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columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Noa Tishby’s surprisingly welcome splash on the ‘hasbara’ scene

Given her performance to date, the actress, producer and author deserves not only an apology, but accolades, from those who doubted her abilities to serve as Israel’s first-ever Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism and Delegitimization.

Noa Tishby, special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel, with her 2021 book, “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.” Source: Twitter.
Noa Tishby, special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel, with her 2021 book, “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.” Source: Twitter.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s appointment last month of Noa Tishby as the country’s first-ever Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and Delegitimization of Israel raised more than a few eyebrows. Though the 44-year-old actress and producer is also the author of the 2021 book “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth,” she is best known at home and abroad for her roles in famous TV series.

Her drop-dead gorgeous looks undoubtedly contributed to the sense that she was selected more for her appearance than her gravitas. Indeed, it seemed as though the powers-that-be in Jerusalem hadn’t gotten past the attempt to improve Israel’s image by showing the world posters of the country’s beautiful women and beaches—as though it were competing with Jamaica for tourists, rather than engaged in an uphill battle against global vilification.

Given her performance to date, however, Tishby deserves not only an apology, but accolades, from those who doubted her abilities. Take, for example, her response to the misinformation surrounding the death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was caught in the crossfire of an Israel Defense Forces raid in Jenin on May 11.

Abu Akleh’s death and funeral provided a golden opportunity for Israel-bashers in the Palestinian Authority, Gaza and elsewhere to describe the tragic event as an “assassination.” Never mind that Israel promptly called for a joint investigation into the incident to determine the direction of the bullet and identity of the shooter. Leave aside that the Palestinian Authority flatly rejected such a probe.

The above was irrelevant to those who reveled in the chance to blame the IDF for “targeting” the reporter. These included 57 U.S. House of Representatives Democrats who, on Friday, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Chris Christopher Wray demanding an investigation into the shooting and ignoring that it took place during a gunfight with terrorists.

“The congressional letter calling for a U.S. investigation into the tragic death of Shireen Abu Akleh ignores facts, omits significant evidence and delegitimizes Israel’s strong, credible and independent judicial system,” tweeted Tishby. “Shireen Abu Akleh died in an exchange of fire in Jenin between Israeli security forces and Palestinian militants, most of which are affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad—a U.S. designated terror organization.”

She continued: “Israeli forces were in the area to thwart another impending terror attack, as the P.A. has lost security control over the city. This comes immediately after a wave of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel (mostly originating from Jenin), which claimed 19 innocent lives.”

Citing Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, who decried the congressional letter, Tishby added, “Israel regards freedom of the press as paramount & protection of journalists as fundamental. As Amb. Herzog said, truth and justice would be better served by calling on the P.A. to stop rejecting calls for a joint investigation and give Israel access to the bullet.”

But Tishby’s real tour de force came in the form of a Tik Tok video, which has gone viral on every social-media platform since its release on Wednesday.

“Here are some facts you may not know,” she begins, in the minute-and-a-half clip. “The International Federation of Journalists, the IFJ, conducted a report about the number of death cases of journalists in war zones between 1990 and 2020. According to the report, 2,658 journalists have been killed in that period of time. Three hundred forty were killed in Iraq, 178 in Mexico, 160 in the Philippines, 138 in Pakistan and 116 in India. Twelve of the cases were Al Jazeera journalists. Seven of them were killed in Syria, two in Iraq, one in Yemen, one in Libya and one case from last week.”

She goes on: “Each one of these deaths is horrific, but you can’t name the other 2,657 journalists. You can only name the one [who] was killed in clashes between Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli army. In any of the other deaths, we did not see such vitriol, hateful, horrific reactions and rhetoric as we’ve seen by the international community, social media, celebrities and the United Nations towards Israel.”

This, she concludes, “is what we call a double standard … and it’s purely rooted in sometimes subconscious anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish racism. So, please, just think about that for a minute, as well. Okay? And rest in peace, Shireen.”

Tishby’s splash on the scene brings to the fore the decades-old debate about Israel’s ostensibly poor hasbara (public diplomacy). Ironically, it’s the one issue on which even politically diverse pundits and politicians—other than those who agree with the Jewish state’s detractors–agree. The consensus throughout the years, particularly since the advent of social media, has been that Israel is losing the propaganda war to forces bent on its destruction.

These armies possess proverbial pens that are sometimes mightier than metaphorical swords, though they have the power to incite Israel’s enemies to mass murder. The many, varied and often top-notch efforts by pro-Israel organizations and individuals to rebut the onslaught of anti-Zionist lies haven’t excused successive coalitions from being charged with sleeping on the job where hasbara is concerned.

It’s an unfair claim. Those who argue that it’s the government’s job to tackle the problem have a fantasy that Jew-hatred can be conquered, or at least minimized, through an allocation of budgets for the endeavor and the hiring of the right people for the job.

Though the latter makes sense, the former is ridiculous. The most important thing that hasbara can do is sing to the choir. Indeed, Israel’s champions need ammunition to fling, intelligently and accurately, in the face of foes.

Tishby, thus far, is proving to be just the right purveyor of the message that needs to be voiced over the incessant and diabolical cacophony.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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