Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Human Rights Narrative

Today, Lebanese PM Sa'ad Hariri condemned Israel's proposed loyalty oath as "racist" and said it would hurt chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

First of all, the least qualified state on Earth to lecture about antagonism between ethnic groups is Lebanon, a state which has fought multiple civil wars between different ethnic factions. Secondly, the statement has nothing to do with Israel, and instead is a move designed to undercut President Ahmedinejad's visit to Lebanon last week in which he attempted to project Iranian power in Lebanon by himself bashing Israel.

Yet few, if any, media outlets are likely to point any of this out. And it's not because of anti-Israel bias.

Rather, Arab states like Lebanon have grasped a critical PR concept which Israel has not. Arab states have successfully mastered the human rights narrative. By couching rhetoric in these terms, these states are successfully able to mount a verbal attack on Israel in a way that resonates not only with their target audience but the international community as well. Regardless of whether this is fair, it is the reality. And Israel must respond in kind by demonstrating an improved mastery of the human rights narrative. Israel's current rhetoric is that of "self-defense," a rhetoric which in the current era is seen as a cynical manipulation of facts regardless of who does it. To be more successful at fending off PR attacks, Israel should grasp the narrative of human rights, which will more successfully advance its policy goals in the international community.

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