The War of Perceptions

Considering how many Jews are involved in public relations and marketing, you’d think Israel would be getting better advice on how to present itself to the world. Time and again, the Israelis play into the hands of any provocateur or terrorist or rogue nation that tosses a live or verbal grenade their way.

Whether it’s their withdrawal from Gaza, counterattack against missile launching Palestinians, erection of a security fence that has been remarkably effective in preventing terror attacks…Israel never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for favorable world opinion.

I understand their problem. They believe they are right. Because they believe they are right, they don’t worry about the PR.

That’s why they’re invariably a day or two or ten behind the opposition, scrambling to explain with words or overdue video the charges leveled by the other side. The latest example was the Israeli intercession with the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza, in which I read all kinds of reports about Israeli aggression long before I saw the video of so-called passengers beating the boarding IDF troops with clubs, chairs, poles…pretty much everything…and throwing at least one overboard.

Leon Klinghoffer, part two.

Aid comes in to Gaza every day, so the flotilla of ships could have delivered their supplies easily and legally through Israel. The point, though, was not to deliver aid, but to create a publicity event that would cast Israel in a bad light.

Ever the accommodating hosts, the Israelis complied.

IDF troops rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara with limited arms—actually a good thing, as they were quickly overpowered in many cases—and scant backup support. Troops were dropped into the middle of the crowd on the deck, which seems to this non-military strategist to be a slight miscalculation.

Worse, they didn’t stream it live from multiple angles. Instead of showing the organized enforcement of a blockade, the Israelis allowed the story to be rewritten by their opponents.

This is always the challenge when a democratic country is in conflict with less open neighbors. Arabs in Israel can voice their dissent, serve in the Knesset and broadcast their views. Journalists in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be tough on the Israeli government without fear of retribution by the government or armed militias.

When IDF troops act inappropriately, the Israelis investigate and punish them. It’s never enough punishment, or fast enough, for some critics, but it’s difficult to find an example of, say, Hamas investigating and punishing….oh, sorry, they’re all freedom fighters and deserving of honor on that side of the conflict.

But for Jews in Gaza…wait, are there any Jews in Gaza?

Never mind. The point is that this isn’t a war of right and wrong, of good and evil. And it’s only a war of weaponry in a very small respect.

In truth, it’s a battle for support and sympathy, a battle in which the stronger party is always presumed to be at fault and suffering, even if self-inflicted and self-perpetuated, draws sympathy.

Isarel is behind in this battle and it’s all too easy to concede, but this is the war Israel must be fighting. Frankly, the government is far, far behind on almost every front. Here’s one bit of simple advice to help them catch up: assume there is going to be video of anything you do, so bring your own camera crew and broadcast live to the world.

Be the first with the story, including a web stream, instead of showing up hours or days later with evidence that refutes earlier accusations. This isn’t a legal proceeding, where each side takes its turn. In the world of opinion, the first person to speak sets the agenda.

Mark Twain said a rumor can get half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on, and we see the accuracy of this insight in Israel’s attention to its own reputation.

It’s time Israel’s government recognized the simple truth about this battle for hearts and minds and lives. It’s not enough to believe you are in the right. It’s far more important to be recognized as right.

PR 101. It’s not an elective for Israel.

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2 Responses to The War of Perceptions

  1. Barry R Wallach says:

    Spot on. Excellent analysis

  2. I read a few Israeli Blogs, Michale, and most seem to share your sentiment. It’s almost as if Netanyahu and the rest of the leadership have resigned themselves to being the bad guys in the public eye, since they can’t do right by most of the world no matter what they do.

    I suppose, given that set of circumstances, it would be tempting to stop handling everything with kid gloves. But as you aptly illustrated, I don’t think they can give in to the weariness.

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