The other battlefield
I am fearful that if the right people don’t start understanding that the media battleground is just as important as the military one, we might end up losing the war completely.
Army radio reporter Photo: REUTERS
When I started writing this column over two years ago, I was
Annoyed over what some might perceive as a minor incident. At
the opening meeting of the UN General Assembly, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had
decided it would be fine for his wife to sit with him and the rest of the
Israeli delegation during the proceedings.
This is a breach of protocol
as only officials are allowed to sit on the floor while all guests are required
to be in the mezzanine. The local press made a stink over the fact that while
Michelle Obama and other wives of world leaders followed the rules, Barak
apparently felt that there would be no repercussions if his spouse sat with the
rest of the delegation.
While this might sound inconsequential, I argued
that this incident, and others like it, are symptoms of a larger problem: the
indifference to or lack of understanding of our country’s image on the part of
many of our representatives.
Ever since, I have devoted most of my words
to the problems and potential solutions regarding improving Israel’s
international standing. The key, or course, is media relations or lack thereof,
and it is clear to me that this issue is at the very core to our
In Israel, most of us unfortunately know quite a bit about war.
Since day one we have fought for our existence as armies from neighboring
countries have threatened to obliterate us time and again. The Jewish state,
formed out of the ashes of the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism, is the
living testament to the saying “never again.”
Up until the 1980s, courage
and military strength were the sole keys to keeping this country alive. However,
as it became clear that defeating Israel on the battlefield was next to
impossible, our enemies understood that new tactics were called for. In the
first intifada it became evident that words and pictures could be just as
powerful and important as guns and bullets.
Images, the spin on those
images as well as half-truths and outright lies whittled away at the
justification for Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza.
A lot of
time, effort and resources are being put into spreading anti-Israel hatred. It
worked, and it’s still working.
Even now, 25 years later, Israel has not
been able to fully internalize the fact that despite being stronger in military
terms, we are being completely outmaneuvered on this battlefield.
this point, we have lost the media/public opinion/ hearts-and-minds battle and
are now in a position from which it is very unlikely we can change the
Part of the reason has to do with our history. For most of our
existence, Israel was way behind in media development. TV only started here in
1968, and even that was only a few hours a day. Only in the mid-’80s were there
any glimpses of any electronic media not government funded and controlled.
Communications and media studies were not even recognized by the Council for
Higher Education as a legitimate major for a bachelor’s degree when I went to
college. I had to combine that with business management to get my degree in the
Our leaders didn’t grow up with the visual medium and I am sure
that they don’t understand its power, which has now been amplified thanks to the
In the West, images have turned the tide of wars, brought down
governments and even started revolutions.
In Israel, where the media
needs government cooperation to continue to operate, it is almost toothless, and
woe to any operation which might anger the wrong people in Jerusalem. Just look
at Channel 10.
While other businesses owe the government billions of
shekels in taxes, it is a media outlet which owes a fraction of that sum that
has been under threat of closure for months on end.
So if the local media
is barely a priority, that goes double for the international press. Israel is
the media hub for the Middle East because we are a democracy and there is
freedom of movement here, for the most part. Everyone is here, from ABC to ZDF,
and yet so few official resources are devoted to helping them get a complete and
comprehensive picture of what’s going on in our little country. This has cost us
time and again.
While the government and the army still haven’t
understood what needs to be done on the media front, others have. The rise of
organizations such as BICOM (British Israel Communications & Research
Center) and the Israel Project came out of necessity.
Their efforts are
to be applauded, but they are also a testament to just how bad the situation is.
It’s so bad, it’s absurd.
Can anyone even imagine citizens from a Western
country putting together a non-profit organization designed solely to explain
their government’s policies and actions to members of the press? The private
sector and individuals understand that the media war is being lost. Just look at
the huge reaction during the last operation in Gaza.
Israelis took to the
Internet to upload clips and try to show our side of the story. One of the best
efforts came out IDC Herzliya where students came up with a Facebook group
entitled “Israel Under Fire,” all the while streaming facts and figures about
the conflict to tens of thousands of people. It’s a good thing we didn’t start
Operation Pillar of Defense during spring break.
To make matters worse,
hypocrisy and lies are being spread by our enemies. They do it because they
There’s no official challenge to someone who claims Israel carries
out ethnic cleansing. No perspective is given when someone complains about
Israel’s human rights violations, where in any Arab country, there rights would
be completely squashed.
Another telltale sign of the indifference Israeli
officials have toward the international press can be seen in the ongoing
election campaign. While millions of shekels are being pumped into efforts to
sway Israeli voters, I know for a fact that quite a few of the key parties will
not have even one person dedicated to working with the dozens of international
press representatives who’ll be covering the story. To me that is
For professional reasons, I have decided that this will be
my last column, but here I am, over two years later, and I am more than annoyed
– I’m angry. Angry that our situation has gotten worse instead of better. Angry
that too many people higher up don’t comprehend how inaction with the
international media is detrimental to the future of our country. Most
importantly, I am fearful that if the right people don’t start understanding
that the media battleground is just as important as the military one, we might
end up losing the war completely.
The writer is an independent media