The test of (media) leadership

If Netanyahu is to succeed in reaching his goals with the Palestinians, he cannot have his partners undermining him in the media.

September 25, 2011 21:16
4 minute read.
Netanyahu addresses a special Knesset session, Mon

netanyahu knesset_311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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With the Palestinians officially having fired the first salvo of their diplomatic war against Israel at the United Nations, it’s going to be very interesting to see what the big talkers of pre-September 24 will be saying over the following days.

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised to take his case to the UN, Israeli politicians made their share of headlines by discussing how they would react if that scenario indeed occurred. Threats were flying from almost every corner of the Netanyahu government to bring the PA’s economy to the verge of collapse by cutting off the supply of electricity and/or water, sealing off the West Bank Gaza-style, and more.

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I hope those same ministers and MKs can now see just how counterproductive these statements were. First of all, we all know that if there is any serious intent to return to the negotiation table on Israel’s part, there’s no way we would be allowed to impose any kind of sanctions on the PA. What’s worse is that the fact that Israel can even consider making good on these threats is one of the reasons the Palestinians claim they are demanding a state to begin with.

In the weeks to come, assuming the international community will manage to entice both sides back to negotiations, it will be more important than ever for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to impose a strict gag order on his ministers and coalition partners. In a time of extremely sensitive talks between all of the parties, it would be ill advised for anyone to be discussing how they or their individual parties feel about the progress (or lack thereof) being made.

The prime minister must take leadership on the media battlefield with regard to all decision makers. A comprehensive strategy must be formulated and updated on a regular basis. If Netanyahu is to succeed in reaching his goals with the Palestinians, whatever they may be, he cannot have his partners undermining him in the Israeli or international media.

What’s more, Netanyahu will have to be ready to disappoint and even cut ties with some of his allies. Keep in mind that Menachem Begin broke with many of his political supporters when he signed the peace treaty with Egypt. The majority of his party did not support the agreement in the final Knesset vote. Begin wisely sought outside help to carry out the negotiations with Sadat. If Mr. Netanyahu really does has a vision to end the conflict with the Palestinians, he will have to show similar leadership to get the job done. Relations with the media, both at home and abroad, will play a key factor in his success.

ANOTHER POLITICIAN who will have to adapt to the rules and means of the media is the new leader of the Labor party, Shelly Yacimovich. Personally, I don’t agree with many of the things Yacimovich and her party have done over the past few years, but while I might never vote for Labor, I have to admit that I admire the way she came to lead the party – through hard work and speaking out for what she believes in even though it meant personal attacks against her.

Yacimovich is in the very interesting position of leading the party which now carries the torch of last summer’s social protests.

For her there are a few challenges. First of all, how do you keep the calls for greater economic equality alive until the next election? And how do you convince the voting public to shift party allegiances based on a topic which traditionally has been relegated to the political back-burner?

The reactions in the press to Labor’s future under Yacimovich have been fascinating. Many analysts see her as an X-factor. Of course this is the first time in many years the party will not be controlled by Ehud Barak, who many longtime voters abandoned in 2009. That said, if the end results of the government’s various committees to even out the socioeconomic inequalities turn out to be another runaround, I believe Labor just might end up making a comeback.

The ultimate success of the Labor Party will depend on how it deals with the media, but that has not been the party’s strong point, to say the least. Fortunately for Yacimovich, there are enough people in the country who are angry with the government’s policies, especially when it comes to internal matters like cost of living and real estate prices, to give the opposition a platform. Only a shrewd media strategy will allow Labor to harness the electorate’s anger with the economic status quo and translate it into political power.

The writer is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.

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