Anglos voice Israel's case to foreign media

Human stories can be invaluable PR for the country in its war effort.

michael oren 88 (photo credit: )
michael oren 88
(photo credit: )
NBC anchor Ann Curry went to Maj. Michael Oren, who is doing reserve duty with the IDF Spokesman's Office, last week to learn about the war in Lebanon, of jet fighters and Katyushas. But during their time together in the North, she became interested in his personal story - that of an American who made aliya, married another American who also had made aliya and enlisted in the IDF. Soon an NBC crew was in the Orens' Jerusalem living room, introducing the historian and his family to millions of Americans on the Today Show. "It lets viewers see the war through my eyes," Oren said Thursday. "It's a different perspective from the evening news, where they watch the [IAF] blowing up Beirut." That kind of human story can be invaluable PR for the country in its war effort. And it's the kind of PR that only happens because Anglos are on the front lines of the media war, representing their adopted country while interfacing with outlets from their former homes. Oren noted that the Today Show would have been unlikely to take similar interest in a native-born Israeli spokesman, who wouldn't have had a common cultural bond with its audience. Sometimes the link is very direct. Being an American means Oren spends a good deal of time in America. For instance, he taught last year at Yale, where he met CNN foreign correspondent Anderson Cooper when the latter gave the university's commencement speech this spring. "There's a connection there. I think it helps your credibility," Oren said. Even when the ties aren't that close, he said, knowing the nuances and idioms of the language the way a native speaker does is crucial. He used his knowledge of English - and Hebrew - to argue on behalf of the IDF with foreign journalists questioning the IDF's assertion that it "controlled" Bint Jbail even though it was losing soldiers there. He told them that in Hebrew "control" and "dominate" are the same term, as opposed to English. The army, he said, meant that it was in a dominant position rather than in control. And having the proper accent when uttering such sentences, according to Australian-born reserve spokesman Guy Spigelman, can be one of the most crucial ingredients. "Part of successful communication is getting the audience to identify with you, and if you have the same accent, the audience can identify with you," the Sydney native said. He also noted that when he's being interviewed by the Australian media, "I can make a comparison with the suburbs that they live in. I can make it real to them. That helps." Additionally, Anglo-Israelis know how to better shape a message because they know how its received, Spigelman argued. "We can understand how things sound to an international audience because we were once part of the international audience." That knowledge is what leads the IDF Spokesman's Office to release different tapes of army operations to local and foreign journalists. The former might receive a heave dose of the air force destroying bridges to reinforce success. But to internationals, Spigelman said, "It looks like we're destroying roads people take to get to work." So instead, he explained, they got footage of rocket launchers being used in Kafr Kana. "They needed more convincing that Kafr Kana was a hotbed of terror, whereas in Israel, they know that. They've been receiving the Katyushas up north." Eli Ovits cautioned that there also need to be distinctions between different foreign media outlets. Ovits, who made aliya from London and worked with the British media in the IDF Spokesman's Office, said the delivery and even content should be different for US organizations. "For an American, you might want to be more aggressive, more vocal, more victorious in tone," Ovits said. "For a European, you might want to emphasize humanitarian [aspects], because pictures of tanks... bring up very negative emotions." If the right accent helps, the wrong accent can be a "turn-off," according to Spigelman. He said a "slick" American wouldn't seem authentic to Europeans the way an officer with a slight Israeli accent would, making the latter a better choice. An important part of Ovits's job when he was in the IDF Spokesman's Office was helping the Israelis to understand the needs of the international media. Like new immigrants, as Ovits knows well from his own experience, the overseas media need help dealing with a foreign system. In fact, the place the Anglo accents are most likely to be a liability is within the army itself. When Spigelman did his basic training, he was constantly teased because of his Aussie inflection. At the same time, he said, "There's an enormous amount of respect for the Anglos who come and are part of the army." He said his comrades would tell him, "Wow, you're giving us encouragement. You were enthusiastic to come over here and serve."