Bye-bye, 'hasbara.' Say hello to 'public diplomacy'

Stop apologizing. Speak directly to the Arabs. And don't forget to speak to Israelis, too.

By
March 5, 2008 21:42
4 minute read.
Bye-bye, 'hasbara.' Say hello to 'public diplomacy'

twito kassam victim 224 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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In fairy tales, a good fairy often appears and offers the hero or heroine three wishes. This is a unique opportunity, but not everyone is ready for it, or knows what to ask for. I started to wonder what I would request if this "wish-fairy" came to me with such an offer - preferably during the day, rather than at night when I am asleep. The three wishes that came to mind could possibly help us out in the security situation in which we once again found ourselves this week. MY FIRST wish is that we stop using the term "hasbara" and talk about "public diplomacy" instead. No, it's not what you think, it's not just a word. The term hasbara represents the old, archaic perception of transmitting information to the public. The very nature of the word implies the need to explain - lehasbir - to justify, perhaps even apologize. Sorry, but I'm tired of apologizing. We do not owe explanations to anyone. We waited patiently before deciding to act, maybe even too long, and perhaps when we did act, we did not go far enough. It is unacceptable that 250,000 people should live under the constant threat of rocket fire. No country in the world would tolerate that, and neither will Israel. The fact that not every language has an equivalent translation of the word hasbara also tells us something. Every country takes steps to protect its interests and, of course, to protect its civilian population. For some reason Israel, which was established with the support of a guilt-ridden world, feels obliged to apologize to that world for its actions and, sometimes, even for its existence. We are the ones feeling guilty - and for absolutely no reason. FACT: "public diplomacy" is not just a change in terminology. It is a world unto itself, built upon a well-prepared, proactive, ongoing strategic plan to make Israel's voice heard and present its position to the outside. It is founded upon modern information technologies, it operates in the era of YouTube, Facebook and DIG (Decentralized Information Group). It is based on lateral, rather than linear thinking in which an infrastructure of individuals and organizations operate in an open world, without borders. Our effort to convince the world of the justice of our cause requires a paradigm change in the way Israeli public diplomacy operates. Official communiques out of Jerusalem no longer suffice; we need to be able to spread the message far and wide. AS FOR my second wish, dear fairy, we labor under the misconception that public diplomacy only involves speaking to the world at large, but that is not the case. We must also hold a dialogue with the Arabs, particularly with those alongside whom we live - the Israeli Arabs, the Palestinians, the neighboring Arab states and even the more remote Muslim nations. At present, Israel does not posses communications media - neither radio, nor television - capable of transmitting the pictures and voices of Israel beyond a short range from our borders. The Foreign Ministry and the IDF Spokesperson have improved their treatment of Arab journalists stationed here, but with the lack of appropriate mass media tools in Israel, the skies above the Middle East are ruled by Arab satellites, their broadcasts reaching Europe and beyond. I'm not talking about propaganda. An independent, commercially funded communications network needs to be set up, broadly along the lines of Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya, capable of broadcasting to extensive audiences; and not affiliated with the Israeli government. However, after saying time and again that we don't want propaganda, we need to understand that there is no alternative to putting our positions forward - and that's not necessarily "propaganda." MY THIRD wish is to finally hear Israel's leaders speak to the people, to the residents of Sderot, the Western Negev, Ashkelon and, also, to those of us who are not yet within firing range from the south. In one way or another, we are all living under the threat of the missiles. The population of Israel deserves to have their elected leaders speak to them directly. While I accept the role of the media as a go-between, conveying the message, there must be a way for our cabinet ministers to speak to us directly, particularly now. I am a great believer in the steadfastness and tenacity of the Israeli people, which will grow even stronger if we understand what we are fighting for, what our goals and objectives are, where we are heading. Hope - that's the name of the game. Hope that the state is acting, and hope that the situation will eventually come to an end. And, by the way, not everyone needs to speak, only the most senior echelons - the prime minister, the minister of defense and the foreign minister, for it is they who are leading us, for the second time in the past two years, into this unavoidable confrontation with the terrorists. WELL, LITTLE fairy, those are my wishes. I know that three wishes are a lot to ask, and you may not be able to fulfill them all; maybe none at all. I realize that, but if so, perhaps you could do one small thing for us? Perhaps you could bring us peace? The writer is senior vice president and director-general of UJC Israel and a former IDF spokesman.

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