OpinionIsrael at War

How Israel can win the PR war

Message discipline and aggressive assertion of Israel’s case are essential.

Photojournalists take pictures as the IDF operates inside the Gaza Strip on Jan 16, 2009. Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90.
Photojournalists take pictures as the IDF operates inside the Gaza Strip on Jan 16, 2009. Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90.
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein are authors of the new book Because It’s Just and Right: The Untold Back-Story of the U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Israel and the Jewish community in general are currently barraged with a well-funded and premeditated antisemitic propaganda campaign. This campaign has infected the minds of large numbers of students and other useful dupes.

Israel’s traditional hasbara (public diplomacy) methods are inadequate to meet this challenge. The PR techniques used by Hamas and its supporters are deliberately designed to subvert the truth. They use incitement and imagery that trigger a purely emotional response from their targets. This emotional reaction is virtually immune to reason. The Big Lie often works.

In this netherworld of ruthless propaganda, attempts at explanation—the literal meaning of hasbara—are futile. Co-author Len Grunstein was once told by a pro-Israel congressman: If you have to explain, you’ve already lost. This is good advice. This is no time to engage in long-winded explanations that have no effect. Instead, we must go on the offensive with pithy reportable remarks. This is the only effective response in a media landscape dominated by sound bites rather than soaring rhetoric.

There is a ready audience for Israel’s side of the story. The latest Harvard-Harris poll showed that 80% of Americans support Israel in its war against Hamas; 67% rightly believe that Israel is seeking to minimize civilian casualties; 78% agree that Hamas must be removed from power; 70% believe the Palestinian Authority should not replace it; and 72% favor Israel launching an operation in Rafah and finally destroying Hamas. The poll also showed that 70% favor a permanent ceasefire, but only if the hostages are released and Hamas does not return to power.

To reach this audience, message discipline is required. For example, when a campus protest is described as “pro-Palestinian” when it is actually pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, antisemitic and anti-American, our response must use accurate language. Moreover, we must state our message succinctly and forcefully right from the beginning, before the debate begins.

On the issue of civilian casualties, for example, we should immediately state: 1) Israel is conducting a just and legal war against a genocidal terror group; 2) there are civilian casualties in any war; 3) Israel is doing its best to minimize these casualties with historic success; and 4) Hamas’s casualty numbers cannot be trusted and experts have made a good case that they are exaggerated.

It should also be emphasized that Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs are descendants of relatively recent invaders and migrants. For example, co-author Farley Weiss once asked former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides to name a Palestinian Arab leader from before 1867. This was the year Mark Twain visited the Land of Israel and wrote that he found it sparsely populated. Nides couldn’t name one because there weren’t any.

The next step should be for Israel to centralize its public diplomacy efforts. These efforts should have a clear goal and a unified message. At the moment, these efforts are spread throughout the Israeli government, resulting in message chaos. There is an overwhelming need for message discipline and the appointment of effective communicators. Israel has no room for error in an unforgiving world media and political environment. It is essential to avoid mixed messaging.

May Israel succeed on all fronts in its battle against Hamas and its supporters, including the PR front.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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