Monday, June 8, 2015

Letters to the Editor: Fire with fire

The fundamental problem is that the government has fractured official public diplomacy efforts among numerous state agencies and actors.


Nachman Shai (“Hasbara vs public diplomacy,” Observations, June 5) accurately describes the chaotic condition of Israel’s response to the anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism sweeping the world. Unfortunately, he places his hopes for change on a reinvigorated Ministry of Diplomacy under Gilad Erdan.

The fundamental problem is that the government has fractured official public diplomacy efforts among numerous state agencies and actors. Without recognizing and remedying this problem, no amount of effort by Erdan will be able to “put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” At the same time, as heroic as they are, the actions of private hasbara organizations are limited in scope and impact.

Diplomats are not public relations experts. For the most part, they talk to each other, while “public diplomacy” talks to private citizens of other countries. Even those 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.

Contrast this with the tens of millions of dollars the Palestinian Authority spends 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.

Israel must fight fire with fire.

What is needed is a dedicated agency – independent of any of the ministries or government of the moment, and whose sole responsibility is the dissemination of the truth of what Israel stands for and is doing.

This is not a ministry of propaganda, but an agency of communication. It would be similar to the US Information Agency (USIA), which worked to counteract Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, eventually contributing to the downfall of the Soviet empire.

We propose an agency that is both independent and well-funded, with the ability to contract with outside firms when necessary. Its activities will make an essential contribution to the country’s security arms (the IDF, the Mossad, et al) as much as to traditional foreign relations.

Israel must speak with one full-time voice that is expert in getting its message across.

Zichron Ya’acov

Norman A. Bailey is a professor of economics and national security at the Center for the Study of National Security of the University of Haifa, and a former staff member of the US National Security Council and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Efraim A. Cohen is a fellow at the Center for International Communication of Bar-Ilan University and senior fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and was a US diplomat.


Let us hope that Nachman Shai’s wise and timely comments on the need for effective public diplomacy will be heeded by Israel’s new government.

Experience shows that Israel can win the battle for hearts and minds – but only if we engage in it in a realistic way, using all our resources and talents. We urgently need to defeat the lies and vile slanders that are becoming increasingly accepted around the world.

Israel has a fantastic asset – a pool of people who speak every language under the sun and are aware of the various views and cultures of their countries of origin or background. We can and should be able to succeed in the diplomatic sphere.


Israel should face the facts: With all its hi-tech and innovation, it is losing the media war.

And badly.

For anyone in the United States to get an unbiased view of what is happening in Israel and the Middle East, that person has to go to specific outlets – The Jerusalem Post, MEMRI and Honest Reporting. On the other hand, the general public gets its view of events by watching CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera America, all of which presented last year’s Gaza war primarily by showing dead and injured Gazans, especially children, and the destruction of homes and buildings.

There is no question that this biased reporting is difficult to overcome. But I don’t see the problem being addressed.

Certainly, one TV channel with the finesse and claim to objectivity that is Al Jazeera could be produced by Israel. I am certain that if it were to be well done, it would earn viewership in the US and elsewhere.


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