Communication and Public Policy

Implications for Israel's Public Relations

By Bernard J. Shapiro

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 4, 1993. I feel that its message is critical to the success of the new Netanyahu government.]

Virtually every news commentator compares Israel's temporary removal of 400 terrorists to Lebanon with the heinous crimes of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The United Nations is being asked not to have a double standard for Iraq and Israel. In fact, the Palestine Liberation Organization, having been recognized as the world's highest moral arbiter, has been asked by the United Nation's Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to draft a resolution condemning Israel and calling for sanctions. Something is obviously wrong with this picture. It is time for Israelis and their supporters to recognize that Israel has a public relations problem.

The actions Israel took to defend its security were quite moderate by Middle East standards. Its ability to explain what and why it took such action was inadequate. Along with most of the pro-Israel community, I'm a frequent critic of Israeli information policies. I had a pleasant lunch last week with an Israeli official and we discussed this very issue. As a result of our conversation, I am convinced that the Israeli government is doing everything in its power to communicate its message to the media, political leaders, and general public. Its just not working.

What is needed is a whole new approach to Israeli public relations. Let's call it: THE MARKETING OF ISRAEL, and look at the problem from an advertizing perspective. About nine months ago, I discussed with an executive of a major advertising company the possibility of producing television spots supporting Israel's positions on various political issues. I became discouraged upon learning that the major stations do not permit "advocacy" commercials. And then Yitzhak Rabin was elected in Israel's national elections and there was a major turn for the better in Israel's image.

I think it is time to take a second look at my concept but expand it to include radio, magazines, cable television (cable will accept this type of commercial) and newspapers. The ads should range from the very soft evocative travel type to some hard hitting but subtle political messages. Pretend that Israel is a corporation with a vast market in the United States. Receipts from that market top $6 Billion Dollars ( including US economic and military aid, UJA, Israel Bonds, JNF, plus all the other campaigns from Yeshivas to the Technion). What would you spend to protect a market of that magnitude? One half of one percent would equal $30 million. You can run for president with thirty million dollars. In a wild fantasy, lets say we have that much money. And let's say we hire a talented creative ad man to develop a multi-faceted, multi-media, and multi-year campaign to win the hearts and minds of the American people.

This should not be an impossible task. Israel is a good product, lots of virtues, few vices. (Can you imagine convincing the American people to love Saddam?) We could do nothing, but the consequences are not so good. Public opinion polls are beginning to show the Arabs winning more and more sympathy. Yes, Arabs who keep their women in bondage; Palestinians who disembowel pregnant teachers in front of their classes; Syrians who peddle narcotics to American inner city youth and commit mass murder if provoked; Saudis who threaten to behead a man for practicing Christianity; all of these and more are almost as popular as Israel. The Arabs are good at smearing the good name of Israel. Just listen to Hanan Ashrawi some time. No matter what the question, she manages to fit in a lie about Israel in her answer. Israel has already lost the college campus, half of the Afro-Americans, a good portion of the Protestants except for the Baptists and the Evangelicals and some in the Jewish community.

The Israel government needs to realize that we are living in a new world where telecommunications brings us closer that ever before to each other. In the fifties when Israel was criticized, Ben Gurion used to say, "Its not what the world thinks, but what the Jews do that is important." It is a different world now and for every Israeli policy, the public relations aspect must be examined. I am definitely not calling on Israel to submit to public opinion but instead to organize and mold it for their benefit. I don't want Israel immobilized by fear of bad public relations. I want Israel to plan, with the help of experts, a strategy to counteract the negative effects of any public policy move. Would Rabin send his soldiers into battle without a detailed plan and strategy to win. The time has come for Israel to develop a strategy the win the public relations battle. The Jewish community in this country is more than willing to lend its money and advertizing talent to aid in this task. Let's do it! (Are you listening Bibi?)

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