Israeli PR: Glick, Darshan-Leitner, Ronen & Liebler Sound Off
by Hillel Fendel
“Well, was that a good panel, or what?!” So concluded moderator Caroline Glick, at the end of the Jerusalem Conference session dealing with Israel’s efforts – or lack thereof, according to the speakers – at explaining and defending its policies abroad.
Glick, a columnist and editor at the Jerusalem Post, began by explaining that there are three chief elements to any country’s hasbara (public relations) efforts: The desire to explain, the specific objectives and strategies of the hasbara campaign, and the style in which the hasbara is delivered.
Ever since Oslo, she said, “when we recognized the PLO and accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state as our goal, our hasbara efforts have basically collapsed – for we have given the other side veto rights over everything we do.” Glick said that given these opening conditions, everything Israel does that appears to impede the formation of a Palestinian state appears to be our own fault. “We are essentially saying that our goal is to advance the interests of our enemies.”
As an example, she discussed the famous case of the video clip of 12-year-old Muhammed Al-Dura, broadcast around the world by France-2 television. France-2′s narration and selected clips led the entire world to believe that the IDF was responsible for killing an innocent boy as his father tried desperately to protect him.
Why did Israel not defend herself? Why did a top IDF general immediately accept responsibility for the boy’s death? Why did Israel not take a more offensive posture against this onslaught? “Because of Oslo!,” Glick answered. “It was because Ehud Barak was in the middle of trying to conclude a deal over the Temple Mount with Arafat – so how could he come out against the PLO? How could he blacken the name of those to whom he wanted to give away Gaza?”
“And so,” Glick concluded, “when we hear of learned discussions about our hasbara policies, we just have to ask ourselves if these are at all relevant. Do we really want hasbara altogether? The answer appears to be: No.”
She then introduced the panel’s speakers: Tzafrir Ronen, chairman of the secular nationalist Nahalal Forum; Isi Liebler, Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ Diaspora-Israel relations committee; Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder and director of the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center; Kiryat Arba ideologue and former MK Atty. Elyakim HaEtzni; and leading British columnist and commentator Melanie Phillips.
Darshan-Leitner provided additional enlightening details about the Al-Dura case before proceeding to analyze the problem more broadly: “Way at the beginning of the intifada [Oslo War], there was a battle at the Netzarim junction [in Jewish Gaza]. Many photographers were there, including a Palestinian one who decided that this was a good opportunity to stage events and scenes against Israel and the IDF. He took Arab children and put them on ambulances, and showed the ambulances evacuating lots of ‘injured’ children, and the like… He also staged the incident of Muhammed al-Dura. Everyone saw the boy with his father, but no one saw him get shot, or any blood…
“The pictures were offered to CNN, but CNN suspected something and did not take the pictures. But Charles Enderlin, France-2′s Israel correspondent, saw that he had a treasure in his hand – and without checking, and without having been there, he took the pictures, trusted the Palestinian photographer, and disseminated the clip with his three-sentence narration: ‘Look at what is happening to the boy… Look how the IDF is shooting at the boy… Here I see the boy already now dying in his father’s arms. Here, he is hit! He is hit! The boy is dead.’ We don’t see the boy get hit or die; we only hear the correspondent, who wasn’t there, say that he was dead.”
Darshan-Leitner said that once the IDF took responsibility for the incident, before even investigating it, “there was nothing Israel could do afterwards to dispel the impression that had been broadcast all around the world that Israel was guilty. Even when IDF Southern Command O.C. General Yom-Tov Samiyeh later carried out an investigation showing that the boy could not possibly have died from IDF fire, based on angles of fire and the like, it was ‘too little, too late.’”
She said that about a year ago, she asked Danny Seaman, the Director of Israel’s Government Press Office, to revoke the press credentials of Enderlin and the Gaza photographer: “We said that those who fabricated an event of this type should no longer have the right to work as journalists in Israel. Danny Seaman took nine full months, and finally came back with this answer that we were right, that Enderlin apparently did fabricate the item, and that there truly was a blood libel against Israel and the IDF, and that all the studies – by the IDF, and by Landes, and by American researchers, and by the Wall Street Journal – all showed that this was fabricated. But, he said, this is a public legal struggle, and it’s not in my hands, and I can’t take away Charles Enderlin’s press credentials. And so, even today, seven years later, the State of Israel refuses to come straight out and say that this was a fabricated lie… We appealed to the Supreme Court, and a session is to be held in the coming days, but the State of Israel remains steadfast.”
“And the question is, Why? Is this a failure in hasbara? The answer is that it is not a hasbara failure, because there is no hasbara. Rather, it’s because the government always wants to show that it is ethical and to show that it takes responsibility for everything that happens in its borders – even without checking… The same thing with the cluster bombs we used in southern Lebanon during the last war; immediately afterwards, the IDF came on its own and took responsibility for it, as if it were guilty of something – even though cluster bombs are permitted according to international law! And the Winograd Commission [that investigated the war] found, of all things it could have found about the IDF, that the IDF had committed a crime by dropping these bombs…
“And this phenomenon is also in the Supreme Court, which has issued many long, detailed, scholarly rulings on the partition fence showing how it wants to be fair to the Palestinians and not hurt their rights – and then in the end, when this issue reached the International Court in the Hague, the court told us, ‘Very nice, but we’re not really interested in your opinions on Palestinian rights. We will determine what is right and ethical, not you’ – such that all the efforts of our Supreme Court justices had been in vain.”
The conclusion must be, Darshan-Leitner asserted, that “the State of Israel need not strive to appear ethical, but rather work to secure the safety of its citizens. It must set a policy, stick to it, and ensure that there is security. Forget about our honor; maintain national security, and then the honor will come of its own accord.”
Tzafrir Ronen began with a fiery speech accusing the promoters of the Oslo process of trying to erase the Jewish People’s identity and identification with the Land:
“Our country will fall not in battle, but in a print shop – where maps will be printed with the word Palestine instead of Israel!… The Romans, when they captured our country, simply renamed it – and that signified our total defeat… ‘Israel’ belongs to us – but not Palestine – and when we use that term, we are saying that the land is not ours! … If, during our long years in Exile, a rabbi had gotten up and said he no longer needs the Land of Israel, he would not have remained the rabbi for another minute! But now, we have a government that has been saying for 40 years that they are just ‘waiting for a phone call’ – from Hussein, or from Arafat, or whomever – to give away parts of our land… Even Bibi [Netanyahu], who is famous for saying, ‘If they give, they will get’ – what he means is that if they give us a little quiet, they will receive our land! … We returned to our Land, built up a State – and lost our identity!”
Ronen concluded that the “true war being waged today is not for peace, but to cause us to lose our identity. That’s why Barak doesn’t want to allow the Jews of Hevron to put windows on their new property – because he wants to erase our connection with the Land… I once was interviewed by a CNN reporter who asked me, ‘So when will you end your occupation?’ I said to him, ‘Before you ask such a question, first open up a Bible and then come back to me.’ He put down the camera and said, ‘More power to you, that’s the way people should talk about their land.’”
Isi Liebler said he wanted to take a less fiery and offensive approach, and in fact provided a historical overview of the deterioration of Israeli information campaign efforts:
“We always were seen, and took pride in being, the People of the Book… We always promoted our case with passionate, moral justification. Zionist leaders recognized the ‘war of ideas’ as a critical front, with books, articles, debates – and we never had any doubt as to the justice of our cause. Foreign Ministry personnel felt that their main goal was to articulate Israel’s case; there was certainly no issue of doling out Foreign Ministry jobs as political favors, or based on seniority…
“In 1967, things changed. I wrote at the time that it must be remembered that the world was not used to seeing us as victors rather than victims, and we must redouble our information efforts, or else its sympathies would soon turn to antagonism… Unfortunately, the Sabras [the new born-in-Israel generation] made light of hasbara efforts, and felt that military strength was all we needed. Only Bibi [Netanyahu], who spent some time in the U.S., saw it differently… But the real change came with Oslo , when the government became obsessed with portraying Arafat as our peace partner, and Israeli diplomats began babbling about two states for two peoples….”
“I remember seeing a debate between MK Melchior of Labor and Saeb Erekat of the PLO. Erekat lied a lot, and instead of Melchior contesting his points and setting the record straight, he said he agreed with some of the things Erekat said but that now was the time to move forward… I saw this as a turning point in Israel’s campaign of apologetics and refusal to fight their lies… Rabin, as Prime Minister, with the help of Yossi Beilin, purged the Foreign Ministry of ambassadors who promoted the Israeli narrative, and brought in new people who saw their job as promoting the peace process…
“And the final straw came with the appearance of the Haaretz English edition on the internet, on which articles were published throughout the whole world that prior to that would have been considered downright anti-Semitic. Thus, instead of Israel’s case being trumpeted to the world, radical and post-Zionist articles from Haaretz were cited by Israeli ambassadors around the globe. Its editor even boasted that he would suppress news that would harm the peace process, and made other comments… The world became convinced that Israel was born in sin… I remember discussing, at different times, hasbara efforts with three different Prime Ministers – Rabin, Barak and Sharon, and I remember their physical reaction of rolling their eyes. They just didn’t get it…
“Next was that there was no coherency: Every minister began saying his own thing, without any coordination among them – while the Arabs were making their case in a professional and effective manner. But our biggest failure of all was in not showing the murderous nature of our enemies – how the suicide bombers’ mothers took such pride in them, their kindergartens that educate towards killing Jews, and how they named their streets and football teams after the murderers, and the like… Then Sharon started talking about occupation – and then came Olmert at Annapolis taking up the enemy’s position and speaking about the Arab right of return… In short, what we need is a new government, because they’re leading this campaign. Replacing our government is more important than theoretical discussions about hasbara.”