Wednesday, July 22, 2015

'For the first time in history, Jews can take part in war from home'

Noam Sheizaf,

Avi Benayahu, who served as IDF Spokesperson during both Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara incident, explains his worldview and tactics in a lecture obtained by +972 Magazine.
Benayahu revealed how he planted army officers as civilian commentators in foreign networks; called the IDF’s willingness to hit civilians ‘the surprise of war’; explained how he used Hillel and Chabad envoys to promote the army’s talking points, and praised the Israeli media for its ‘discipline’ during Operation Protective Edge. ‘The IDF Spokesperson’s unit is a combat unit with more influence than two divisions,’ he concluded. 
Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (right). (photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Avi Benayahu (right) stands next to former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (center) and Major-General Yoav Mordechai (left), who replaced him as the head of IDF Spokesperson’s unit. (photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)
Before Brigadier-General (ret.) Avi Benayahu began serving as IDF Spokesperson in 2007, the unit did little more than send photos of soldiers celebrating Passover to Israeli newspapers. But between 2007 and 2011, Benayahu — the right-hand man of then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi — revolutionized the old unit, transforming it into one of Israel’s leading “hasbara” (propaganda, or “public diplomacy”) outfits. The unit’s methods and aims still lie heavily on his work.
Benayahu, a self-described technophobe, opened a “new media” division, which included an active, multilingual presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The project did so well that he was asked to lead another new media initiative after his term ended. During his term, Benayahu led the army’s public relations effort surrounding Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as well as the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. In 2011 he was elected Media Man of the Year by the Israel Public Relations Association.
But Benayahu was known not only for his initiative, but also for his aggressive approach to the media and journalists who were not his close associates, not to mention his often controversial methods of work. He didn’t hesitate, for example, to order IDF soldiers to confiscate work from journalists, only to release bits and pieces that served senior officers at the appropriate moment.
It was his relationship with Ashkenazi and his inner circle that led to Benayahu’s fall from grace. From 2011 on, his name was linked to the “Harpaz Affair,” which saw leading IDF officers interrogated for trying to discredit then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his candidate who was vying to become the next chief of staff. Benayahu was even arrested at one point.
Today Benayahu works as a private consultant. His public image has yet to recover from the Harpaz Affair, but in the current climate, his methods and ideas are more dominant than ever. In a country that has given up on diplomacy and long-term policy thinking, Benayahu represents the only viable alternative: a combination of military power and propaganda. “I don’t like when we apologize during war,” he recently said. And nowadays, Israel sees itself as a country that is always at war.
Recently, Benayahu gave a lecture at Tel Aviv University on his experiences as IDF Spokesperson. He told the students how he used Israeli envoys and Jewish institutions to promote his talking points, discussed the manipulation of the international media, praised the local media for its discipline during war time, and explained how he views the role of his unit: “I finished my role in the General Staff [of the IDF] with the knowledge that the IDF Spokesperson is a combat unit with more influence than two divisions.”

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