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Protest for Gilad Shalit
Photo: Yaron Brener
The Gilad Shalit brand
Shalit campaign helps many people, but it does not help Gilad
Gilad Shalit has not been a regular soldier for a while now. He was turned into a virtual brand. There is no other issue that can open news broadcasts and get such coverage. However, it is completely unclear whether this media noise serves Gilad Shalit himself.

 

Still, other people gain from it: Celebrities who need their name and photo to appear in the news frequently “volunteer” to appear in a PR campaign, seemingly “for Gilad’s sake,” but in practice in order to reinforce their own status. Only the most prominent celebrities are invited to take part in such high-profile campaign.

 

An opposition politician was advised by his PR consultants to reinforce his status as a “leader” – and ever since then he has been making statements about the need to show “leadership” on the Shalit issue. However, maybe real leaders need to be silent? And perhaps a real leader would take unpopular decisions? This politician can’t answer those questions.

 

The same is true for his colleagues: A minister who wants to see Marwan Barghouti released, links it to Shalit. Another minister who wishes to boost the fruit trade with Gaza presses for “Shalit’s release” in order to open the Gaza crossings.

 

The cynical use of Gilad is not limited to individuals who wish to promote themselves, their leadership, or a book they wrote through him. Every media outlet knows that Gilad is a wonderful way to boost readership or rating. A state like Egypt has been using Gilad Shalit for years now as a means for conducting the policy of the Rafah Crossing’s closure.

 

Mubarak really outdid himself by revealing the truth in the US when he stated: “Gilad Shalit is our prisoner.” The Egyptian leader discovered a PR trick: As long as he serves as a mediator and continues the “process,” he can maintain any policy he wishes vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip. As far as he’s concerned, Gilad can stay there forever and Gaza residents can stay imprisoned in the Strip. (Of course, in order to “let off some steam,” he opens the crossing “on a one-time basis” for two days every month.)

 

Invaluable asset for Hamas 

Elsewhere we have the “Women in Black” activists who believe that the road to peace requires the release of all 11,000 terrorists jailed in Israel, so they too “enlist for the cause” and set up a protest tent opposite the prime Minister’s Office (for Shalit’s sake; of course, everything is for Shalit’s sake.)

 

All these PR campaigns cost plenty of money, and there are people who donate the money. However, there is one group that doesn’t need to invest a penny. This group even received an offer from Qatar: Take $400 million and free Gilad Shalit. We are of course talking about Hamas, which rejected the offer.

 

For Hamas, Gilad Shalit is worth much more. The negotiations on his release are used by Hamas as a platform for a dual PR campaign: They tease Israelis using Gilad, and more importantly, just like the celebrities, use Shalit to reinforce their status – not only in Israel’s public arena, but also on the international stage. Thanks to Shalit, top Hamas figures come and go. Thanks to Shalit, Hamas leaders engage in contacts with leading global figures. There’s nothing more important than this to a terror group: Gilad keeps them in the headlines as a legitimate party for negotiations.

 

Will this PR effort help bring Gilad back? Apparently not. For Gilad it would probably be better to be anonymous. The body of the Ethiopian immigrant washed up on Lebanon’s shores was returned by Hezbollah in exchange for nothing, simply because there was no PR campaign. It’s an important lesson that has not yet been internalized around here.

 

Even Hamas’ prisoners in Israel’s jails buy into this PR campaign. A senior Hamas figure imprisoned in Israel published an open letter the other day, urging the Shalit campaign headquarters to “continue to press the Israeli government.” To his great surprise, the success of this PR campaign will not help him leave prison.

 

The campaign has been so successful that it has toughened Hamas’ position and it is no longer willing to compromise on the initial price it demanded in exchange for the kidnapped soldier. Under these circumstances, the ongoing campaign merely serves to reinforce the dead-end: The celebrities maintain their status, and Gilad Shalit remains in prison.

 

Avi Trengo is a journalist

 

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