Ori Nir has a delightfully ironic column about Israel’s new Hasbara Ministry, yes an entire ministry devoted to Israeli propaganda. In other countries this might be called the Information Ministry, but this being Israel–let’s call a spade a spade, it’s propaganda. And guess who the new minister is? Yuli Edelstein, a settler. It figures. Why not appoint the most controversial and objectionable type of Israeli to sell Israel’s most objectionable and controversial policies abroad? And Israelis wonder why their hasbara falls flat…
Yuli did some polling and he decided, surprise, Israel has a problem:
Israel’s Ministry of Information (yes, there is such a thing – for the first time it is a full-fledged cabinet portfolio) recently commissioned a public opinion survey among Israeli Jews (yes, Jews only). Ninety-one percent, according to the poll, said that Israel has a “severe” or “very severe” image problem overseas. Eighty percent said that Israel is perceived as an “aggressive country” and 30 percent said that Israel is perceived as an “unfriendly country.”
How to solve it? Well, Israelis are famous travelers and can be found in virtually every country in the world. So why not draft them?
Edelstein told the Israeli news site Ynet last month what his solution is to Israel’s severe “explanation” crisis. “I intend to draft the millions of Israeli citizens travelling abroad to take an active part in the Israeli hasbara apparatus,” Edelstein said. He figured that over 4.2 million Israelis travel overseas annually. Soon, he said, his ministry will launch a campaign to instruct Israeli travelers how they can do the job. He’s even planning to dedicate a special website to that purpose (by the way, Israel’s Hasbara Ministry does not currently have a website).
Nir then points out that one of Maariv’s most right-wing columnists, Ben Dror Yemini (ironically, meaning “right-handed”) even he concedes Israel has a REAL (as opposed to hasbara) problem:
“It is not the Hasbara.” Here’s how it starts: “We are deluding ourselves (by believing) that it’s about hasbara; That if only we told the world how wonderful we are, everything would have been rosy for us. As one who deals a lot with the industry of anti-Israel lies, it’s hard to accuse me of not understanding the importance of Hasbara. It’s important. But let’s not exaggerate. Not everyone out there is anti-Semitic. Some love Israel. And they, even they, cannot understand us.”
Yemini goes on to point out that Israel has rebuffed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s peace overtures, Israel is consistently dismissing the Arab League’s peace initiative, and is utterly dismissing the possibility that Hamas could transform into a legitimate interlocutor. “The Image is that the Arabs are offering peace and Israel is turning its back,” he wrote, “It can be different. It is okay to say yes. The Arabs understand it. We forgot.”
Where I part company with Nir is the praise he offers to Israel’s hasbara apparatus as represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I find nothing useful or praiseworthy in their enterprise. It is devious, and employs false pretenses, and underhanded practices in order to support an opaque agenda especially on matters like Iran. And often it is but one-step (or less) removed from Israel’s intelligence services.