Ambassador Michael Oren
Photo: AP

Israel's US envoy: 'Gatekeepers' hindering PR efforts

Although he is an avid supporter of free speech, advancement of local film industry, Ambassador Michael Oren believes documentary in which Shin Bet officials slam Israel's West Bank policy hurting country's international image

WASHINGTON - Standing at the forefront of Israeli PR, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has felt in recent weeks that he is being undermined from within.


"The Gatekeepers" – former Shin Bet heads who were interviewed for an Oscar-nominated documentary – are the ones Oren believes are hindering the efforts made by Israel, which is "already in a war of sorts."


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Oren contemplated for a long time whether or not to make this claim publicly for fear that it will relay a message that he is trying to silence freedom of speech and democratic values of which he is so proud and the amazing cinematic advancement Israel has seen.


In his youth, the ambassador was an assistant to Orson Welles, so he appreciates a good film. However, Oren disclosed his thoughts on the subject to Ynet, and not just so that former officials would think twice before giving interviews such as those given by the six former Shin Bet directors.


Appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who himself said he does not intend to watch "The Gatekeepers," Oren is first and foremost an historian.


As such, he defines three historical stages to the Arab-Israeli conflict: Large-scale wars until 1973 and terror ever since. "The wars and terror were unsuccessful in subduing Israel and we are currently in the third stage. This is a massive, coordinated struggle to delegitimize Israel, which includes the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign)"


Scene from 'The Gatekeepers'


Israel's ambassador to the US says that "we are at the height of this stage. This is a struggle for our right to defend ourselves and our right to exist in a sovereign, Jewish state. The word 'hasbara' (PR), which doesn't translate into English, was intended to (present Israel in a good light). First you fight and then you explain. But today, 'hasbara' is a war of sorts – and we are on the defensive."


It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Americans support Israel. The latest polls indicate that support for Israel is the strongest it has been in 25 years.


However, there is a simultaneous, massive de-legitimization campaign, of which the White House is aware and of which Vice President Joe Biden spoke of in his speech at the annual AIPAC conference last week.


Oren is in charge of Israel's PR activities in the United States – alongside Israel's other consul generals the world over – and he bears witness to the worrisome changes ensuing on the margins.


"I have been following the subject for years. In 2006, I taught at Harvard and at that time, an article by two professors, Walt and Mearsheimer, entitled the 'Israel Lobby' was published. In the past, things like this were considered incitement in the US, as if the lobby for Israel buys congressional seats. Nowadays, this is being talked about freely.


"I hear talk as if Israeli society pretends to be liberal on issues like the treatment of the gay community so that it can legitimize the oppression of the Palestinians... That the United States is funding the Iron Dome in order to perpetuate the occupation. Some of the BDS-promoters' claims were taken from classic anti-Semitism. Behind everything good that a Jew does stands malicious intent."


The US ambassador added "we are at the pinnacle of this struggle and I am at its forefront. The other side is well aware of how to act and manipulate the media. We are currently working on a cover photo, from Operation Pillar of Defense, to be placed in a number of US newspapers, of a father mourning his child, who was supposedly killed by Israeli fire.


"This was the cover photo on half of the Washington Post's front page. The UN determined this week that the boy was killed by a Hamas rocket. What exactly can we do? No apology from the newspaper can erase the damage. No photograph of 500 rockets that landed on Israeli cities, but rather of a boy supposedly killed by Israeli fire."


התמונה ב"וושינגטון פוסט". לך תסביר

Can damage of photo be undone?  


The Israeli delegation was also forced recently to contend with two segments on CBS's acclaimed "60 Minutes". One dealt with the Iron Dome system, which according to journalist Bob Simon saves Israel from the need to advance the peace process, and the other blamed Israel for smuggling Christian Palestinians out of the country. "I go to Capitol Hill and a Christian congressman asks me about the segment; wanting to know if it is true that we deport Christians," Oren recounts.


Then came the film, "The Gatekeepers" and Oren suddenly felt that he is feeling the heat from home. "This is a good movie that presents a narrative of 45 years of occupation, but is completely devoid of information on Israel's peace plan offers – (Ehud) Barak's Camp David attempts, then (Ehud) Olmert, from the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the rocket fire on us. Whoever views the movie without knowing the background, can leave feeling that Israel is to blame and didn't do a thing," says Oren.


"The problem is that those interviewed are not Israeli citizens of a certain opinion, but rather former Shin Bet chiefs. One of them (Carmi Gilon) says that Israel causes daily suffering to millions of Palestinians. Then another former Shin Bet head (Avraham Shalom) compares Israel to Nazi Germany, not exactly, but kind of.


"And then I appear on a campus and a student gets up and says to me, 'you are speaking of your desire for peace, but your former FBI head is comparing you to a Nazi state. What are your comments on that?'"



פרסום ראשון: 03.17.13, 10:17
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