‘Israel’s public diplomacy tactics insufficient’

Despite steps taken to improve image abroad, MKs and media representatives agree that diplomats have a long way to go.

December 1, 2010 02:39
3 minute read.
MKS DANNY DANON (left) and Ayoub Kara at Knesset

Danny Danon and Ayoub Kara 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

MKs and members of both new and traditional media complained Tuesday that the government’s public diplomacy strategy was ineffective and did not meet the needs of modern communications or successfully represent Israel’s interests.

The Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Public Diplomacy Committee met to discuss how Israel can better promote itself overseas, with MKs concluding that there was still much innovation needed to improve Israel’s image.

Committee Chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud) emphasized that there were few meetings that he attended in either the United States or Europe at which he was not asked about the government’s public diplomacy.

“Everybody understands the importance of the subject, and that there are many groups working on it, but with low levels of coordination. Just as in other fields, [where] we created interministerial teams, we need to do so also for public diplomacy.”

Ron Palot, director-general of the Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry, said that his office worked closely with Jewish communities throughout the world, and that soon, 6,000 members of Jewish communities will come to Israel for seminars to learn how to better broadcast Israel’s messages.

Palot said that the biggest challenge facing Israel was Jews living overseas who received their information from foreign journalists writing about Israel, giving them a negative picture.

“One time overseas, I was asked by a Jew if it was true that there is a 9 p.m. curfew,” he recalled.

Government officials present at the meeting emphasized positive steps that had been taken in recent years, including an attempt to rebrand Israel by emphasizing other facets of Israeli society beyond conflict.

The Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Media and Public Diplomacy Yigal Caspi emphasized that in the past four years, there was a decision to invest most of the public diplomacy effort toward fields including medicine, culture, art, fashion, agriculture and tourism.

Caspi said that he opposes governmental involvement in social-networking sites, and that he preferred to cultivate relations with overseas Jewish organizations who can act more freely on such sites.

Foreign journalists present at the meeting, however, emphasized that despite the government’s attempt at rebranding, it was the conflict that continued to grab headlines overseas, and that the government thus needed to continue to provide information on the subject.

Ben Shteg, manager of a number of Israel advocacy websites, also argued that it was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not “dairies, science, or beaches” that interested his readers.

The brunt of the criticism of Israel’s current public diplomacy situation was delivered by MKs from both the coalition and the opposition.

“There is a real, planned war to undermine the foundational idea of Israel, and Israel should fight it in the way that it fights every other war, by backing up efforts with the resources and structures that it needs to win,” said MK Einat Wilf (Labor).

“This is a new kind of war that takes place in many forms.

Instead of just thinking about what kind of activities we should do, Israel needs to come up with a comprehensive doctrine and structure.

“One step that is the basis for improving the situation – and I think that the Free Gaza Flotilla was a critical moment in understanding it – is that public diplomacy cannot be post-facto, in which you explain government policy, but rather the formulation of government policy should take into consideration public diplomacy at the decision- making level,” she said.

Wilf complained that Israel too often assumes that it is fighting a losing battle against its adversaries in the field of public diplomacy, and instead of trying to win, merely seeks “at best, a draw.”

She said that there needs to be better coordination among all of the forces involved, and said that in her vision, public diplomacy would be carried out by an “Israel Intellectual Defense Force” that would integrate government organizations along side non-governmental groups and “the proverbial 15-year-old with a computer in Europe.”

Both Danon and Wilf also criticized government plans to increase taxation of foreign journalists living in Israel as a step that would also harm Israel’s ability to present itself in the foreign press.

Concluding the meeting, Danon agreed that there was significant work to be done to improve Israel’s public diplomacy, and promised that Tuesday’s session would be the first of a number of meetings held to address the topic.

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