Why is Israeli PR so ineffective?
My PR agency has been active in political and issues-based work. The state of Israel is, for me, a personal and professional passion, and with love I will say that Israel does a horrible job when it comes to PR. The simple message that Israel is a tiny, democratic country surrounded by murderous despots doesn’t get through— not to governments, the media, or the public.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said it so clearly on May 24, 2011, in his address to the joint session of Congress: “Of 300 million Arabs in the Middle East, the only ones who are truly free and live in a democratic country are the Arabs who live in Israel. Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East, Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
It doesn’t really matter what you personally think about Israel. My point is that the state of Israel should be forcefully communicating sympathetic messages to the world but isn’t. Case in point: many people don’t understand the difference in size between all of the Arab states and the Jewish state. The total area of the state of Israel is 7,951.6 square miles and is surrounded by Arab nations—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt alone covers an area of 386,659 square miles. Israel has a population of about 7.5 million people, and the Arab nations surrounding her total 300-plus million people.
Everyone can relate to concepts about distance and size, such as the fact that Israel is the size of New Jersey and is completely surrounded by much larger countries with huge swaths of land and bigger populations who would like to see the tiny country destroyed. Still, the media worldwide writes of the “Jewish settlements” and “West Bank” as key conflicts between the Arabs and Israel. Leaving aside the perspective of just how tiny these areas actually are, or that Israel won them in a defensive war, is like blaming a flea for a pit bull’s aggressive behavior. The state of Israel is in real danger, partially because of its flawed public relations and communications work. In contrast, terrorist organizations Hamas, Hezbollah, and certain Arab nations have hired PR agencies to lobby for them in the press and on the world stage. Terror groups have engaged reporters and journalists, share meals with them, drink with them, and win their favor.
In 2009, Fenton Communications, a New York City–based PR firm, signed two contracts with the Arab state of Qatar to develop an 18-month campaign to essentially delegitimize Israel by orchestrating an international anti-Israel campaign aimed at breaking the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel doesn’t use PR agencies in the United States. It doesn’t even pay for its diplomatic employees to use cell phones after hours or on weekends because of archaic and bureaucratic rules—a necessity in today’s 24/7 media world.
Israel’s PR does a poor job of framing the debate—its spokespeople are ineffective and have a poor grasp of the English language. (Israel regularly sends diplomats to countries where the diplomat doesn’t speak the native language.) There is a lot that can be done to fight and influence. It’s a question of shaping concepts and of speaking in terms and metaphors that the world understands.
Look at what happens when private investors legally buy property in eastern Jerusalem and legally build homes for Jews. An Internet search reveals that the media see such construction as evidence of Jewish “occupation” and a primary reason why there will never be peace in the Middle East. Even an American named Irving Moskowitz is condemned for buying land legally in Jerusalem – Is that not racist and Anti-Semitism?
Why not create messaging about how a Jewish person can legally build a home and live anywhere in the world—except Israel? A Jew can buy and build in Harlem or East Los Angeles, Paris, or Moscow, but not in Jerusalem. They can buy real estate and coexist elsewhere—why not there? That is the message they should be sending.
A justified cause is not enough to be right these days, either in politics or in business. Anyway, being right does not help you frame the debate nor does it keep you from being constantly on the defense. It’s not enough to simply convey a message—you need people to listen. Preparation for war includes a PR battle plan because PR is a crucial element of any war today.
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