Digital World: Finally a hasbara solution

Why not outsource to the private hi-tech sector?

By DAVID SHAMAH
June 14, 2010 22:14
Knives found aboard the 'Mavi Marmara.'

marmara knives 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

There’s a sharp contrast between Israel’s successful, private hi-tech sector and its often not-so-successful public, government operations. The former is nimble and clever and has inspired the world with its ideas and inventions; the latter inspires jokes, if it inspires anything. This newspaper has done a fairly good job of covering both extremes.

In this, Israel is not unique. Any American (even the ones who voted for Barack Obama) will tell you that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. But Israel’s government inefficiency hasn’t just been a drag on economy; over the past several weeks, the government’s difficulties in explaining its case on the Gaza flotilla has cost us big time.

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Note that I said “difficulty,” not “failure,” as many others have claimed. There are those who just hate Israel (and Jews; Helen Thomas proves they go together), and nothing we can say will make them like us. But there are many people who are willing to give us a fair hearing. Unfortunately, these are the people we failed in the first days after the incident. It took at least 24 hours for word to get out about the violent attack on Israeli soldiers by the “terror activists,” and only three days later did Israel’s story get mainstream publicity.

Of course, hasbara has to take a back seat to real security, and sometimes you have few options: such as with the Gaza flotilla’s Mavi Marmara, where IDF soldiers had no choice but to use real bullets to save the lives of their comrades, who were savagely attacked by knife- and club-wielding “peace activists” (you’re damned if you do or don’t). But if we know our story is right, and we’re convinced of it, why do we seem to have such trouble selling it properly – and convincingly? Maybe what we need is a little private-sector ingenuity for our hasbara efforts. Look at the saga of the “We Con the World” video. As you’ve probably heard by now, the video, produced by Latma (www.latma.co.il), which is edited by our own Caroline Glick, was pulled from Youtube, most likely because of complaints by anti-Israel viewers who were appalled that their story – of how big, bad Israel attacked the innocent “activists” – was hijacked, with the world seeing the truth of the intentions of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara, because of a parody, of all things! Of course, YouTube claimed that the reason for the video’s ban was that it was in violation of “a copyright claim by Warner/ Chappell Music, Inc.” the owners of the rights to the original USA for Africa “We Are the World” song and video, produced in the 1980s to raise money for hunger in Africa.

But that can’t be right, because US copyright law provides for “fair use,” meaning that existing works of art can be freely used for parody or education purposes. Just ask Lenny Solomon and “Weird Al” Yankovic, who for decades have been rewriting top pop songs for education (Solomon) and parody (Al) purposes! The point of the story, though, is why Youtube was moved to remove the video: because it was making an impact, thanks to the 3 million-plus hits it generated in barely a week. Now the genie is out of the bottle: “We Con the World” has spread too far and too wide and is now available on all sorts of Web sites. In fact, doing a search for “We Con the World” at Youtube.com yields dozens of copies, now dubbed in all sorts of languages! As many have said, “We Con the World” was one of the best pro-Israel hasbara pieces to emerge in a long time – and the government had nothing to do with it! The truth is, though, the marketing people at many Israeli companies – start-ups and veterans – are just as talented as the people at Latma. Why not come out with a parody a week, or some other effective video, audio or Web campaign, that can tell Israel’s side of the story in a surprising, interesting – and successful – manner? That’s exactly the question that came up when I recently interviewed an Israeli “captain of industry” (he remains anonymous for this story, to not mix politics and business).

We met just a day after the flotilla story took over the media. By that time, the headlines worldwide castigated the IDF for boarding the Mavi Marmara and five other ships, with the resulting nine deaths. Meanwhile, nearly no one was paying attention to Israel’s side of the story.

Commenting on the seeming lack of ability of Israel to get its point across, I told this executive that it appeared the tepid effort by hasbara officials to explain Israel’s position was possibly the result of the game of “musical chairs” played by politicians in this country.

You have the same people running different ministries and departments in various governments, while the actual day-to-day work is done by the bureaucrats who remain on the job, no matter who the boss is.

“The minister spends years just learning the issues, while the bureaucrats have no incentive to change their ways. While that system may be acceptable for deciding on where to build a sewage-treatment plant, it just doesn’t work in day-to-day hasbara,” we both agreed.

Then we brainstormed an idea: Why not “outsource” hasbara? I don’t mean officially; no bureaucrats will be hurt in the execution of this plan. But if every successful hi-tech company, if every successful PR firm, nonprofit marketing department, university information bureau, were to donate, say, an hour a week to a specific hasbara project, imagine how well Israel’s story would be told! The executive agreed: Working on such projects and utilizing the amazing talent we have in this country could be the solution we have long sought to the problem of getting the world’s attention. If “We Con the World” proves anything, it’s that good people around the world are indeed willing to give us a fair hearing. We just need to come up with something good for them to hear! The executive’s on board. How about you?

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