Sunday 5 July 2009

Losing the PR War

In the 61 years since Israel's independence, there are many fine achievements that the country can lay claim to. The young state has succeeded in integrating Jews from many different countries and backgrounds. Economic difficulties have been overcome to create a viable economy which can compete with other countries in the region and around the world. Israel's hi-tech industry is considered to be at the leading edge and one of the most advanced in the world. And Israel's military achievements speak for themselves by virtue of having survived over 60 years of almost continuous war and aggression aimed at destroying her very existence. These are but a few out of a lengthy list of worthy and admirable successes.

Whilst the story is an overwhelmingly successful one, there are inevitably a number of failures that have been chalked up along the way. In my view, one of Israel's most significant failures is the poor public image which she portrays in the international community. The lack of success on the public relations playing field was a disadvantage in the early years of Israel's existence. As time progresses, however, this disadvantage is becoming a much more significant problem which requires urgent attention.

In the years immediately following independence, Israel seemed to enjoy some measure of support in the international community. When the stench of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism hung in the air, the nascent Jewish state was considered an underdog. As a general rule, the world likes underdogs. Even though the physical support that this underdog was getting was limited, there was a spirit of supporting Israel, albeit from a distance, in her efforts to survive. Since those days, Israel has progressed in leaps and bounds especially in her military capability. As a result, she is no longer considered the underdog and no longer enjoys whatever sympathy may have been generated in this capacity. In the current time, those that wish to destroy Israel enjoy the position of the underdog and are taking advantage of the advantages that come with this status.

When Israel was a young country with limited population and resources, and battling every day just to stay alive in the sea of Arab hostility, it was understandable that not a great deal of time or effort could be devoted to public relations efforts. In those days, the leaders simply did what they needed to do in order to keep the ship afloat without taking to much heed of what was being said about them or Israel. Necessity was the name of the game. This necessity has, unfortunately, given way to a type of arrogance. This arrogance dictates that Israel is not answerable to any external body or party because her leadership is unique in its concern for Israeli citizens and Jews around the world. So, when those with anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli views attempt to rail-road organisations like the UN into anti-Israeli measures, the government of Israel will not heed their actions and will continue to do what it feels is right and fair for Jews. Whilst this attitude is still a hangover from the time when each day was a fight for survival, Israel lives in a different world which requires a different response.

Although Israel's poor PR effort is a frequent point of discussion for Jews around the world and in Israel, I only realised the real extent of the damage that is being done recently during a dinner with a Jewish work colleague from abroad. His point was very clear. Those that are biased against Israel will be biased no matter what action is taken. There is, however, a vast middle ground of independent thinkers who are available to be convinced. If we are not making the effort to convince them, the enemy camp will inevitably succeed in doing so. And the enemy camp is devoting a huge amount to public relations. Not only that, Israel's friends and supporters including the large numbers of Jews around the world need good Israeli PR to help their cause. They wish to help to defend Israel's position in any way they can, but are getting little help from Israel herself. This begins to frustrate even the best of her friends at a great cost to the overall public relations effort.

There is no doubt in my mind that most of Israel's actions, even those harshly criticised by the outside world, are legitimate and easily defended. When one considers the extent to which Israelis are having to suffer at the hands of terrorists and from continued random attacks on civilians, and compares this to the manner in which the IDF clinically avoids civilian casualties on the enemy side, there is no doubt that Israel's actions can be defended. The lack of an organised, professional, sustained PR effort that runs across the major populations around the world serves simply serves to undermine the legitimacy of the best-laid actions, and is damaging to Israel's image.

In the weekend newspapers, I read of a special unit of Tourist Police whose job it is to ensure that tourists to Israel have the best possible time by helping to prevent them falling victim to petty crime or muggings. This is a country that is at war on two borders, but can devote time and energy to ensure that a tourist who lost his wallet in the holy city of Jerusalem has it returned to him without too much ado. This is the same country that prefers not to destroy a location being used to store ammunition or launch rockets if there is any risk of civilian casualties.

It's a shame that the outside world does not receive these and other stories that could put an entirely different view on the conflict in the Middle East. It is still not too late to begin the PR effort.

No comments: