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Israel’s Public Relations Problem

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

by
Joseph Puder

Bio

March 31, 2011 - 12:00 am

This September 2011, when the United Nations General Assembly meetings open in New York, the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, will receive overwhelming international support for recognition of a Palestinian state.  The Palestinians have galvanized worldwide support by strategically organizing a targeted public relations campaign.

Recognition of a 23rd Arab state will mark the greatest public relations failure the Israeli government has ever experienced. Israel has categorically failed to convey a simple message: a contiguous Palestinian state will, in no uncertain terms, become a terrorist state, destabilizing both Israel (with over 1 million Israeli Arabs) and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, where approximately 70% of its people are easily radicalized Palestinians.

Citizens of a separate Palestinian state, without any semblance of an economic infrastructure, any sea access (unless Gaza is incorporated), or any natural resources, would become like the Bedouin, whose livelihood has traditionally come from raiding neighboring tribes. Only, instead of tribes, “independent” Palestine would attack the neighboring states of Israel and Jordan.

The state of Israel has failed miserably in winning over the English-speaking world, as well as the French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russians, by ignoring the need for an essential media tool — a satellite television channel with an ability to broadcast worldwide news reports and interviews, similar to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, or the BBC. Even Hezbollah had the foresight to set up a satellite operation, Al-Manar, influencing viewers across Europe and the Middle East. Since Israel is not on the world communications map, it is neither on the geographic map. Israel has foolishly depended on outlets such as CNN and the BBC to bring its side of the story to English speaking households. Its image has been severely damaged as a result, leading to a worldwide willingness to participate in a concerted effort to delegitimize the state through a so-called “BDS” campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.

Israel controls much of the ground the Palestinians hope to have for their state, and while the IDF is more than capable of circumventing the operations of a Palestinian state, the international community would not permit that to happen. Unless Israel is prepared to be isolated politically and perhaps economically as well, a Palestinian state would possess full sovereign rights. That would mean that the two principal conditions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set in his Bar Ilan address in 2009 for supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel — recognition of the latter as a Jewish state and demilitarization of the former — would amount to a pipe dream.

All Palestinian leaders, including the current chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and (disputed) president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, have refused to state their recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. They have argued that doing so would undermine the lives of their Arab-Muslim brethren who reside in Israel, and that recognition would also prevent the “right of return” of Palestinian-Arabs to Israel — a sure way to undermine the Jewish nature of Israel. Not publicly mentioned is the fact that deals made with the “Zionist entity” could be the last deals Arab Muslims make. And, of course, statehood for the Palestinians, if recognized at the UN and sanctioned worldwide, would put the lives of more than 300,000 Israelis at great risk.

Palestinian leaders have been silent on the issue of demilitarization of the Palestinian state. Obviously, there are no demilitarized states, especially in the Middle East. (Netanyahu is fully aware of this, as is the Obama administration.)
Last week’s Israeli naval action served as a reminder of the fallacy of demilitarization. An Iranian civilian vessel laden with advanced weaponry was intercepted as it made its way from Iran through Syria and Turkey to Egypt. Its ultimate aim: Hamas-led Gaza. For each ship intercepted by Israel (and Egypt, which has aided in interception but may, in the future, become a supplier of weapons to Gaza and the Palestinian Authority), there is an Iranian shipment that gets through. And, should a Palestinian state become a reality, there would be no way for Israel to legally intercept shipments of weapons from neighboring states and beyond, arriving either by sea or by air.

An armed Palestinian state would be an unequivocal strategic threat to the state of Israel. It would threaten major Israeli population centers, its international airport (Ben Gurion), and its power stations — all of which are within range of artillery fire, not to mention the sophisticated missiles the new state would rush to acquire.

And so, it is tragically uncanny that a technologically sophisticated Israel has neglected to mount a robust public relations campaign through a worldwide satellite TV channel station. Such neglect represents gross negligence on the part of the successive Israeli governments. Israel has the facilities: TV studios, qualified broadcasters, and technical personnel who know how to create and operate a satellite TV. And Israel enjoys the money to bankroll such an operation. What it lacks is the will to take action. Israel’s well-being depends on arming itself with a global communications weapon like Al-Jazeera.

An Israeli, pro-Zionist, Al-Jazeera-like channel would help Israel overcome the biased reporting of European and most American channels, and would reach households in Europe as well as the U.S. with a clear and undiluted message as to the dangers a Palestinian state would pose to Israel, Jordan, and the region.

Utilizing satellite technology would allow Israel’s 7 million people to match the Arab/Muslim world propaganda, even with its vast resources and 350 million people. As Israel is being savaged and delegitimized in the media, on campus, and in international institutions, Israel must fight back — not with government press releases, speeches, conferences, or meetings with world leaders, but by bringing its message to ordinary citizens worldwide.

Joseph Puder, a freelance journalist, is the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI).
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