Halpern: The truth about Israel’s bad PR


I'm thinking

by Micah Halpern

Issue of June 25, 2010/ 13 Tammuz, 5770
The American Jewish community is deeply concerned about the way in which Israel was portrayed in the aftermath of the “humanitarian aid” flotilla. Concerned about the way in which media around the world portrayed Israel and concerned by what many members of the Jewish community consider to be Israel’s own poorly executed public relations campaign surrounding the attempt to enter Gaza by ship.

Once again, the age old question emerges: Why is Israeli PR so bad and why did Israel do such a horrible job of combating the virulent anti-Israel propaganda that is being presented in the print and broadcast media.

I have given a lot of thought to the question. And the conclusion I have come to is that, objectively speaking, Israeli PR was not that bad — it is world opinion of Israel that is so very, very bad. Of course there is always room for improvement, but even if Israel had done a perfect job of responding to the accusations, innuendo and outright fabrications — it would not have made a difference.

It would not have changed the way the world at large thinks of Israel.

It would not have changed the prejudices that the world at large has towards Israel.

It would not have changed the fact that in these troubled times for Israel, American attitudes echo those of the world at large.

It is important to respond because lies about Israel should always be corrected as part of the public record. And it is important to respond because it makes the Jewish community feel better by responding to the vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric than by remaining silent as the vitriol flows. The American Jewish community no longer believes as did Shylock in the Merchant of Venice that: “For suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.”

After watching, analyzing and even participating in the media coverage of the flotilla it has become apparent to me that no amount of PR could have, would have or will ever sway those who do not understand Israel, let alone those who hate Israel.

As is so often the case, license for anti-anything sentiment flows most smoothly from the top down, not up from the grass roots level. The move towards an anti-Israel bias has been growing slowly for the past several years. It has blossomed under the new administration.

The most dynamic and most essential variable in this new attitude towards Israel has been the attitude of the Obama White House and by extension, the official attitude of the United States. The sentiment has been there all along, the flotilla provided the opportunity for overt expression.

We are witness to an open and free flow critique of Israel that is unparalleled in recent memory — a critique has been advanced, given license and permitted free reign by the Administration. A new twist on ages old anti-Semitism has come into vogue. While it is still socially unacceptable to be an anti-Semite it is now acceptable — and even fashionable, to be anti-Israel.

Hatred of Jews had been banished from the halls of power in the United States for the past 25-30 years. The resurgence is nothing short of shocking. It finds itself in the guise of anti-Israel attitudes, not critique of Israeli policy. The result is a sentiment that rejects Israel’s very right to exist. The result is a political climate that allows for Helen Thomas to speak her mind, on tape, with no qualms or hesitation. While her thoughts could not have been new, her ability to speak them aloud with no self-edit function is directly connected to this new broad-based era of anti-Israel sentiment.

The new administration believes in leveling the playing field. And when the playing field is leveled, Jews become unfortunate victims and Israel becomes the big loser. No amount of PR can ever change that, only the administration can bring about that change.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Read his latest book THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report at www.micahhalpern.com.