The recent restructuring of the government’s hasbara (public diplomacy) body
opens a window of opportunity that can revolutionize Israel’s PR strategy Public
diplomacy has become an essential aspect of Israel’s strategy in its battle
against delegitimization. As Israel’s enemies focus their energies and resources
out of the battlefield and inside various initiatives such as the BDS movement
or the flotilla incident, it might seem odd that Israel’s latest coalition
agreement closed down the Public Diplomacy Ministry and transferred its
authority to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Does the growing importance of
hasbara not warrant an expansion of the ministry’s activities rather than its
closing down? In fact, closing the Public Diplomacy Ministry is a courageous
move by Israel’s decision-makers, putting the state’s long-term interests before
personal, short-term political gains. The ministry did not function properly; it
was a bureaucratic body that employed talented people but did not seem to get
In this article, I will demonstrate how this window of
opportunity needs to be exploited correctly to revolutionize the way Israel does
public diplomacy. To do so, I will go over various principles which should guide
the State of Israel’s strategy to enable more efficient public
Less bureaucracy, more initiative A few hours after the Mavi
Marmara attack on Israel, when I was frustrated by the state’s lack of response,
I started an online campaign to bring out Israel’s side of the flotilla story.
My campaign reached hundreds of thousands of people who became involved in
spreading the Jewish state’s message. Together, we managed to start bringing a
proper response to the accusations leveled against the courageous soldiers who
took part in this mission.
Shortly thereafter, a top public diplomacy
activist in Israel emailed me and said, “You have done more for Israel’s public
diplomacy than most officials and organizations.” A few days later, the Public
Diplomacy Ministry recruited me to manage its social media response. I led this
campaign from my bedroom with only a computer at my disposal.
this now not to give myself credit for work done over three years ago. Rather, I
write to bring to the surface a more fundamental question: Why was I able to
successfully organize a campaign spreading Israel’s message with such limited
resources, while the state, with its massive resources, was unable to do so? The
answer is simple: bureaucracy. That’s right.
My success had nothing to do
with my own personal skills but with the structure in which I was working. I was
my own boss, working on a private initiative, while those working in the
ministry dealt with the heavy considerations of the state. Every official
message from Israel is under scrutiny. Every Facebook post requires approval
from communication and diplomatic experts and even legal advisers. All that was
required from me was typing up a paragraph and hitting “enter.” All I needed to
post something on Facebook was to write it up and post it.
illustrates a necessary change to Israel’s public diplomacy strategy. Instead of
managing public diplomacy, Israel needs to start supporting private public
Israel is blessed with a network of millions of
supporters around the world and thousands of people willing to give time and
energy to promote its cause. However, these people often need resources which
they are unable to get in order to properly act.
After the flotilla, I
understood the need for innovative public diplomacy organizations, and I decided
to dedicate my life to leading such an organization. I wrote a thorough business
plan in which I made a compelling case for the demand for what my organization
had to offer. I explained why I was the right person to lead this effort. I even
started implementing the stages that did not require funding and was incredibly
successful! I gathered over 30,000 members in just a few months – unheard of
back then in Israel’s advocacy world.
Unfortunately, however, I was
unable to find support for the initiative. The business plan stayed a written
document and never became a reality.
Until today, no one has answered the
needs I had mapped out in the business plan and the main loser remains Israel’s
Of course, it is entirely possible that one would
believe that my initiative did not deserve to become a reality. I strongly
disagree with such a position, but I am hardly objective. That being said, what
is striking is that I was never turned down when trying to establish this
project. No one decided that my business plan wasn’t worthy after looking at it.
That would be legitimate.
The problem was that no one looked at my
business plan. No resources in government were allocated for financing such
important projects and no structure existed to link innovators to other possible
sources of financing such as philanthropists. Today, activists will receive no
support to further their initiatives unless their initiatives are government-run
or they personally know philanthropists willing to invest in their ideas. Most
highly qualified activists do not fall into one of those categories.
strengthen Israel, the government must move away from managing the country’s
public diplomacy and instead, move toward investing in individual
Less “credit,” more action There is one reason which explains
why such a strategy was impossible to implement in the previous structure of the
Public Diplomacy Ministry.
While working on the response to the Mavi
Marmara incident, I met with high-ranking members of the ministry. As I
explained before, they eventually recruited me to manage their social media
response to the flotilla crisis.
I agreed because I believed our combined
resources would benefit Israel. However, to my great disappointment, I realized
I was recruited for “credit” purposes. I received no assistance throughout this
important campaign. Instead, one official asked me bluntly: Can we describe your
campaign as one led by the ministry, and take credit for it? I must make
something clear: Many people who worked in the Public Diplomacy Ministry are
incredibly talented and are definitely motivated to help Israel. They chose to
work in the ministry out of ideals and many could be making a lot of money in
the private sector. However, the ministry’s previous structure forced them to
look for credit rather than actions.
Heading the ministry was a
politician seeking reelection, and in such a small ministry, the minister’s
political goals shape every decision.
The minister wants results he can
show his electorate to then get reelected. He cannot go to his electorate and
speak about the great things individuals have done and then explain that the
ministry simply helped these individuals achieve their goals. Financing does not
sound as good as managing projects. Therefore, the very structure of the
ministry made it hard for it to focus on giving resources to activists and
focused it instead on how it can get credit for the work of others.
was a recipe for disaster.
In its new structure, the previous ministry is
now a department in the Prime Minister’s Office. The prime minister has enough
responsibilities and thus does not need to worry about getting credit from that
specific department. Those talented people working in that office can now focus
on helping activists accomplish their goals rather than seeking political gains
for the minister.
Public diplomacy must come from the public The paradigm
shift required in Israel’s public diplomacy management can be summarized in one
simple sentence: Public diplomacy must come from the public.
individual activists are talented and passionate and the government should
support these activists and incentivize innovation.
The government should
move away from only managing projects and dedicate some of its resources to
funding and supporting activists’ projects.
The recent restructuring of
Israel’s hasbara bodies gives the government a unique window of opportunity to
reshape its public diplomacy strategy and tip the scale in Israel’s favor in the
war against delegitimization, which is becoming more important every day.