Move over, StandWithUS. Look out, Israel 21c. Make way, The Israel
Project. Yet another private hasbara (public diplomacy) initiative was launched
recently to spread “the truth” about Israel.
Indeed, this one is actually
called “The Truth About Israel,” and is headed by former deputy foreign minister
Danny Ayalon. The mission statement on its website defines the organization as a
“nonprofit company to educate and train the public about the facts of Israel in
Asked if the world really needed another private hasbara
organization vying for the same donor dollars, and whether it would not be
better to work through the existing frameworks, Ayalon said that just as there
were many and variegated organizations working to delegitimize Israel, “we also
want a network of hasbara organizations that will be interlinking.”
Israeli official working in another hasbara apparatus had a somewhat different
“It’s a Jewish thing,” the official said. “Call it the breakaway
synagogue syndrome. Everyone wants to be synagogue president; everyone thinks
their shul offers something different.”
According to Ayalon, however, the
different hasbara organizations have different focuses, different audiences and
different purposes. StandWithUs concentrates on campus, The Israel Project
focuses on journalists, Israel 21c stresses “start-up Israel,” CAMERA and Honest
Reporting focus on combating media bias.
Ayalon said his organization –
which will put out weekly videos on the major issues of the day, presenting
facts and giving Israel’s advocates the tools and information to combat
misconceptions and misreporting – will be a “force multiplier that can be used
by all the others.”
The idea, he said this week during an interview in a
Jerusalem hotel, was an offshoot of three short videos he did while at the
Foreign Ministry – “The Truth about the West Bank,” “The Truth about the Jewish
Refugees” and “The Truth about the Peace Process” – and a fourth one, called
“The Magic of Jerusalem.”
Ayalon narrated those simple, pared-down,
graphically clever videos that presented bare facts about the issues in the
titles. They were popular, together garnering some 1.5 million views on
Unceremoniously left off Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu
candidates list in the last election, and then a central prosecution witness in
the breach of trust case against him, Ayalon said that when he became deputy
foreign minister in 2009 he understood that the problem with hasbara was that at
a certain point in time Israel simply abandoned the effort.
Ayalon, at the outset of the Oslo process in 1993, the underlying thesis was
that hasbara was passé, and that if you had “good policy” – i.e. a peace process
– you did not need hasbara. But if the policies were bad, this argument ran,
even the best hasbara would not work.
Israel, he said, largely just
walked off the playing field.
But the other side, the Palestinians,
stayed on the field, and while Israel gave up presenting basic facts to shape
the debate, the Palestinians – despite the peace process – kept plowing ahead
with their narrative and their anti-Israel rhetoric.
Ayalon said this hit
home when he was part of the Israeli delegation at the UN in 1993, and the
Palestinians refused Israel’s request – made at a time when the sides were
talking peace – to bury the 20 anti-Israeli resolutions they annually raised in
the world body.
“They did not give up,” he said.
“And we didn’t
understand. So we are playing catch up, having to explain why we even exist
here, and our rights here.”
And that is essentially what Ayalon’s videos
do: present basic facts.
“Hasbara should not be reactive, but proactive,
going back to the basics of Jewish rights here and the justice of the cause,” he
Ayalon said social media has made this easier, because it is
possible to reach people without the traditional filters of reporters, editors
Just make a video, upload it, push “send,” and then – of
course – hope people will actually watch it.
The formula for Ayalon’s
videos are relatively simple. Take an issue in the news that is impacting on
Israel’s image, analyze how it is being perceived abroad and the different
misconceptions, and then present Israel’s position – or at least Ayalon’s
perception of Israel’s position.
For instance, this week’s edition dealt
with US Secretary of State Kerry’s attempts to resume talks between Israel and
the Palestinian Authority.
“The Palestinians continue to present a tough
stance with the uncompromising demand for Israel to agree to a full withdrawal
from Judea and Samaria to the 1967 lines, before the negotiations begin,” Ayalon
said in the clip. “World newspapers blame the two sides for raising obstacles in
the negotiations, but highlight the issue of Israeli settlements.
worth asking, what is the purpose of negotiations if the results are dictated in
advance. Anyone who has bought or sold a car or an apartment knows that the
price of the transaction is determined at the end of the negotiations of the two
parties. The status of the settlements will also be determined as part of the
Ayalon said the purpose of the videos, uploaded in
both English and Hebrew, is to give millions of Israelis, Diaspora Jews and
Israel supporters the information and knowledge to dispute Israel-bashing
Asked whether this type of activity was not better performed
by the Foreign Ministry, Ayalon said that while the ministry has the best
manpower for this job, it simply does not have an adequate budget.
said he will have a $1 million to $2 million annual budget, while the entire
annual budget inside the Foreign Ministry for hasbara is $10m.
said he realized his videos would not convince those opposed to Israel, but that
they were geared toward “empowering the base” – Israel supporters abroad and
Israeli businessmen and tourists going abroad – with the tools to deal with the
anti-Israel arguments they will likely encounter.
The Israeli official
involved in hasbara quoted above said that while the new effort was
“praiseworthy,” it was a case of preaching to the converted.
speaking to the enthused supporters on the Right,” he said. “The enthused
supporters on the Left won’t use this material, and it won’t convince those who
are not already on our side.” And that, he added, is where the true effort was