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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Israeli state comptroller slams PR response to Mavi Marmara

From YNet:
After the IDF raided the Marmara ship and the rest of the Turkish flotilla vessels in May 2010, Israel went into effective radio silence mode. While the flotilla's organizers flooded the media with reports placing Israel in an extremely bad light, nothing was said in Israel until noon.

The State Comptroller's report on the flotilla raid pointed to severe impairments in the execution of Israel's public diplomacy policy.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss noted the significant delay in Israel's public response to the IDF raid and the public diplomacy bureau's last ditch effort to contain the media disaster and minimize the event's negative effect on Israel's global image.

The report stated that the public diplomacy bureau in the Prime Minister's Office did not distinguish between Israel's domestic messages and those directed to the international community. This, the report stated, was manifested in negative coverage overseas, largely due to the severe delay in response.

The comptroller also found that the public diplomacy bureau is not equipped to operate on a 24/7 capacity.

The report points to impairments in the division of responsibility between the Foreign Ministry and the IDF. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit, the report said, acted as Israel's public diplomacy bureau by default and operated in areas which exceed its responsibility, due to the weakness of other state advocacy bodies.

The comptroller explained that the delay in the transfer of photographic material critical for Israel's public response to the raid was largely due to the IDF's sensitivities in domestic hasbara.

Addressing the handling of foreign press in Israel, the report stated that no element was tasked with overseeing overall communication with foreign press.

Impairments were also found in Israel's hasbara vis-à-vis Arab states. The report states that there was hardly any Arabic-language hasbara in the period preceding and following the Marmara raid.

He noted that this falls under the full jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry.

He also criticized the fact that the head of Israel's public diplomacy bureau acted as the prime minister's spokesman.

Lindenstrauss concluded this part of his report by recommending a comprehensive plan to improve Israel's public diplomacy under the prime minister's guidance.
While the IDF did do an admirable job at the time, this report points out systemic problems with Israel's Foreign Ministry in getting the facts out to the right people in a timely manner.

It is notable that when I grabbed some Israeli TV coverage of the incident the morning after the raid, showing an IDF soldier being stabbed from the live flotilla feed (something the Free Gaza people cut out in their edited videos on the raid), my video received over 180,000 views on YouTube. There was a hunger to find out the truth as quickly as possible. The IDF videos on YouTube did well, but the MFA dropped the ball.

Let's hope that this will spur Israel, under the most media-savvy prime minister it has ever had, to do something about the terrible state of its efforts to disseminate the truth. I would suggest completely revamping the unusable MFA website.  (Try to do a simple search, for example. Just try.)