Haaretz brings words of an extraordinary development in the annals of official Israeli government hasbara efforts. Apparently not content with the efforts of official diplomats who work for him and are supposed to do his bidding, Avigdor Lieberman intends to create a covert hasbara effort, a privatized foreign ministry apparatus which it will pay for but which will avoid showing official government “fingerprints.” I call it “covert ops hasbara.”
This is one of those crackerjack ideas that emanates periodically from the minds of Yvet and his trusty capo di tuti Danny Ayalon: Israeli doesn’t have enough trouble as it is with its terrible policies and thankless job of defending them without creating a surreptitious propaganda effort to further undermine what little it can do on its own behalf? Here are the details:
The Foreign Ministry is planning to use front groups to transmit hasbara…in order to influence senior politicians, opinion shapers and journalists in Europe, ministry sources said. Tthe goal is to create a public diplomacy track parallel to the one used by the Foreign Ministry, whose message does not bear the “fingerprints” of the Israeli government, the source said.
Last Thursday dozens of Israeli embassies in Europe received an urgent telegram from Jerusalem, entitled, “Mapping of European personalities with influence.” The document asked all embassies and consulates to submit a list of people who are considered to be influential in their countries. The diplomats were surprised at the request for the individuals’ telephone numbers, mailing addresses and e-mail addresses.
“Please fill in the list of the names of the most influential people in the following fields,” the document read. “State leaders – president and/or prime minister and staff, parliament speaker, 10-15 prominent members of parliament, up to five heads of important nongovernment organizations, and up to 10 key journalists.”
…The telegram did not include an explanation for request. Initially, some ambassadors were concerned that the foreign minister’s bureau and the director general intended to “bypass” the embassies and forge direct contacts with important figures in the various countries.
“There was a sense that [the ministry] was trying to go over our heads,” said one ambassador stationed in a European capital. Other envoys were fearful that Jerusalem planned to enlist the services of private European lobbying firms that would shoulder some of the public relations responsibilities normally reserved for the embassies.
“For a while now there has been a feeling that [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman is dissatisfied with the diplomats, and there was speculation that he wants to privatize Israel’s hasbara [public relations efforts],” said one ambassador. Haaretz has learned…the ministry’s intent is to create a semi-official PR organ whose work will be directed by Jerusalem, but will be represented by front groups so that their messages do not bear the imprimatur of the government.
“When an Israeli ambassador speaks of Palestinian incitement or weapons smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah – the Europeans immediately cast doubt on it,” said a senior Israeli diplomat. “But if those same messages are delivered by someone who supposedly has no official ties to Israel, it is likely to be more effective.”
In addition, ministry sources say such a system will enable Israel to convey messages that it cannot issue officially for political and security reasons.
Actually, this is what this plan will really do (as opposed to what Yvet hopes it will do): it will taint anyone who speaks on behalf of Israel’s policies whether they’re on the payroll or not. It won’t matter what your pedigree, what your stature, what your professional expertise. If you back Israel you will almost automatically be suspect. And it will be a shame because some of us would like the illusion that there still may be a few honest souls out there who find something praiseworthy to say about Israeli policy and do so for no ulterior motive. That illusion will be shot to pieces.
It will also reinforce the notion that Israel is so desperate for good PR that it will pay for it. And that the efforts by its government to promote itself carry with them a whiff of payola and corruption.
The Israeli reader who referred me to this article made this heartbreaking comment:
My friend said today – the army is a terrorist organization and the foreign ministry is a mafia.
Those are dark times for Israelis such as myself and for whatever Israel could have been. It is even hard to say the last sentence like this: for whatever Israel could be.
When I read the penultimate sentence above it breaks my heart both for him and for Israel: “for whatever Israel could have been.” This is the death of a dream, for many Israelis like him it is the death of a homeland. It makes me so goddamn sad.
I’m reminded of Ian Lustick’s research on emigration in which he documents the effect that ongoing conflict has on the brain drain of Israeli professionals who refuse to allow their own children to be dragged into the eternal war that they’ve known virtually all their lives. For readers like him, what can there be for him in Israel once all his illusions are shattered? Yes, he has family and friends and that is a strong bond. But what happens when you view not just your current government as hopelessly corrupt and immoral, but any possible future government as well. What is left for you?