'Take media fight to enemies’ backyard'

PM's media adviser says politicians use negative campaigns because they work.

By BY GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 18, 2010 03:21
3 minute read.

 
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Israel must begin to wage a negative campaign against its enemies in order to win the media war, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer said at the Jerusalem Conference in the capital’s Regency Hotel on Wednesday.

Dermer spoke on the same day that the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry revealed a new strategy focusing on training ordinary Israelis to represent the country abroad with positive messages. He made no reference to the new approach and instead focused on the effectiveness of negative campaigning.

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A veteran political strategist, Dermer said that politicians used negative campaigns because they worked and that politicians who refrained from using them received brief admiration in return for relinquishing their chances of winning. He said the same had proven true in the Middle East.

“A negative campaign is being waged against Israel that has massive funding, and we are still in the dock,” Dermer said. “We and Israel’s friends have to take the fight to our enemies’ backyard on issues that progressives and liberals care about, like women’s rights, gay rights and the persecution of political dissent.”

He noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for Israel’s destruction for years, but Americans only realized that he was crazy when he said at Columbia University that there were no homosexuals in Iran. He said the killing of democracy activist Neda Agha Soltan had similarly changed perceptions about Iran internationally.

“American progressives and liberals must understand that Islamic fundamentalism poses the greatest challenge to the values that they care most about,” Dermer said. “If The New York Times spent a 10th of the time on the human rights abuses in other countries in the region as they do on the only democracy in the Middle East, more people would rally around the Jewish state instead of protesting against Israel.”

Dermer told The Jerusalem Post after the speech that he hoped such a strategy would be adopted by the Israeli government and Jewish organizations abroad. He said he regularly discussed media strategy with Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, whose office said it would take Dermer’s advice to heart.



“Our strategic decision is to improve Israel’s image by focusing on the country’s positives and training our citizens to deal with attacks,” a ministry official said. “However, we see nothing wrong with also adopting a strategy of portraying the enemies and critics of Israel as negatively as they are.”

Dermer criticized Jewish organizations that have taken defensive rather than offensive approaches. He said that if Israel remained on the defensive, it would not win a battle for public opinion that it could not afford to lose.

“Instead of writing the 150th response to the Goldstone Report, we should be comparing Tel Aviv, where there is a gay pride parade, to Teheran, where they hang gays in the streets,” he said. “The government should unabashedly point out the distinction between Israel and its enemies on the issues of human rights. The more focus there is on the horrific abuses of our enemies, the more Israel will be seen as being on the right side.”

Dermer lashed out at the arguments of both the Left and the Right about why Israel did not have a better image internationally. He rejected the Left’s argument that it was because Israel needed to withdraw to pre-1967 lines and the Right’s case that past withdrawals had resulted in a loss of respect for Israel.

He said the Right was correct in suggesting that it was important to reinforce Israel’s historical rights and reclaim the narrative. But he said that these arguments based on what happened in 1948 and 1967 would not persuade people on college campuses at a time when the assault on Israel was being driven by values.

Dermer mocked the Left’s notion that the key to winning the world’s respect was additional territorial concessions.

“My six-year-old’s belief in the tooth fairy has more grounds than the arguments of people who still believe that withdrawing to the ’67 lines will make the world like us,” he said. “That argument has been used a number of times, and it hasn’t stood the test of time.”

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