Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Israel's PR problem is more fundamental

Soccer Dad reproduces an email from an Israeli public relations expert:

Why Israel Cannot Solve Its PR Challenge (or, It's The Message, Stupid!)

By Glenn Jasper

Much has been written over the past few weeks - ever since "The Flotilla Affair" - about the overall weakness of Israel's PR, both when crises hit and in general. And they all brought wonderful examples of how and why Israel's PR has missed the mark.

But I'm afraid they've missed the mark as well.

To understand why we are failing, we must first look at why the other side is succeeding. And the answer to that question is simple: A unified message.

After 9/11, Israel was unified, not only in its condemnation of the attack, but in its message to the world of "You see! This is what we've been going through! Now, do you understand us?"

But time has "healed," and we have once again descended to our previous disagreements and ideologies. We are not united.

And sadly, if Israel itself is not unified - as our enemies are, for the purpose of destroying Israel - then there will be no unified message, and we will continue to lose the PR battle, even if we are right.

So, please do not waste your time analyzing the PR strategy - or even lack thereof - or tactical approach of the Israeli government. It's not about that. It's the same problem that has plagued the Jewish people for centuries. We can't unify. Even about a message. Even when our future is at stake.
Unity of message is a major problem, but I don't think it is the fundamental problem.

Implacable critics of Israel fall in a number of categories.

There are the anti-semites who will always hate a Jewish state. No amount of PR will change their minds.

There are the Muslims who feel that Israel's very existence is an affront to their honor and it must, ultimately, be destroyed for justice to be served. They will couch their arguments in more liberal-friendly terms but this is the ultimate goal of even so-called moderate Muslims. Their minds cannot be changed by PR either.

Then there is the far left. They have had the most success in their campaign against Israel. Much of the reason is because, just like the far right, people who are more moderate in their viewpoints are loathe to publicly criticize the fringe elements for fear of weakening their own position. Since the media is overwhelmingly liberal, this means that far left positions are subject to much less scrutiny than those of the right (and, again, the mirror argument exists in the right-wing media.)

So the obvious hypocrisy of "human rights' activists who are only interested in the human rights of those who are perceived victims of Israeli policy is not exposed nor discussed, and the position that Israel is uniquely beyond the pale of human decency is unchallenged.

Unlike the first two categories, however, this group is not only against Israel. They are against the United States, and many of them are against Western civilization and mores altogether. Israel, for them, is a convenient lightning rod for their hate, but if it didn't exist they would be doing the exact same thing against some other target.

This third group has willing allies in the other two groups, because their hate for America as the leader of the free world far outweighs their discomfort at supporting theocratic or autocratic Muslim dictatorships whose worldview is (supposedly) antithetical to their own. Their self loathing is what drives them, not their hate for others.

The far left (really, the socialist left) is skilled at using the terminology of liberalism to attract followers - and, more importantly, to inoculate themselves from attacks by the more moderate left. Who cannot be against colonialism, or oppression, or racism, or ethnic cleansing? Who would speak out against equal rights and justice? They frame the debate in terms of these keywords and the more mainstream liberals are not interested in digging a little deeper to uncover their de facto support for Muslim colonialism, racism and ethnic cleansing.

The success of this group of Israel haters has been stunning. The flotilla is only the latest example of groups with an ultimately destructive agenda is given a free pass by the media as a "humanitarian" organization. (Deep down, Western powers know that Israel has the legal and moral right to blockade Hamas, but they too are reticent to say so publicly because they don't want to appear to be the "bad guys" either. That is how pervasive the newspeak of the far left has become.)

The so-called BDS movement, that relentlessly supports boycotting and divesting from anything Israeli, has not been very successful in reality but has had enormous success in perception.

One minor but very telling gauge of the success of the Israel-haters has been the recent flurry of popular singing artists succumbing to demands by these groups to cancel concerts in Israel. Elvis Costello, the Pixies and just today Devendra Banhart (whose girlfriend is Israeli!) have all buckled under to the demands of those who single out Israel as uniquely evil. Popular musicians cannot be expected to be knowledgeable enough about the issues to withstand such pressure - in their circles, Israeli evil is self-evident.

A unified message is important, but it isn't going to happen. Even if it did, it would not erase this groundwork of embedded Israel-hatred that has been building for decades and is only now hitting a critical mass. Israel, from much of the world's perspective, IS South Africa and no PR blitz will erase that. The hate train left the station long ago.

What can be done about it? That is a much more difficult problem. Unfortunately, if Israel falls, the rest of the West will fall like so many dominoes, because they are as "guilty" as Israel is from the perspective of the haters. It is not only an existential crisis for Israel - it is a longer-term existential crisis for the entire Western world. That is what needs to be emphasized.

The rhetoric of freedom, justice, equality, self-determination and liberty needs to be taken back by its rightful owners, and those who have hijacked it must be exposed.

It cannot happen too soon.