Bibi’s crisis communication is in crisis

The Prime Minister could take a lesson from the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Emperor took off his clothes again. In March, I praised Prime Minister Netanyahu for his take charge, talk like a real person appearances in the media in the wake of the Corona crisis.  Unfortunately, he has lost his shining image and gets rustier by the minute.  His “zigzag” policy as Israelis call it — opening, closing, opening the state and its economy — shows him to be inconsistent and totally oblivious to the country burning as he continues to play the accordion for the campfire sing a long.

For a while, he managed to make us forget that he was up on serious charges of bribery and misleading the nation.  That could not continue indefinitely. It all came to a head when he requested recently to postpone his trial because of the need to wear surgical masks. His lawyer argued that he would not be able to interrogate witnesses while wearing masks. How could he ascertain if they were telling the truth?  Seriously?

In May, Netanyahu was still smiling and energetic as he announced the news of easing up on the restrictions originally imposed on Israeli citizens. It was a clear win due to his decisive policy.

However, in recent press conferences, Netanyahu has resorted to reprimanding the Israeli public for not complying fully with the directives about the “Mami” as he awkwardly called it — an mnemonic in Hebrew for keeping a safe distance, washing hands and wearing masks. Again and again he threatened to reinstate restrictions.

When announcing the appointment of Professor Ronni Gamzu as the new Corona Virus Project coordinator, he praised him, noting that he had recently battled cancer and won the battle.  “You beat cancer and will help us beat the Corona virus.”  It seems that Netanyahu needed to add the extra pathos after the last candidate declined his generous offer because of disputes with the health ministry about the scope of his authority. Netanyahu looks exhausted and defeated.  He has resorted to attacking those who criticize his policies, “We take the criticism of political rivals and journalists who are quick on the keyboard but I want you to know that we are fighting for you on the field with full force, all the time, around the clock.”  Again, with the war analogy.  It doesn’t seem to work anymore when you are apparently losing the battle, big time.

Netanyahu could take a lesson or two or three from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardren. With the beginning of the Covid 19 crisis, she was instantly on Facebook live, appearing at home in her sweats assuring the citizens of New Zealand that they must take measures in order to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. “I thought I would just get online and check in with everyone,” she begins.  She has this warm smile and radiates approachable authority immediately.  Wow.  I was waiting and waiting for Netanyahu to broadcast from his home. Okay, it didn’t have to be in his PJs. He could have set the example for us, showing how important it was to stay at home. But, no, he had to appear official and broadcast from the office, where presenters did not wipe off the microphones between speaking.  Leading from personal example . . . not.

Later, when Ardren goes back to the office, she continues with her Facebook live broadcasts, informing her public about the latest lifting of restrictions with the same conversational tone as before.  She conveys intelligence without condescension and empathy without artificiality. In addition to her Fireside chats, she adds informational videos on YouTube, a series entitled, “Talking Covid-19 with the Prime Minister”, in which she hosts experts on Covid-19 topics such as the danger of contagion through surfaces. These two experts include two prominent women — Chief Science Advisor, Dr Juliet Gerrard and Dr Michelle Dickinson.  Hmm, two more women with clear, accessible styles of communication.

Ardren is the full package.  She has the style, the grace, the empathy and authority to appeal to her nation in crisis. Her messages are clear, informative and accessible.   In addition, she uses the various media to get the message across  –  from Facebook live to YouTube videos.

My advice to Bibi?  Stop blaming everyone else, start talking to the people, not at them, and start taking notes from Jacinda Ardren’s incomparable communication style.

About the Author
Linda Lovitch is a media and communications consultant in Israel, working with government spokespersons, ambassadors, high tech executives, start-ups, universities and non-profits. Linda helps people to communicate with clarity and confidence whether talking to live, televised or online audiences and under the current Coronivirus isolation directives, is expanding her offering to include effective presentation via teleconferencing and vlogging.
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