Despite promises made in February by Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, the government’s latest hasbara campaign focused on involving average Israelis in the effort to defend the Jewish state abroad has remained an exclusively Hebrew affair.

At the time, Edelstein established the Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces to arm locals with the tools to present the world with a positive message regarding the country they love. Central to their initiative was the ministry’s Web site (masbirim.
gov.il), which provides key facts about the state.

Since the start of this campaign, North American Jews and Russian olim have asked for translations of the Web site so that they can also participate.

On February 24, Edelstein said that an English-language Web site would be ready in April, to accompany the Hebrew-language masbirim.gov.il established about two weeks earlier.

That has yet to happen.

According to a ministry official, the problems have been bureaucratic. Although the creation of both English and Russian Web sites has been slated for months, the fact that the project must be approved by several ministry officials who are overloaded with work has delayed matters.

“There was a bottleneck,” the official told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “Everything is very, very slow, unfortunately, but that is part of Israeli bureaucracy. When talking about official ministry business, a project has to go through a lot of people.”

Events such as the flotilla raid on May 31 that left nine Turkish men dead have led the ministry to prepare a “bigger and better” version of its hasbara Web site, which a ministry official says will include English and Russian versions. The revamped site is scheduled to be online by early September.

“Right now, it’s a mini-site, but it’s going to be a major site,” he said. “We’re going to have You-Tube movies and clips, and other interactive tools.”

Since its inception about five months ago, the Israel Public Diplomacy Forces has helped tens of thousands of citizens improve Israel’s international persona. In May, around 150,000 surfers went to the site and stayed there for more than three minutes, according to a ministry official.

“This is really great for us, because it means people are really gaining something from the Web site,” he said. “They are not just looking for a couple of seconds and then losing interest.”

The initiative came after a poll sponsored by the ministry found that 91 percent of 495 Jewish Israelis surveyed believed that Israel had a bad or very bad image. The plan seeks to use the more than 3 million Israelis who go abroad every year, to improve the nation’s image.

When asked whether they would want to help represent Israel when they were abroad, 85% said “yes.”

Employing a little humor to win over their audience, program organizers have featured a satirical video on Masbirim, in which a foreign correspondent reports on the camel as the “typical Israeli animal, used by the Israelis to travel from place to place in the desert where they live... It is even used by the Israeli cavalry.”

“You can change the picture,” the video reads in Hebrew.

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