The Israeli army’s assault in Gaza proves yet again that alongside the “real battle” taking place on the ground, another major battle rages on – the one for international public opinion, where Israel’s policy is presented vis-à-vis our rivals’ policy. In fact, everyone already knows that the real battle takes place on TV screens, in newspapers and on the Internet.
Israel’s public relations campaign is on the defensive. While Hamas’ regime in Gaza “enjoys” global and professional assistance in presenting its policy, we stand alone on the global media front.
Hamas’ professional assistance is manifested through Arab experts who reside in Western countries and are used as commentators on foreign media outlets when needed (interestingly, Israel academic experts who live abroad are often opposed to the Israeli government’s policy.) The campaign is also reinforced by Arab politicians who were educated in the West or lived there for a long time and speak fluent English. In addition, there are the foreign correspondents who view the battle as one pitting David (Hamas) against Goliath (Israel,) because on television it always appears as though one side is strong and the other is weak.
Meanwhile, Palestinian spokespeople who reside in the West and speak fluent English resort to “sweet talk” on global television stations.
And what does the Israeli arsenal include? What kind of forces do we have in the war for global public opinion? In order to convey messages in a convincing manner, several pre-conditions are required: Fluency, decent vocabulary, highly developed expression ability, and the ability to appear on television.
Our official spokespeople among members of the cabinet or the various government ministers are usually quite coherent, yet they are not fluent in English. As such, they come across as unpleasant, Levantine, and uncultured. The many spokespeople who are army officers are perhaps suitable for Israel’s public opinion, but not for global public opinion. Most of them have a rather mediocre ability to express themselves and are not fully familiar with the nuances of media appearances.
Meanwhile, our professional Foreign Ministry diplomats work hard, yet at times they too leave something to be desired in terms of expression ability and English fluency. We already mentioned Israeli academic experts abroad. So what are we left with?
We’re left with a limited number of PR professionals who are able to express themselves fluently and dignifiedly in English. We are also left with a negative balance of responses and appearances on global media outlets, because we do not have enough troops to send on a media war. We also have an inferiority complex with our image stemming from our history, yet in addition to that we possess numerous justifications that we have not yet used in this battle: Mothers and children who have lived in the shadow of rockets for years now, who could have been trained to appear in the English-speaking media. We have fluent businesswomen (females always elicit more empathy than men on TV) who can be enlisted for the cause. We also have female directors in the municipal government that can be trained to offer media responses.
The time has come to upgrade our abilities. We need to invest as much in the PR battle as we do in the battle on the ground, by sending all relevant parties to undergo orderly and intensive training that includes all the required components. Yet most urgently: Learn English!
Esti Appelbaum-Polani is a lecturer at the Communication School of the College of Management’s academic stream