The reports about ppposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife's visit to London during the Second Lebanon War focused mainly on the cost of the visit – NIS 130,000 (about $37,000); but one aspect of the visit has been visibly absent from public debate – what was he doing there? One must ask not only who paid for the trip (The State of Israel Bonds, the Jewish community in the UK, the Israeli taxpayer – I haven't been able to figure it out yet); but what did the Israeli public gain from it.
The aforementioned war found me in the midst of researching the effectiveness of Israel's PR both locally and around the world. My colleagues and I looked at the PR efforts of all the relevant players, including the Israeli government, Lebanon, Hizbullah and its affiliates, European countries and the US, as well as the many entrepreneurs who lent their support to any of the above.
The Israeli public's trust laid – as hard as it may seem to believe – with Hizbullah's leader Hassan Nasrallah. Any Jewish mother wanting to find a reliable source of information regarding the location and situation of the troops, whether or not the IDF had crossed the Litani River, and had we indeed taken Bint Jbeil – looked for it in the enemy's appearances.
An array of syndromes led up to that disgraceful situation, which has yet to come to its end. The next war – a recent poll revealed – will see Israelis crave enemy broadcasts.
The screen time given to Israel by the international media – and there was quite a lot of it – was simply wasted. Someone in the Foreign Ministry insisted on sticking to treditional narratives depicting the Jews as victims; but the average American and European are exposed to dozens of victims a day – in Kosovo, in Tibet, in Iraq, and yes – in Israel too. Any kind of effective PR on Israel's part will have to incorporate Israel's actions with the major interests those in the UK, Belgium and Florida live and breathe.
Israeli PR did not try to link the fight against Hizbullah to the European efforts against the Islamic fundamentalism in Europe. Israeli shopaholics can tell you how mosques are popping up in every London and Manchester neighborhood, big or small, their Imams telling of the pending Islamization in Europe's future. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are more than aware of it – they have polls showing the dread of the phenomenon.
The Americans will be sympathetic to Israel's efforts to fight Hamas and Hizbullah only when they realize that they are just Iranian branches which see Israel as the "little devil"; it's destruction to be followed by the elimination of the "big devil" – the United States.
Faced with the Arab PR efforts during the Second Lebanon War, only a handful of pro-Israel PR efforts turned out to be effective; and although I've never really praised any political figure, I can point to Netanyahu as someone whose PR efforts, carried out of his London suite, were well worth every penny.
What ever sums of money the media quoted – whether paid for by the Israeli taxpayer or not – we got our money's worth.
Should we try and find out how much a leading international lobbying firm would have charged for what Netanyahu accomplished in the world media and the social and financial arenas at the time of the war, it would probably come to several million dollars. He made full use of whatever screen time he was given, he was able to reach the hearts of the Americans and Europeans and link Israel's interest to their gut-feelings, to their relevant fears and to the Islamo-demographic developments mounting across Europe.
I have no doubt he based his remarks on many studies dealing with Europe's political psychology. I can only hope someone in the Foreign Ministry will bother to have them translated into Hebrew.
Netanyahu has proven he can talk businessmen and banks into freezing Arab assets, and promoting a policy negating any dealings with organizations that support terror. He continues his efforts (which began in the 1980s) to push for an international media policy under which networks will avoid providing a stage for the heads of terror groups, thus hindering one of their main goals – reaching public awareness and the media agenda; and even if his efforts have not matured into policy, many of the world's leading TV editors have taken notice.
One of his most notable achievements at that time was his appearance on SKY news, in which he exposed a Hizbullah spokesman – perceived by many European networks as a celebrity, a popular freedom fighter and an eloquent speaker – for the terrorist that he was, unworthy of the screen time given to him (even the interviewer eventually had no choice but to agree with Netanyahu, who "made a valid point.")
I don't know why Netanyahu stayed in a hotel. He should have been given a proper office in the Israeli embassy in London, but petty disputes in the government would have probably hindered such a thing. It's a shame really. One would think that when in war, and if the Opposition is able to carry itself in a State-like manner, the foreign minister would be able to put a side the internal partisan disputes and ask him to become an official player in the PR game.
Netanyahu's financial conduct may have been flawed. The Israeli elite has long been asked to get closer to the people, to reassure them it recognizes thier hardships for being more than just statistics. I won't pretend to address any questions of ethics, proper administration (or lack thereof) or question pertaining to the politics of public or private funding, but I do know one thing: Even if the visit was funded by Israeli money, we still got off cheap.
Funding Netanyahu's stay in London yielded significant PR gains; and compared to the money needed to cover the costs of his London stay to what a leading European PR firm would have charged – we got a great deal.
Dr. Udi Lebel is a senior lecturer at the Sapir College and the Ariel University Center of Samaria