By David Isaac and Shmuel Katz z”l
Monday’s botched operation against the six-ship “aid” flotilla sent under Turkish auspices has become a public relations nightmare for Israel with the usual suspects coming together to condemn her for what one Associated Press headline terms a “bloody Israeli raid.”
The soldiers weren’t prepared for the violent greeting they received as they boarded one of the ships. Armed with paintball guns, they rappelled from the helicopter above to be greeted by “peace activists” on the deck, who beat them with metal bars, threw their commander to the deck below and fired on them. The Israeli commandos, slow on the uptake that these “peace activists” were nothing of the kind, yelled at one another not to shoot their sidearms – the only real weapons they had.
The Israeli commander, who was thrown down to the lower deck said from his hospital bed, “We thought we’d encounter passive resistance, perhaps verbal resistance – we didn’t expect this. Everyone wanted to kill us. We encountered terrorists who wanted to kill us and we did everything we could to prevent unnecessary injury.”
Israeli commandos sitting dazed on a deck spitting blood, not knowing what hit them, is a terrible image, but one that captures all too acutely the cluelessness of Israel’s leadership, and what Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick calls “a cognitive failure of our leaders to understand the nature of the war being waged against us.”
That war, as Shmuel Katz repeatedly pointed out, is an “incessant propaganda campaign being waged throughout the world against Israel… This propaganda is a powerful auxiliary to the aim of the physical elimination of Israel. It provides the infrastructure of justification in the mind of a brain-washed public for the launching of a future war to achieve that unchanging annihilatory purpose.”
The flotilla episode is further evidence, if such was needed, that Israel’s enemies have had the informational field of battle to themselves. Former Azure editor, David Hazony notes that the office of PA spokesman Saab Erekat had sent out a press release prepared well in advance, that activists on the boat were live streaming the event and even Tweeting on Twitter. The Israeli government was, Hazony observes, “wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos.”
How can we win the information war? Shmuel would urge nothing less than the creation of a Ministry of Information, one formidable enough – second only to the Department of Defense in size – to provide Israel the wherewithal to “cope with the gigantic challenge posed by the Arab and pro-Arab anti-Israel and anti-Semitic worldwide propaganda onslaught.”
Menachem Begin promised Shmuel that he would lead such a ministry. Though Begin reneged on that promise, Shmuel never stopped beating the drums for its necessity. “I had prepared a detailed plan for the structures and operation of such a ministry,” Shmuel wrote. “One of them predicated a high measure of cooperation, at predicated levels, with the Jewish organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere. Another element of the plan was its low cost despite its projected wide field of activity.”
Bloggers and columnists, like Caroline Glick, David Hazony and others, have focused on Israel’s informational failures in this latest debacle. Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora Affairs – a ministry without a meaningful budget and hardly the kind Shmuel envisioned – has called for an improvement of “hasbara” communications between Israel and Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
That the problem is being discussed is promising. Unfortunately, such calls for action have been going on for a long time. Yet, there has been no change in the situation. What Shmuel wrote in his article, “Countering Propaganda” (Sept. 26, 1984) proves that this is a decades-long failure.
SOON THEREAFTER came the war in Lebanon – accompanied by the horrendous campaign of lies and incitement waged against Israel by large sections of the Western media – most effectively on television. That campaign engendered a voluminous literature of refutation and protest against the media in the U.S.
The articles and pamphlets – and a video film demonstrating visually the distortion and mendacities in the coverage of the war by one of the television networks – undoubtedly did much to reassure those friends of Israel who had been shaken and confused during the war.
Most of this counteraction, however, was the fruit of independent initiative by concerned Americans, writers like Norman Podhoretz, Martin Peretz or Joshua Muravchik or (as in the case of the film) of a pro-Israel organization – Americans for a Safe Israel; and almost all of it naturally came only after the war was over.
Never were the inadequacies of Israel’s organs of response more rudely exposed then during the war in Lebanon. Never were the friends of Israel, confronted daily by the vicious fabrications of journalists “on the spot,” rendered so helpless by the absence of ammunition for instant rebuttal.
Last year, at the annual “Dialogue” in Jerusalem, organized by the American Jewish Congress, a heartrending vision of that helplessness emerged from the description given by A.J.C. president, Howard Squadron, who was willy-nilly compelled to point to the glaring shortcomings of Israel’s information services. His colleague, Carl Spielvogel (a leading public relations expert in the U.S.) propounded the inescapable conclusion:
“I would urge the creation of a cabinet post dedicated exclusively to the communication and interpretation of Israeli policy. The appropriate minister would have to be supported by a staff of Israeli professionals, trained in the contemporary skills of communication. It is no longer enough to be right. You must explain why you are right.
“Almost everyone accepts the need for war colleges. Would it not make sense to have a similar college in Israel dedicated to training public affairs specialists who would develop what-if strategies and scenarios for a wide range of contingencies?”
Mr. Spielvogel thus touched on the crux of the problem – the evident failure of successive Israeli governments to grasp the simple theme: that Israel is confronted in the West not just by hostile criticism but by a many-faceted propaganda-war machine with long-range objectives, operating at every level of society.
Shmuel’s words, with little change, could have been written today. The failure is one of leadership and with each passing year it becomes harder to undo the damage wrought by the Arabs’ successful propaganda war. But Shmuel, who was an optimist, would say that even at this late date the tide can be turned. We have allies, Jewish organizations, an army of volunteers who would rush to Israel’s defense if they had the guidance, and most importantly, we have the truth.