Good information comes from the field

A Model UN project at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion is just the kind of thing this country needs to help it fight for its image.

The State of Israel fights every single day for its image and reputation in the world’s eyes. We experienced this even more brutally after significant events such as the Goldstone Report and the flotilla episode. Recently, we are witnessing ever-increasing hostility among students on campuses around the world. This involves bright young people who, to my great regret, are influenced by the provocations of their pro-Arab friends and by the images they see on various television networks.
As one who stands at the head of one of the ministries responsible for fighting for our good name around the world, it is important to emphasize to the public, that we are not totally powerless against Arab propaganda, that Israel is using a wide-ranging “toolbox,” whose objective is the victory in the battle against the distorted image of Israel around the world.
The Ministry for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs that I lead understands that we have no way to contend with the vast amounts of money at the disposal of anti-Israel agencies and therefore we continue to work hard to develop a broad human infrastructure for getting the message out.
Also, within the scope of the “Explaining Israel” campaign that was launched in February, the ministry is equipping every Israeli who travels abroad with a booklet of facts and tips for correctly explaining the history, culture and the security situation of the State of Israel. The booklet indicates the outstanding achievements of this country and its important contributions to the world, as well as provides tools to help make contacts, hold dialogues and get the messages across.
Finally, the ministry has set up information centers around the country at which training workshops are held using the coaching method. As of today, thousands of people have successfully attended these workshops and the reactions are mostly positive.
OUR ENEMIES choose provocations.
Should we respond similarly or should we choose a different way? There are those who claim that the media, by nature, is looking for conflict, and therefore we must be at the front line, fighting for the hearts of observers in Washington, Lyon and Stockholm.
Others feel it is preferable to present Israel as a beautiful country that contributes the best it can offer through science, technology, medicine and culture, thus positioning Israel in a positive light. We should remember the words of President Shimon Peres who recently said that we must never forget that there are one billion Chinese who respect us and hundreds of millions of Americans and Europeans who sympathize with Israel, and so ultimately we must keep in mind that we are not talking about a catastrophe.
One of the critical arenas for our information struggle is on the campuses. The academic world exploits ignorance about Israel. It is described as a small and problematic country in the world, and the vacuum that is created is filled with hatred, disinformation and much propaganda. Therefore, there is of great importance to find a way to reach the hearts of these young people. In my opinion, this approach does not entail going “head to head” with pro-Arab propaganda through the media, but must come from the grass roots – unequivocally and at the interpersonal level. The possibility of creating a dialogue with students from around the world, for example, is very important, as they will be the ones leading the next generation from the diplomatic and economic perspectives.
IT IS also important that we seek every opportunity to expose young people to our beautiful country. This summer, for example, the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion is holding a Model United Nations.
This prestigious project is held every year at a range of leading universities and colleges around the world. This year is the second time that the Model United Nations is being held in Israel.
This is the wonderful initiative of students from the College who felt it to be of paramount importance to simultaneously bring about 200 young people to experience Israel and to personally get to know Israelis. In my opinion, this is a golden opportunity as indeed most of the students arriving are studying diplomatic subjects and it is they who will be leading the next generation. These students are holding meetings over the course of a week that simulate the United Nations meetings and they are voting, debating and making decisions on a range of topics that are currently on the world’s agenda. We, of course, are making sure that they are equipped with the material that will assist them.
This experiment is likely to bring about a real change in attitudes. We’re talking about non-Jewish students from the United States, Europe, Africa, China, South Korea and elsewhere who are being hosted at Israeli homes and who are touring Israel and enjoying cultural evenings. Such projects allows the presentation of Israel and its values to future leaders in the field of diplomacy and government, creates longterm interpersonal connections and is an informational springboard for Israel, both at the academic and social levels.
The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Tourism are helping to promote this project and would consider similar projects that allow the positive “rubbing of shoulders” among young people around the world.
We believe that they will return to their countries and the next time they see a CNN report they will watch it more critically; and when they contend with a group of pro-Arab students who are active on their campus, they will be open to hearing the other side and even to relaying positive messages about Israel to their family members and friends.
The writer is Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs