Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Israel wants tourists to do PR

For a while now, El Al airplanes have had little stickers affixed to the fuselage just to the right of the cabin door: "Represent us well," it says in Hebrew (or something like that), a little reminder to Israelis traveling abroad not to make asses of themselves.

A similar principle is at work in the news that Israel's Ministry for Public Diplomacy is launching a campaign to recruit Israeli tourists to be state propagandists. Depending on your view, it's either a stroke of genius or a desperate attempt by a country that has seemingly thrown everything at the wall in an effort to resuscitate its flagging international image.

From the Jerusalem Post:

In a campaign initiated by Yuli Edelstein’s Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora, Israelis will be invited to learn how to present a positive message to the world from pocket pamphlets that will be distributed at Ben-Gurion Airport, the new Web site, masbirim.gov.il, and from training workshops across the country.

Varied groups will be invited to attend the workshops, including politicians, diplomats, retired generals, businessmen, tour guides, celebrities, athletes, youth group delegations and ordinary Israelis.

“In light of Israel’s negative image in the world, we realized that Israel had to counter the vast sums of money available to Arab countries for propaganda by taking advantage of our human resources,” Edelstein said. “We decided to give Israelis who go abroad tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people, media appearances and lectures before wide audiences. I hope we succeed together in changing the picture and proving to the world that there is a different Israel.”

Edelstein called the initiative Tsva Hasbara LeYisrael, the Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces, based on the Hebrew name of the IDF.

Six months of planning went into the campaign to utilize the more than three million Israelis who go abroad every year.

Even if you think this effort is a smart move, Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans For Peace Now, says the strategy is being carried out atrociously.

Unfortunately, what the Ministry of Information offers its amateur ambassadors in the way of explaining Israel's complex challenges is appalling. It's a collection of half-truths (if not worse), which in most cases do not address the real, piercing questions that Israeli strategists have to deal with.

Astonishingly, there is nothing about a two-state solution. Israel's goal, in terms of its relations with the Palestinians, is depicted as "coexistence," yes, coexistence of Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

There isn't even recognition that the West Bank is occupied. The discourse in Israel about the West Bank is depicted as evolving around Judea and Samaria's "strategic value and the question of its being vital to Israel's security." C'mon!

Settlements? They are not the question, according to the Hasbara Ministry, and, anyway, Judea and Samaria are the land of the Bible; Jews were there first. So asserts the web site.

How about Israel's future as a democratic state if the occupation of the West Bank continues? The Israeli hasbara volunteer is advised to argue that the demographic balance is actually a myth because the current numbers of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians - as well as the forecasts - are inflated. Seriously!

The Palestinian's right for independence and statehood? The site advises the hasbara ambassador to argue that first the Palestinians have to stop inciting to violence against Israel. Then we'll see about peace.

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