Bennett reestablishes Public Diplomacy Directorate to coordinate Hasbara

The purpose of the Public Diplomacy Directorate will be to facilitate the synchronization of Israel's narratives, especially during wartime.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021.  (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021.
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)

The Public Diplomacy Directorate – which will coordinate Israel's messaging and communication efforts between different government bodies – was officially re-established during Tuesday's National Hasbara Forum.

"After years of neglect that hit Israel in the international arena, we have re-established the Public Diplomacy Directorate, which will respond to the lies spread about Israel online and present it to the world as it really is," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook.

The purpose of the Public Diplomacy Directorate will be to facilitate the synchronization of Israel's external messaging. By coordinating between different government public relations arms, the Directorate aims to ensure messaging is clear and consistent. In response to the rapid pace of news cycles and social media, the Directorate's re-established team hopes to develop quick and efficient responses to emerging narratives and communication challenges during both routine and emergency periods.

The Directorate, which is run from the Prime Minister's Office, is also supposed to ensure that there is no issue that remains unaddressed because no ministry or spokesperson's office sees it as falling within their purview.

Bennett, who chaired the forum, heavily emphasized the dire need for the Directorate and the forum to prepare for public diplomatic action in the event of war and operations.

Part of the Directorate's responsibilities will be to develop messaging in advance of military actions and to help government branches learn from both failures and best practices.

Following May's Gaza conflict, Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel's official public diplomacy efforts were heavily criticized over the lack of coordinated and prepared messaging.

The Directorate already began operation prior to the official re-establishment announcement, including a response to the Damascus Gate terrorist attack video, which saw the relatively quick publication of CCTV footage by the Israel Police and distribution by government bodies such as the Foreign Ministry.

"Today was the opening shot of the National Hasbara Forum, which has not convened for years, and today convened and started a new path of coordination and accuracy of the Israeli message in order to march Israeli Hasbara forward," said Gadi Ezra, who serves as director of Public Diplomacy staff.

Both leaders of the initiative, Ezra and Elad Tene – who is the head of Public Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office – are veterans of public diplomacy and media.

Tene, appointed head of Public Diplomacy by Bennett in September, is a reserve captain in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, and former director-general of KAN's digital division. He was previously an editor at Maariv, NRG, Makor Rishon, and was involved in the founding of the ynet website.

Ezra is a lecturer on Israel and warfare who has used his experience as an IDF special forces veteran and a human rights lawyer to argue Israel's right to self-defense to audiences in Israel and abroad. Included by Forbes Magazine in its list of Israel's 30 under 30, Ezra has previously advised the defense establishment on international strategic matters during times of conflict. 

The National Hasbara Forum was attended by dozens of spokespersons and public relations departments, including from the Prime Minister's Office, IDF Spokesperson's Unit, the Foreign Ministry's Public Diplomacy Department and Israel Police. 

The Directorate was originally established in 2008 by a 2007 Prime Minister's Office order, after separate recommendations by government secretary Israel Maimon and the state comptroller with Yarden Vatikai as the director. Vatikai was the director until 2018 and the position was vacant until Ezra's recent appointment.

In a May Israel Hayom article, now Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai accused the Netanyahu administration of neglecting the Directorate, as part of Shai's criticism of Israel's messaging failures during Guardian of the Walls.

"Just a few months ago, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, we received a painful reminder of the vacuum in the field of national advocacy," Bennett said in September when he appointed Tene.

"There are things that cannot be changed, [as] the fundamental unfairness towards us in certain places. It is true, it exists, but there are battles that we can win."

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this story.