By Pascal Boniface
Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs has summoned his country's ambassadors in European countries and given them clear instructions to make use of public relations experts to improve the image of the Zionist state in European public opinion. The minister identified specific tasks for the diplomats to complete by 16 June at the latest. One of those tasks is to draw up a list of 1,000 people who are sympathetic to Israel from the major European capitals such as London, Berlin, Madrid and Paris, as well as other cities such as Oslo, Copenhagen and The Hague. The purpose is to be in constant contact with these people and inform them of the Israeli positions on issues of the day, and explain its point of view.
This is a public relations campaign intended to defend Israeli policy and exploit media outlets and other platforms for this purpose. Presumably, those who the minister describes as "allies" on the list of 1,000 in every European capital would take part in pro-Israel demonstrations whenever required. They would also be required to issue statements defending Israel's policies, publish articles in local newspapers to polish its image and influence public opinion. And, of course, Israel has allocated a significant budget for this campaign, which would be placed under the control of its embassies in the European countries concerned. It could well double the budget allocated for each embassy.
Among those who will be recruited for a mission to defend Israel are journalists and Jewish organizations active in Europe, in addition to some Jewish figures known for their support of Israel. Prominent cultural figures and student organizations will also be recruited; Israeli diplomats will forge special relationships and provide up to date information, regardless of its validity, accuracy or veracity.
In this context, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which launched this media campaign, will play a vital role in providing support for the efforts of its embassies by, for example, leaking political letters about Israel's Middle East policies, its position on the regional peace process and its relationship to the issues raised on the ground; as well, of course, on the nature of its relationship with the Palestinians. It is expected that Israel will ease its rhetoric concerning the settlements as well as its other provocative behaviour in order to show how committed it is to achieving peace.
But Israel, away from the familiar issues that it will find difficult to gloss over and given what is published by the serious media about its excesses – which it cannot hide – will focus the PR campaign on other matters to make its mark on public opinion. For example, it will highlight economic issues and its distinguished record in this area. It will also feature Israel's technological progress in addition to a definition of the Jewish state as a tourist destination with many sacred places which Christians long to visit. It will cover up the occupation, violence, land confiscation and home demolitions as they reflect Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. At the same time the Israeli embassies will try through their loyal networks to raise controversial issues pertaining to other Middle Eastern countries, such as the question of human rights in Arab states. It will also seek to scare the West about Islamic groups and "Hezbollah" in order to distract attention from its own human rights and international law violations.
It remains to be seen who will be among the 1,000 recruits in each country; no doubt the Israeli embassies will do everything to conceal their identity. Notwithstanding this, a significant number of these public figures will not hide their clear support for Israel, through articles or their frequent appearance on TV news. Others will adopt a more cautious approach and conceal their identities so that it does not damage their interests in Arab states or the Muslim and Arab communities across Europe.
It should be noted that Israel's attempt to boost its image comes after it has suffered a significant decline in European sympathy. Europeans are now more willing to be critical of the state without fear of the readymade charge reserved for its critics – anti-Semitism. It will be interesting to see the extent, if any, of the proposed PR campaign, especially as there is no guaranteed outcome. The experience of others might be useful as an indicator. Using its huge influence and presence, France, for example, tried to boost its image during the Algerian war of independence. Despite all attempts to entrench the official version of events, many sectors of the French people were sympathetic to the Algerian liberation movement. In the end, France was forced to review its position in Algeria and relinquish what it had long regarded as an integral part of its territory.
Israel has harnessed huge resources for its information campaign which, nevertheless, lacks credibility; in the internet world it is no longer easy to hide the truth. Globalization and the flow of information have opened up everything. In fact the sympathy that Israel enjoyed in the past when it was seen as a small country in a sea of hostile nations seeking its elimination has dissipated today; such a view is now limited to small right-wing groups and conservatives following Israel's transformation into a major nuclear-armed power in the region. The ongoing military occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip have added to this shift in perception.
World and European public opinion is today especially troubled by Israeli actions in recent years, from the 2006 war against Lebanon and the targeting of its civilian infrastructure; the terrible bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008/9; and, last but not least, its bloody attack on the "Freedom Flotilla", when nine unarmed men were killed by Israeli commandos. It is obvious, therefore, that if Israel is serious about improving its image, it should look to the origin of its problems and change its policies, bringing about an end to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and settlement activity. That is the only way for Israel to return to the fold of the international community as a normal state that does not subjugate the Palestinian people or occupy their land.
Source: Al Ittihad, (UAE) 21 December 2010
The author is Director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, France.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.