Israel can win the public diplomacy war

Dr. Norman Bailey

To stop winning battles and losing wars, Israel needs a professional, independent, public diplomacy agency.

The current Jerusalem conference on combatting anti-Semitism can be expected to generate a lot of talk and not much else. There is a general consensus in Israel that whereas the Israeli intelligence, defense and security establishments are excellent and fulfill their functions admirably both in normal times and in times of emergency, Israeli public diplomacy (hasbara in Hebrew) is woefully inadequate and fecklessly inept. Thus balancing and negating every operational success is a perceptional defeat, and the end result is that Israel is more and more misunderstood, denigrated and reviled, especially in Europe and the United States.

Perception matters. If reality and perception collide, perception will prevail in the psyche of the beholder and will guide his or her actions with reference to the situation observed. Such actions can and do render strategies and tactics on the part of the acting agent involved less effective than they would otherwise be.

To counter this effect, a permanent and extensive program of public diplomacy must be organized, staffed, and adequately funded. It must be housed in an independent agency and staffed by professionals in the field of public relations. It must have the means to use all the elements of modern communication and information technologies, and it must be authorized to contract for those services that it cannot perform for itself.

There is an excellent example available. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was founded to counter pervasive Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, not by counter-propaganda, but by making available to the inhabitants of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries the truth. It did so very effectively through a wide variety of activities such as libraries, programs and conferences throughout the world, but particularly through tis radio networks, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

After the collapse of the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself, numerous testimonials were diffused about how much the radio broadcasts meant to the people trapped behind the iron curtain. Then in the mindless euphoria of the immediate post-Cold War era, the USIA was folded into the State Department and disappeared without a trace, proving just how important was the way it had originally been established: independent and professional.

To make sure that it wins the war along with the battles against the forces of barbarism in the Middle East and anti-Semitism in Europe and the US, Israel needs to establish just such an independent agency. For years, the Palestinian Authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (mostly provided by the taxpayers of Europe and the US) in the hiring of public relations firms, and their success is manifest. Even the disgusting butchers of the Islamic State do better in the public relations field than Israel, or for that matter, the US.

Private hasbara organizations both inside and outside Israel do their best to counteract the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigns, but they are outgunned and out-spent. Diplomats are simply no good at public relations, generally because that is not what they are trained for (with a few splendid exceptions, such as Ron Prosor at the UN). Politicians are simply not credible. As you would not hire a dentist to design your house or an architect to fix your teeth, if you wish to have a successful public diplomacy campaign you must hire the specialists and make sure they are exempt from political pressure.

"He who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," Voltaire wrote. The remedy, while dealing with the atrocities, is simultaneously to counter and expose the absurdities that underlie them. Knesset take note.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on May 14, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

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