Taking ‘hasbara’ to cyberspace

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog answers questions about the delegitimization of Israel, and how to counter it.

This year the Jewish People Policy Institute identified five key issues affecting the Jewish world to debate in its working groups at its annual conference.
These touched on the peace talks, delegitimization of Israel, Israel- Diaspora ties, the future of European Jewry and the conversion bill.
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Of all the complex topics, perhaps the most pressing one which has gathered steam in recent years is the erosion of international recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Places that were once bulwarks of support for Israel, like campuses in the US, have become less friendly for supporters of the Jewish state.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog, a former Defense Ministry official who chaired the JPPI panel on the delegitimization of Israel, sat down to answer a few questions relating to this growing trend and what can be done to counter it.
Why was this issue chosen to be on the agenda this year?
“JPPI believes this is one of the more critical issues in the Jewish world at the moment. Today we came here and asked lots and lots of questions, offered lots of diagnoses, but now we need to offer prognoses too. The booklet handed out at the conference has 10 pages devoted to introducing and analyzing the issue of the delegitimization of Israel, but only a page and a half offering policy guidelines and tools.”
What actions do you propose taking to combat the phenomenon?
“Well, one suggestion today was to make tailor-made groups to tackle specific issues. There is a wide variety of directions that criticism of Israel’s right to exist come from. It’s a broad front. Also, we think that instead of being on the defensive we should be on the offensive.”
Can you give one example of an operative plan?
“We think we need to increase our profile on campuses in Europe and the US. We need to find funding and support the creation of more student organizations. At the moment Hillel is alone at that front. We need to bolster them.
“Another area is cyberspace. Some at the panel said we’re neglecting it. If someone spreads a false rumor [in cyberspace], it keeps getting repeated and repeated. By the time you dispel it, the damage is done. We have to increase our presence there.”
Do you think Israel’s problems are of style rather than substance? In other words, can Israel’s image change without its policies changing?
“We discussed hasbara [public diplomacy] a lot during our debate and reached the conclusion that it isn’t enough, we need policy change too. If one thinks that all we need to do is explain ourselves better, then that’s a mistake.”