Monday, January 05, 2009

Is Israel winning the media war?

Backspin has solicited bloggers, asking how Israel is doing on the PR front.

The short answer is that Israel is doing a stellar job in the media war, and it is still losing.

For long-time critics of Israel's hasbara, this operation has been huge improvement. The Twitter page, the IDF Spokesperson's blog, the IsraelPolitik blog, the YouTube page, the pro-active sending of articulate spokespeople from across Israel's political spectrum to TV news and talk shows - all of these are way overdue and, more importantly, they have not made mistakes. On the contrary, Israel's PR is now releasing relevant videos the same day, not weeks later; they are answering questions and refuting false allegations in real time and not after the falsehoods have had the chance to dominate for three or five news cycles.

My only criticisms of Israel's PR efforts is relatively minor:

- The Foreign Ministry home page is still very poorly organized and hard to navigate. That should be the central repository of relevant materials, but as it is, it is much less useful.

- I would also love to retire my rocket calendar, and I knowI am undercounting - especially in regard to mortars and Grads. The Israeli government should have a searchable database with accurate information on Qassams, mortars, Grads, and variants like the "rocket mortars," plus all terror attacks, dates, injuries, victim names, pictures, and links. If I could do as much as I have done in minutes a day, they could do it right.

These quibbles notwithstanding, it has been incredible to see things done right. There is no doubt that Israel's current hasbara efforts have been effective and that they help fair-minded people understand what is going on. Personally, they also help free me up from spending time trying to counter basic arguments and going on to more creative ways of helping spread the truth.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that they are "winning," and in fact it is impossible to win at this time. The sheer number of rabidly anti-Israel news and Web 2.0 outlets and anti-Israel protests and letters to the editor - all parroting the same lies to their varied audiences - makes "winning" a most difficult proposition. A simple word search of the word "Zionist" in Google news unleashes a torrent of vitriol, anti-semitism and pure loathing. Nothing that Israel does can combat the sheer amount of hatred that exists.

I have no doubt that most European governments (and a fair number of Arab regimes) are privately very happy that Israel is going after Hamas, and they hope that this will become a great victory against Islamic terror. Yet most of the European heads of state are not going to publicly "take sides." The conditioning from years of ingrained bias makes support of Israel quite unpopular. They are hoping that Israel ignores the media-fueled hate and "international rpessure" and does what has to be done. But they cannot avoid being a part of that same pressure, which feeds the anti-Israel media, and continues the cycle.

That doesn't mean that Israel's hasbara efforts are useless. They are very effective, and admirable. But to say that Israel can "win" the PR war in one battle is very premature. It would take years of Israelis unapologetically stating their case, over and over again, without the dissent that causes such cheer in the Israel-bashing press, before anyone can consider thinking about a "victory."

Only when the environment is changed to where Zionists in major European cities can rally for Israel with no fear of being physically hurt by anti-semites, only when there are just as many passionately pro-Israel people on message boards and talkbacks as Israel-bashers, can we start talking about a PR win in the West.