Sunday, April 15, 2012

Israel Goes 1 For 2 on Hasbara

Israel had one success and one failure today regarding its public image.  The mixed record indicates that the has come far, but also has a long way to go in order to present itself successfully in the international arena.

The success was in regards to a Youtube video showing IDF Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner thrusting the bottom of his M-16 rifle into the face of an activist in the West Bank.  The action was unprovoked by the activist and constitutes completely inappropriate behavior by a military officer.

The Israeli Government successfully understood the potential of this video to harm Israel's image (not to mention the professionalism of its military).  It acted quickly in responding to the events.  Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack hours later as having "no place in the Israeli Defense Forces and in the State of Israel."  IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also said that the incident would be thoroughly investigated.  He will likely follow through on this statement.

Of course, a video of a soldier viciously attacking a (notably Western-looking) civilian is not doing any favors for Israel's public image.  However, Israel has taken the first important steps for damage control, not to mention for the preservation of its liberal values, which are decidedly against such assaults.

On the other hand, Israel had mixed success with regards to the Flytilla - activists who planned to fly into Ben Gurion airport and make their way to Bethlehem.  Given that many of these activists were prevented from flying to Israel by their home countries, Israel's response is at least partially a success.  At the same time, Israel's response to protesters at the airport only serves to amplify their cause in the news space.  Arrests of protesters whose intent is peaceful speech tarnishes Israel's appearance.  In addition, the snarky letter that the government handed to protesters may be funny to some, but fell flat with the key audience Israel should have been targeting.  Many of the points the letter makes about worse human rights violations occurring in Syria and Gaza are true.  However, the letter itself looks arrogant, immature, and petty to those who believe that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is a serious matter.

The contrast between the two responses indicates that Israel is effective at hasbara under two conditions.  First, when it prioritizes values in the same way as the international community.  Second, when the government is willing to take action (such as an investigation) to demonstrate a credible commitment to these values.  Given these two conditions, Israel should design an improved hasbara strategy to 1) Frame its actions in terms of values which resonate in the international arena and look for points of agreement 2)  Integrate policy and kinetic actions into its hasbara strategy to signal a credible commitment to these values.

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