Whither Israel’s al-Jazeera

If we had our own English-language satellite channel, think of the positives we could broadcast.

hasbara commercial 311 (photo credit: Screenshot)
hasbara commercial 311
(photo credit: Screenshot)
As one who has spent the last 12 years speaking for Israel to Jewish and non- Jewish audiences worldwide the question most frequently asked is “Why is Israel’s hasbara so poor?”
One of the answers to this question is that from Israel’s inception, the powers that be have accorded little significance to advocacy for Israel. From the earliest days the thinking has been “What we do is important not what we say.”
The battle today is not only a military one. Today’s vitally important battle – that Israel is losing – is being played out daily in the media. The power of the picture is immense as we saw with the recent flotilla experience or as we remember in September 2000, the second day of the second intifada, a French journalist filmed Mohamed al-Dura (the Palestinian boy caught up in the Gaza crossfire) lying in the arms of his father having succumbed to a fatal shot “apparently” from an Israeli bullet. One minute’s footage distributed throughout the world became the emotive charge that fuelled the hatred of Israelis and became the emblem of martyrdom of the Palestinians. It matters little that some years on it appears that Israel could not have possibly been responsible for the death of Mohamed – it even being suggested that he is alive and well.
What is crystal clear is the detrimental manner in which the Jewish state is projected throughout the global media. Demonstrations against Israel are becoming a regular viewing occurrence with none stranger than the sight of feminists demonstrating in Hyde Park, London during the second Lebanese war saying “We are all Hizbullah.”
Today Israel is the victim of both verbal and pictorial terrorism.
The BBC operates a world service – both on the radio and TV – that is without question biased. At best, the picture conveyed is distorted and, at worst, projects disinformation. If they invite someone to give the view from Israel, too often they will choose an individual who is known for his or her anti-Israel views. When this is coupled with the Palestinian representative the views expressed are basically the same anti-Israel rhetoric.
THE ARAB and Muslim world have their “al-Jazeera” English language TV network operating 24 hours a day. The programs are geared to give their wealthy Arab financial backers the pictures they wish to project worldwide ensuring the way they are keen to be seen and supported internationally. It is a highly professional and effective advocacy vehicle.
How is Israel confronting the battle of the media? Sadly we are not. The 25- minute IBA News in English is frequently dropped or – often unannounced – changed to another time when and if something “more important,” such as a football or basketball game, takes place.
The IBA radio news in English (15 minutes three times a day) is available at the most unsociable hours both here and abroad with the constant threat of being eliminated because of financial constraints.
With these pathetic limitations, it is impossible to convey a meaningful picture of Israel’s reality.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of Information and the Diaspora (also in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority), Yuli Edelstein have both spoken about the need for an English language al- Jazeera for Israel. We are a country known for its technological and scientific expertise – we lead the world in R & D. We are recognized internationally as the supplier of the most sophisticated electronic equipment yet we fail to recognize the need to fight today’s battle with today’s tools. The TV picture is all powerful.
Let us dream for a few moments – what could we show on our own al-Jazeera? Aside from presenting the news as we see it (how important this is) we would have the opportunity of taking our viewers into our hospitals, showing how in this “apartheid state” Palestinian patients from the Palestinian territories, as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza, are being given full medical treatment. Palestinian children are given bone marrow transplants to beat their cancer and sophisticated life-saving heart operations.
We could meet many of the Arab doctors and nurses who hold senior positions in our hospitals. We might spend some time speaking with the plastic surgeons who have carried out numerous extensive operations on the Israeli victims of terror.
We could take the viewer down to Sderot to meet the population there and find out the traumatic psychological and physical stresses which the men, women and children in the South have had to cope with and continue to experience. We could show the true picture of how Hamas utilizes its civilian population as human shields placing IDF soldiers in a no win predicament.
On a more positive note we could show the many areas where Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs work play and live together in harmony. We could introduce them to a number of organizations whose sole raison d’être is bringing together Jews and Arabs for a more meaningful understanding of each another. Perhaps they might like to visit the WIZO Day Care Center in Jaffa where Jewish, Muslim and Christian children learn about each others special Festivals as well as the meaning of their names or the WIZO Single Parent Club (also in Jaffa) where – irrespective of religion – the participants find support from the professional guidance as well as from each other.
We are constantly being told by our enemies that we Jews are “running the world” Perhaps there is someone out there “running the world” who is prepared to invest in our al-Jazeera. At this moment when Israel and the Jewish people are feeling the cold wind of isolation surely we must give serious consideration to opening a window onto the real Israel. Birthright found Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman. Israel is awaiting clones of these two outstanding philanthropists to do the same for Israel’s image to the outside world. The time has long past for just acknowledging the problem. The time for action has arrived. This is a battle Israel cannot afford to lose.
The writer is public relations chair World WIZO and co-chair Europeans for Israel.