The poisonous vitamin P

The diplomatic and hasbara fields are drowning in protektzia and politics.

By JEREMY RUDEN
February 13, 2011 23:54
3 minute read.
Jeremy Ruden

Jeremy Ruden 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

For the past few weeks, the country has been embroiled in the chief of General Staff scandal. The Barak/Netanyahu/Galant/Nave h story was front-page almost every day. News outlets from across the spectrum were in agreement that the appointment of a chief of General Staff is where politics have to stop; only professional credentials must be the deciding factor.

This was a media coup. You can bet that there were many civil servants working behind the scenes to fan the flames of the story until it became such a huge headline that the only real endgame was to overturn the defense minister’s decisions.

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I am not in any position to judge the credentials of Yoav Galant, Yair Naveh or Benny Gantz, but I can say that the only reason this became such a big story was because it dealt with the top position in the IDF. The fact of the matter is that everywhere you look, there are officials holding positions, not because of their credentials, but because of who they know.

They have a word for it – protektzia – otherwise known as vitamin P. The best translation I can think of is “favoritism,” but that doesn’t do the word justice.

Of course I understand that officials get jobs for their friends and allies, and that’s simply a fact of life. But when it comes to the people manning the frontlines in the hasbara war, protektzia should not be a factor.

I first became aware of the problem when I was still working in New York and the second intifada was in full swing.

The people sent to explain Israel’s position just ended up making matters worse. Some were former generals, overweight and with broken English.

These guys had no business on camera.

One of the key spokesmen was very belligerent and spoke so loudly that he almost didn’t need a satellite feed from Jerusalem. Those people had been with the administration or the army for a long time.

They ended up getting their jobs because of who they knew, not based on their ability to effectively advocate.

Today, the situation is not as bad, but we still have a long way to go. We’ve had some good spokespeople, including Mark Regev at the Prime Minister’s Office, who does a nice job on camera. Binyamin Netanyahu was smart enough not to show him the door, although he was appointed by Ehud Olmert. But let’s face it, the diplomatic and hasbara fields are drowning in protektzia and politics.

Regev’s case is the exception; most of the top people are swiftly replaced once a new administration takes office.

Look at the appointments (or lack thereof) at our delegation at the UN, the consulate in New York and our embassy in Washington. It’s not much better in other agencies.

One of the main spokesmen for this country can barely speak English. The head of the one of the key government offices dealing with the international press has no media experience.

Last week, in one of his final speeches as chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi briefly mentioned the importance of the IDF’s role in clarifying the country’s actions to the world. The majority of his address focused on military readiness, developments in Egypt, Hizbullah and Hamas and many other important topics. For the army, hasbara is secondary, and maybe that’s how it should be.

The fact of the matter is that our enemies understand the importance of image, so attacking our legitimacy in the international media is just as important to them as rockets. We need the same sense of urgency to get our defenses up against this threat.

We can ill-afford protektzia when it comes to hasbara.

That’s my “Galant” moment.

The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya’s School of Communications, and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.

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