identify articles marked as “red alert” — sometimes mere minutes after they were uploaded. Then, a blanket message would be sent to all 14,000 volunteers in Israel and abroad to act immediately without any official or government involvement. Their task was to promote pro-Israel initiatives around the web, and in this case, to add and push forward pro-Israel comments on these articles. It is important to mention that nothing is done automatically. Every volunteer freely decides if and how they take part.

During these events, we constantly scanned the publications of any international media outlet with more than half a million Facebook followers. All in all, these outlets are followed by approximately 200 million people worldwide. When an unbalanced, pro-Palestinian article was flagged, we were among the first to comment. We then sent our activists to show their support by “Liking” our comments and adding further comments on social media. Our efforts were focused and constant, and ultimately paid off. We succeeded in bumping pro-Israel comments to the top of the list in 85% of cases. The result was a prominent Israeli voice in articles that had blatantly adopted the Palestinian narrative.

A wake-up call for sleeping activists

The State of Israel possesses limited ability to influence world public opinion during crises. Alongside traditional media outlets, a virtual worldwide community is thriving in a space which government agencies cannot easily access, both because of their official identity and because they are simply not built to take on such activities. To fill this void, we can and should recruit Israeli and non-Israeli web users to be online activists who are interested in getting involved in balancing the picture and conveying pro-Israel messages.

One cannot and should not underestimate the importance of a pro-Israel presence on social media, as this is one of the major fronts today in the battle over whose narrative will prevail. The more we expand our digital toolkit and spread the word of its existence, the more we will succeed in exposing facts as they are, flagging disinformation, countering groundless arguments, and defending Israel when it is unjustly attacked. Cliché as it may be, these days every smartphone owner can become an online diplomat, and can try to influence world public opinion from the comfort of their home. All they need is the will to commit to the task and the tools to perform it.

The foreign press will continue to disseminate images and stories that portray Israel negatively. Even in cases where the damage to Israel’s international image appears irreparable, we cannot relinquish this arena solely to the Palestinian narrative. Sometimes, turning a loss into a draw can also be considered a victory.

Yarden Ben-Yosef is founder and CEO of by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and the IAC. He appeared on the list of “Influential Israelis under 30” by Forbes Israel magazine.