Eisenbud's Odyssey: The medium is the message

If so, it would appear that Israel has chosen to ignore it almost entirely. Until now.

Marshal McLuhan (photo credit: Paris Review Dailt)
Marshal McLuhan
(photo credit: Paris Review Dailt)
Last week, MK Einat Wilf (Independence), the newly appointed chairwoman of the Knesset subcommittee on Diaspora Affairs, took the historic first steps of proposing a much-needed initiative to transform the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee into a cogent, diplomatic powerhouse – on a par with the IDF – to help Israel finally gain traction in the long-neglected intellectual war waged against its existence.
During a December 20 Knesset House Committee meeting, Wilf – who is also the chairwoman of the Independence faction and serves on the Foreign Affairs and Defense, Education, and Finance committees – rightly argued that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee largely ignores diplomatic issues (i.e. media relations), instead focusing almost exclusively on classic security matters.
She noted that the vast majority of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is dedicated to military concerns – with only one of its 13 subcommittees committed to diplomacy.
However, Wilf recognizes – and made clear – that the battlefield has shifted to the international-media arena, where, as Marshall McLuhan sagely pointed out in his classic 1964 tome Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, “the medium is the message.”
IN McLUHAN’S seminal book, he states: “As society’s values, norms and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents...”
McLuhan postulates that a medium, which he defines as “an extension of ourselves,” and the message it conveys have become symbiotic, thus elevating the medium itself to becoming a key variable in how information is received and therefore, processed.
That said, if the medium – and mastery of it – is indeed the message, it would appear that Israel has still yet to receive it, or has chosen to ignore it almost entirely. Until now.
PASSAGE OF Wilf’s proposal would be the game-changer this country needed decades ago by giving diplomacy and media relations equanimity with classic security concerns for the first time in Israel’s history.
During her two-year tenure in the Knesset, Wilf has repeatedly emphasized and advocated for heightened diplomatic and media relations.
Indeed, early in her tenure (initially in Labor) in a May 30, 2010 New York Times article “Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation,” Wilf stated that she warned Defense Minister Ehud Barak and others well in advance that the Turkish Mava Marmara flotilla disaster was a public relations crisis, and should not be dealt with militarily.
“This had nothing to do with security. The armaments for Hamas were not coming from this flotilla,” Wilf noted in the piece.
In a subsequent BBC World Service interview shortly thereafter, Wilf clearly framed the disparate confluence of struggles Israel faces.
“In Israel we are engaged today in two arenas: There is the security arena... then there is a new arena, which is no less important and strategic for Israel, and that is the ongoing campaign to delegitimize [the country],” she said. “The question is, can we defend Israel by other means – by means that are not military? This is the kind of battle of ideas and narrative that we should fight and win...
“We have a great story to tell, and we must defend our cause when Israel is being attacked on its narrative, on its story – on its image.”
Wilf understands that this can only be accomplished by exponentially improving Israel’s profoundly, and unjustly, maligned perception within the media.
TO DO this Wilf suggested that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee be split, pointing out that most Western countries have separate panels for foreign affairs and defense matters, and that a separate committee for Foreign Affairs would allow for proper supervision of the Foreign Ministry.
“Now, when the State of Israel is dealing with challenges on the international stage, there is a need to put foreign affairs questions on equal standing with classic security questions,” Wilf said.
The significance of her proposal cannot be overstated, and is long overdue if Israel is to defend its narrative on the same international stage where it has been unfairly pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes in seeming perpetuity.
Simply stated: The Foreign Ministry must now handle media relations with as much skill and precision as the IDF has demonstrated on the battlefield, or it’s going to continue to lose the intellectual war.
NOW IT is up to Wilf’s colleagues in the Foreign Ministry to recognize the gravity and necessity of this initiative and move forward expeditiously and efficiently.
It is time to stop naively thinking that self-evident truths will carry the day and set the record straight for a country that is routinely slandered in any given news cycle.
Nothing in this world is self-evident anymore – especially when it concerns Israel – until it is expertly packaged for the media. The sooner the Foreigner Ministry learns to accept this fact, and finally acts on it, the sooner we will be on our way to changing Israel’s narrative for the better.
Wilf has discussed the proposal with all the key players, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Shaul Mofaz.
So far the initiative has garnered some support, but Netanyahu and Barak have stated that they are concerned that testifying in two committees would be time consuming.
I WOULD like to respectfully beseech Netanyahu and Barak to note that in the scheme of time-consuming Knesset affairs, the matter of Israel’s intellectual war should be no less pressing and primary than military strategy - and long has been.
This matter needed to be dealt with long ago, and finally has reached the platform it desperately deserves.
The sooner the Foreign Ministry acts on this fact the sooner we will be on our way to changing Israel’s narrative for good.
The message is more than clear.