In every Israeli living room conversation for dozens of years now, the familiar claim is made at some point: Our problem in the world is Hasbara, public relations. We don’t know how to do it and therefore “the whole world is against us.”
However, the problem does not have to do with disseminating our views or recruiting successful PR professionals. The issue is much more complex than that and can be sub-divided into two levels: The positions of foreign governments, and the views of world citizens.
As to the official positions of states and foreign governments, one of Israel’s most prominent friends in the 1960s, Charles De Gaulle, said that states have no friends – they only have interests.
Expecting us to seek justice in the jungle known as the international community is absurd at best and naïve at worst. States operate only in line with their national interests, and these interests cannot be changed via Hasbara.
The main difficulty Israel must contend with in the international theater is the fact that it is one state, facing 57 Muslim states that control 70% of the world’s natural energy sources and boast 1.3 billion citizens – a huge market share that has an immense and immediate effect on the global economy.
When it comes to international bodies, it means that any state that wishes to be elected for any forum such as the Security Council, UNESCO, the Human Rights Council and so on, first seeks the support of this 57-member bloc.
Hence, we will never hear condemnation of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia or a debate on the matter in the Human Rights Council in Geneva or in the national parliaments of advanced countries. No PR effort will change these facts, and for that reason, the global media will always report the latest UN condemnations of Israel and not against other countries.
The situation is different among global citizens or specific population groups. There, in addition to interests, there are also notions of justice and morality, which are of course affected by the images we see on television and in newspapers. Here we cannot complain about others, but we must first examine the priorities set by Israeli governments over many years in order to highlight the failure to grasp the importance of the media battlefield.
Words are not enough – we need to make Hasbara a budgetary priority. Upon assuming the post of foreign minister I discovered that the budget earmarked for Israeli PR in Europe’s 27 states – including large and significant ones like Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Spain – amounted to no more than NIS 6 million, roughly $1.5 million, which also includes the budget for our Independence Day celebrations…
A Hasbara battle in the face of such priorities is a lost cause, even when we have excellent embassies in the various capitals and the best people working there. They have to contend against more than 20 Arab embassies (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc.) that face no budgetary constraints and no moral, bureaucratic, or legal limitations; they are also not subjected to the obligation to hold tenders and other limits we assume upon ourselves.
To this we should add the brainwashing by the Arab media enlisted to the Arab cause; high-powered and high-budget media, which include the likes of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, come on top of the donations pouring from Saudi Arabia and other states to Western universities and various research institutions.
Then we have the demographic component: In France, for example, the Jews constitute only one percent of the population, while the Muslims make up 16% of it. In light of these figures, even the David-Goliath comparison does not accurately express the balance of power.
Hence, if we assume that in the modern era the real victories are not achieved on the battlefield, but rather, on the television screen, we must translate this to budgetary clauses. Just like the Air Force cannot win with outdated jets even if we have the best pilots, we need the budget earmarked for Hasbara to equal at least two F16 fighter jets in order to win the media battle.
We must take this into account as we approach the debates on our next two-year budget. Justice is on Israel’s side, and we would do well to be able to tell the world about it.