Israel needs better groundwork

The IDF has made strides in its PR, but we've still got a long way to go.

IDF soldiers take part in battlefield maneuvers in preparation with potential war in the north. (photo credit: IDF)
IDF soldiers take part in battlefield maneuvers in preparation with potential war in the north.
(photo credit: IDF)
Israel has a PR problem and the world is round. Now that we’ve established the obvious, let’s drill down on the one issue that we can actually do something about, and it is not the latter.
Last weekend’s riots, for the second weekend in a row, demonstrated Hamas’s MO: using violence while simultaneously playing the victim.
Moreover it reminded us of the international community’s fetish with bashing Israel. Many media platforms admitted Hamas was the first to use violence (despite the fact they referred to the riots as “nonviolent protests”), even The New York Times reported that the IDF didn’t respond with force until the Palestinians hurled stones and firebombs and rolled burning tires at the fence.
But why have we lost yet another PR cycle to attacks against Israel? The most adept army in the world didn’t see it coming? During my five years of service in the West Bank, as a lieutenant in the IDF, I knew the IDF was not perfect, but over time realized I really was on the side working for peace and justice.
Of course, any army that fights wars will have to deal with criticism, but not at the levels of international attack we have seen against the IDF in recent weeks. It is not adulation that we need, it is understanding of the complexity of the situation, which is unfortunately completely lost in the conversation about Israel.
The anti-Israel propaganda has turned the situation around and made the IDF seem like an army of snipers shooting Palestinian Gandhi’s that are merely marching for their freedom. At a time when minorities around the world, as well as social justice activists, are using protests and marches to protest against inequality, Hamas branded this violent attack perfectly to appeal to the global community.
The issue is that the IDF knew it was coming. As I’m not in active service I do not know if they prepared efficiently for the event, but they knew what to expect on the ground.
I hope that they called members of the press, perhaps even the UN, and explained to them what Hamas was planning. The IDF could have used social media to tell the world what was being planned, there was no need for a clandestine approach.
I know that the IDF spokesperson has made an effort to use social media to share what was happening on the ground – an improvement over the past indeed. The videos of Maj. Keren Hajioff speaking from the Gaza border were some of the best the IDF has ever made. But the videos were reactive and released too late. Preparing for such events requires more work.
In the world of marketing, when you want to promote a product, an effective way to do so is to make your audience understand why they need your product. While I cannot compare my work in professional branding and marketing to the battlefield exactly, the IDF must make the public understand why Hamas is doing what it’s doing in the days leading up to a conflict like this one. When I work to promote a politician, I make sure that the public is aware of the void that this politician will be able to fill long before we begin the campaign.
The IDF can do the same with Hamas. Tell the public what they are planning – the abuse of Palestinian civilians – and why only Hamas, the terrorist organization, stands to gain from the suffering of Palestinians.
The IDF’s PR abilities have improved dramatically in recent years; in wartime, such as in the 2014 Gaza war, and in the recent “knife intifada,” it released footage of the attacks within hours, documenting the violence Israelis were facing.
There is more awareness than ever that we cannot let the media tell the our story for us. The new IDF spokesperson, Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, is doing incredible work in the field, but there is much more to be done – a change in approach at the government level may even be needed.
We are not naive when it comes to the PR battle with Hamas, so why do we act like we are? The IDF knows Hamas will hold every casualty against Israel – why not control the situation in the media just as well as we control the conflict on the ground? We must reform the old methods and improve our groundwork.
The author is an Israeli writer, public speaker and digital communications consultant from Tel Aviv. www.Hen-