Reality Check: The joke's on Edelstein

New gov't Web site is propaganda tool more fitting of world's darker regimes.

yuli edelstein 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yuli edelstein 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When was the last time a foreigner came up to you and said: “Oh, you Israelis. You all ride camels.” According to the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, this is one of the common myths foreigners hold about Israel. And the correct response to such a comment, a special ministry Web site helpfully instructs, is: “This is not correct. Israel has 17,900 kilometers of paved roads, on which there are no less than 2.3 million cars, of which 78 percent are private vehicles. Moreover, Israel Railways has lines running the length and breadth of the country and a light railway for Tel Aviv is in the planning and development stages.”
The Soviet newspaper Pravda couldn’t have phrased it better.
Nobody, it seems, has told Yuli Edelstein that his ministry is a joke office, one of the many dreamed up by Binyamin Netanyahu when he formed the most bloated government in the country’s history, comprising a ridiculous 32 ministers. Most of the ministers appointed to non-ministries have had the good sense not to further waste the public purse on unnecessary initiatives, but not so Edelstein. He’s launched a campaign to turn every Israeli into a potential diplomat.
Given that the thuggish Avigdor Lieberman is foreign minister, one has to accept that anything is possible in Israeli diplomacy, but even still, the Ministry of Public Diplomacy special Web site ( is a new low in the very undistinguished history of hasbara (which can be translated as “public information” but “propaganda” is nearer the mark).
THE HEBREW-ONLY Web site (so much for one-fifth of the country’s population also serving as potential ambassadors) is embarrassing in its over-eagerness to state Israel’s case. For example, according to the ministry, another common myth is that all Israeli women cover their hair. This claim should be answered with: “Not only do most Israeli women not cover their hair, but Israel is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, on the same level as New York, Paris and London.”
Leaving aside the fact that Israel has suddenly turned from a country into a capital – not even the Ministry of Public Diplomacy has the hutzpa to claim that Jerusalem is at the center of world fashion, except of course for sheitels and streimels – I'm hard pushed to remember the last time Naomi Campell or Kate Moss graced the catwalks of Tel Aviv.
The web site’s misperceptions don’t stop at fashion, but this is when it stops being amusing. In its review of modern Israeli history, the capture of missing airman Ron Arad gets 10 lines. The Oslo Accords get three. The kidnapping of Gilad Schalit merits eight lines; the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 is only worthy of one-and-a-bit.
It’s hard to blame non-Israelis for lacking an understanding of the country when a Web site published by a government ministry puts out such a warped view of the country’s history.
And when one looks deeper at the information filling this Web site it becomes clear that its aim is not so much to turn every Israeli into a potential ambassador but simply to propagate Yuli Edelstein’s right-wing political views at the taxpayer’s expense.
The settlements in the West Bank, according to the Web site, are not an obstacle to peace; rather it’s the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the State of Israel. Now this is may be a view that many people hold, but it’s only one viewpoint of the conflict, not an incontrovertible fact. By using a publicly funded Web site to make this and other right-wing arguments, such as “the Golan Heights are a strategic asset for Israel, ensuring the country’s security,” a position that runs contrary to the position of most of the IDF General Staff who want to see a peace agreement with Damascus, even if this means withdrawing from the Golan, Edelstein is abusing his position.
Not only is the Web site an abuse of trust, the whole concept behind it is deeply troubling. There’s something essentially Stalinist in attempting to persuade every citizen to see himself as an ambassador for their country. Couple that with the attempt to then overload the would-be interested “ambassador” with ridiculous, incorrect facts and a heavily biased right-wing view of the conflict and of how the world sees Israel, and one ends up with a propaganda tool that is more fitting for some of the world’s darker, totalitarian regimes, and not the modern, free Israel it ironically wants to promote.
There are no shortage of useful Web sites putting overout Israel’s case, among them the Foreign Ministry’s site ( which is an excellent repository of useful information, both on current issues and the country’s history. Ignoring for one moment the Ministry of Public Diplomacy’s scandalous use of a government Web site to push a biased view of the conflict, there is also the question of why Edelstein thought it necessary to create a Web site explaining Israel to the world when the government already has an excellent one doing the job.
If Edelstein is that desperate to make his mark as a minister, perhapshe should do the job he’s been tasked to perform and tackle the crisisat the Israel Broadcasting Authority. As the minister in charge of theIBA, Edelstein has been strangely silent while Israel Television pullsthe plug every night at 11 p.m. and Israel Radio is unable to holdinterviews over the telephone with would-be guests.
Or is that too much like hard work for someone whose only interest seems to be his own narrow political agenda?
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.