For generations, many in the Diaspora have been frustrated by the ineffectiveness of Israeli hasbara, feeling that they could explain Israel’s position better themselves. Today many supporters of Israel worldwide are becoming Digital Ambassadors. The internet is transforming the battle lines of Israel’s public relations war.
Israel is no longer solely reliant on its often ineffective spokespeople to explain its position. It is recruiting anybody with a computer or a smart phone to help in the campaign. The iphone and the ipad, Youtube and Twitter are the new weapons in the PR war. And as the internet grows, so does the potential impact of Israeli hasbara
As Hasbara becomes a grassroots movement, the very essence of the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry is being transformed. Israel has lost the monopoly over its PR image, and therefore the sole responsibility. Israel’s image is no longer that of a country, but of the whole Jewish people.
There are still problems with the institutionalized Hasbara 2.0. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon has produced a number of sleek YouTube clips on the West Bank, Refugees, and the Conflict. Ayalon’s clips, while excellent, can easily be dismissed by cynics as government propaganda.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s YouTube Page is less popular, with most video clips receiving only a few hundred views.
The IDF has been more successful in its campaign and most of its video clips have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of visitors worldwide. Unfortunately, the IDF still has little idea what is needed for effective public relations.
The IDF’s YouTube page has an overwhelming tendency to upload videos of Israel bombing Hamas sites, and appears to be aimed at boosting morale on the home front rather than promoting a positive campaign. Few are aware of the need for accurate and timely video clips. Last year, film footage of IDF troops landing on the flotilla sailing toward Gaza and being attacked by activists received over a million hits. Unfortunately, the video was released twelve hours too late to really sway opinion.
The internet has become a battleground for public opinion, and Israel is not alone in its attempts to utilize the power of the net. Palestinians often broadcast live at times of crisis, and during the Flotilla incident activists were broadcasting live from the Mamara.
The internet provides for both sides a means to spread a message uncensored, direct and circumventing traditional media.
Israel’s hasbara seems to be becoming more dynamic, as the Diaspora takes responsibility. Even day schools and MASA programs have been conscripted to the task. For example, the following video was produced by the Golda Och Academy:
Low budget, grassroots Hasbara 2.0 has come of age. The internet-based HonestReporting, for example, has an impressive track record keeping track of media bias. The secret weapon of this small non-profit is simple: a database of tens of thousands of supporters who will email papers expressing opinions in support of Israel.
The downside to digital diplomacy is that Israel is losing control over a centralized message. Only time will tell whether this is detrimental or a blessing in disguise.