JA spokesman to coordinate PR efforts

Olmert appoints Yarden Vatikay as the director of a new PMO bureau in charge of public diplomacy.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appointed Jewish Agency spokesman Yarden Vatikay director of a new bureau in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of public diplomacy, Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel told the Knesset's State Comptroller Committee Tuesday. The announcement came during a discussion in the committee on Israel's public diplomacy, following a comptroller report that slammed Israel's public relations efforts during the Second Lebanon War. "We are making serious strides. This bureau won't replace existing efforts, it will only organize them," Yehezkel said. Committee Chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) said it remained to be seen whether the new bureau were capable of changing Israel's image abroad. "A real change in approach is needed, not just new offices," said Orlev. "Israel's image abroad has continued to deteriorate." Orlev also released a statement on behalf of the committee objecting to the placement of the new bureau in the Prime Minister's Office. He added that in many cases, such as the Second Lebanon War, there could be a gap between the public relations interests of the state versus those of the prime minister. Yehezkel said that changing Israel's image abroad would take time and patience, and that the office was working for the betterment of the country. "This is not an issue of money. More money won't make the difference. It is also not wholly in our hands. PR is a complex issue affected by many different factors," said Yehezkel. "We need to better understand the international community, and we need to better understand ourselves." One senior official who deals in public diplomacy said the new body would not replace any of the government organs already involved in presenting Israel's case, such as the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister's Office or IDF Spokesman's Office, but would coordinate between them. The Prime Minister's Office put out a statement following the Knesset meeting saying that Vatikay had been recommended by Ya'akov Galanti, Olmert's media adviser. Vatikay is to be the director of the new bureau, and Galanti is slated to head it, the statement said. Vatikay has for the last five years served as the Jewish Agency's spokesman, and before that was spokesman for then-defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. In a related matter, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman's office and the IDF Spokesman's Office are in the final stages of putting together a memo that will govern relations between them. Among the issues that the memo covers are the need for the Foreign Ministry to be informed prior to planned military operations so it can be involved in coordinating Israel's message, and the need for the IDF to transfer to the Foreign Ministry on a weekly basis filmed material that the ministry might be able to use for public diplomacy purposes.