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Monday, July 30, 2007

The IDF's miserable hasbara failure

Here's the text of a letter sent to the IDF by Omedia:

To: Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff

From: The Omedia Editorial Board

Subject: Information Failure – A Danger to Israel

July 15, 2007

Dear Sir,

Countless words have been written on the importance of Israel's information policy. The State Comptroller's report of 2002 proclaimed the need for a new media doctrine and noted the dangers inherent in the IDF's fixed mindset. In recent years information has become one of the primary arenas on the new battlefield, an arena that can strengthen or weaken Israel's legitimacy around the world.

Despite the tumultuous warnings it seems nothing has been learned – neither from the Intifada nor even the Second Lebanon War. Omedia's monitoring of military information policy consistently reveals a severe failure in the IDF Spokesperson's approach to the information field, both in managing data and failing to implement lessons learned so far.

A representative study we conducted (attached in an appendix to this letter) yielded the following findings:

  1. The IDF Spokesperson is not utilizing the Internet as an essential information tool: It has no information infrastructure, has no ready material on its various activities, is negligent in supplying data concerning the Intifada and the recent war and translation into English is of poor quality. The IDF Spokesperson's website is updated with laconic messages, no more, and is far from meeting media standards, even compared to websites run by Palestinian terror organizations – both in terms of information provided and update frequency.
  1. There is no professional response to journalistic queries: The slow response to information requests from the IDF Spokesman's Unit is detrimental to military interests. As part of this failing, the IDF does not provide data, tables, and figures concerning the conflict. The result: the system lacks credibility.
  1. There is no IDF website in Arabic: This is tantamount to ignoring a major audience in the battle. In contrast, note the success of the Foreign Ministry's Arabic and Persian websites.

Here are a numbers of recent examples, conveying the scope of this failure:

1. Having been unable to find any data or photo (posted by the IDF) concerning Bil'in on the Internet, we approached the IDF Spokesperson for background material: documentation, photos, numbers, data – whatever the unit could provide in writing on the Palestinian village. Our goal was to try and counter accusations the IDF has been using "deliberate violence." The IDF took 11 days to answer our questions. The reply included a few poor-quality photos unworthy of publication. The IDF provided us with little information on the matter, contenting itself with a short, laconic table concerning the dates of the protests, the number of protestors and a three-word note whether IDF forces were injured or not. The IDF admitted it did not think of sending documentation teams and professional photographers to capture the protestors injuring soldiers. The IDF Spokesperson only sent in unskilled NCOs.

2. An Omedia representative approached the IDF requesting information on Qassam strikes inside Israel – how many rockets landed within Israel, how many injuries they caused, how many civilian structures were damaged, etc. It took seven days of work and dozens of phone calls to receive a partial and ineffective list. Despite years of rocket attacks the IDF website has never – including now – posted any information about it.

3. Our representative approached the IDF Spokesperson to request an up-to-date photo of the Head of the Intelligence Directorate for an article to be written in cooperation with a foreign newspaper. A soldier of the unit referred us to Google, and noted that the IDF has no picture available. Needless to say that no picture worthy of publishing was found on the IDF Spokesperson's website.

4. A recently published report by Amnesty International lodges harsh criticism of IDF soldiers. No official response by the IDF was found on the Internet, so the organization's remarks are perceived as unvarnished "truth." Was the IDF unready for the publication of the report? And if it was, why is there no available information on the matter?

5. Tables and data concerning thwarted terror attacks in recent years, the numbers of injured, casualties, the identity of the Palestinian terrorists – does not exist on the IDF website. The website is only up-to-date as of 2005. Following a request to the IDF Spokesperson, a few details were updated, and months later, nothing has essentially changed.

6. The IDF website has no historical material on the start of the second Intifada. No tables or presentations, no summaries or messages.

Conclusions

1. It seems the IDF Spokesperson's Unit must be swiftly converted to a new technological age, providing information rather than merely responding, serving as an "independent news agency" rather than providing only short, laconic messages and demonstrating an ability to stand up to the information deluge produced by the enemy and cope with a situation that places the very legitimacy of the State of Israel's existence at risk.

2. A new IDF Spokesperson's website will soon be posted. But it is not enough to make it look enticing – there must be a comprehensive information revolution in the IDF Spokesperson's unit.

Omedia intends to continue reporting on this matter and providing follow-ups.

Furthermore, on all the above issues, the IDF provided explanations but did not remedy the faults in practice.

Sincerely,

The Omedia Editorial Board

cc:

  • State Comptroller Judge Micha Lindenstrauss
  • The Winograd Commission
  • Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai
  • The Military Aide to the Prime Minister
  • IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Miri Regev
  • Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
This is right on the money. I don't want to be the one who keeps track of Qassam rockets - the IDF should be. The silence on Bil'in, the Amnesty report and other failures show that the IDF is woefully incompetent at publicizing its side of the story. Even last year I found myself posting - and editing - IDF videos to YouTube because they would only work with certain browsers and most people couldn't view them.

The IDF should not rely on amateur bloggers, sympathetic columnists and Google to provide hasbara. I hope that Omedia keeps pressuring the IDF on this issue.