I hate hasbara.
Perhaps the problem is in the translation, but it just sounds so defensive. As if, somehow, the anti-Israel agenda simply needs to be explained away and everything will be groovy. Or perhaps worse, there is no point because “they” will always hate us, so this is an exercise that we must simply go through. Some sort of verbal kabuki for domestic consumption. But it is neither that simple nor that hopeless.
So I’m not sure what the right word for Israel’s PR should be, but I don’t think hasbara is right. It seems so un-Zionistic, so un-Israeli, to strike such a passive tone. Israel should be acting as the leader of nations that it can and should be. Let the anti-Israel crowd explain the failure of nations to offer so much less than we do.
Two examples should suffice.
We all remember the flotilla debacle. Recent Turkish demands and grumblings notwithstanding, that entire episode had little real effect. We also remember that Israel bungled the PR battle, by letting the “protesters” narrative and video take center stage for a full day before the I.D.F. countered with a video of their own. This delay was rightly criticized.
But why didn’t Israel begin the PR battle preemptively? Imagine if in the week before the ships sailed Bibi or a high level surrogate had gone on the news and asked the world community for help. He could have related how efforts with Turkey to help the humanitarian aid reach Gaza but still go through Israeli security inspections had failed. Therefore, the demand could been made (to the UN, EU, etc.) to help Israel help the Gazans. This proposal would seek to both help the needy and prevent conflict, two goals that Israel holds dear. CNN would probably have aired an interview to this effect, and FOX certainly would have.
Maybe all of this would have shamed nation states into helping, and maybe not. But it would certainly have created a narrative that the flotilla would then have fit into before it happened. The the timely release of the I.D.F. video would then have created very different headlines.
To put it simply, if we believe in the doctrine of preemptive action militarily, why do we not employ it diplomatically? Hasbara waits to explain after the fact. Instead, we should be starting the conversation.
Currently, Israel is making the same mistake with the African refugee crisis. The internal debate within Israel over how much we can or should come to the aid of these refugees is fatefully important to the identity of a Jewish State. But we should also be detailing our efforts publicly to international news media, and demanding international coordinated support. Perhaps we should demand and lead a modern Evian conference, and demand some results this time.
The cynical response to these suggestions is that they will not be acted on, nor will they change public perception of Israel. As Jews, we come by this paranoia and pessimism honestly. Centuries of every kind of abuse, followed by decades of calumny against our rebuilt state, will do that to you.
But Zionism was meant to get past that. It is based on the idea that through slow, hard struggle we can change things to the way that they should be. We willed Israel, and it is no dream. Part of that Herzelian dream was to create a model state, the very light unto the nations that our forefathers spoke of. As Jews, perhaps we have earned the right to despair of that ancient and modern mission. But as Zionists, I fear, that despair is inexcusable. If there is work to be done, then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.
In other words, delegitimization and BDS are just new swamps left for us to drain.