Israel’s ‘Hasbara’ discombobulation

For years and years, we’ve heard from well intentioned pro- Israel supporters both here and abroad just how awful this country performs in the arenas of PR or ‘hasbara’.

As a result there have been countless initiatives implemented by government bodies, pro-Israel NGO’s, and of course private citizens around the world to help repair the damage that has been done, and to creatively come up with ways in which Israel can at least compete in this other war – the war of ideas and narratives.

I too have taken on a variety of roles in a fair share of these campaigns over the past decade and a half.

I have always believed that despite various factors including:

a. the rabid anti-Israel bias on display by various members of the media

b. the automatic majority against Israel within the UN and other international bodies when resolutions about the Jewish State are presented and voted on

c. flat out Anti-Semitism (often disguised as anti-Zionism)

that activists still had and do have a chance to make a difference.

However, there is one major obstacle impeding true success: the disaster which is the Israeli government’s ‘hasbara’ discombobulation. And I’m not singling out the current administration, but really most of those administrations throughout our short history tasked with leading this country.

Here is what I mean:

Let’s take the ultimate cliché – the Israeli and (so-called) Palestinian conflict, and how we’re going to achieve a ‘peace’ deal. We don’t have to go very far back for examples of how this topic generates confusion as to what Israel’s position truly is, but rather we can simply look at very recent news items.

On November 18 The Times of Israel reported that

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Monday for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the Knesset and recognize Israel as a Jewish state, for the sake of peace.

Netanyahu, speaking at a special session in honor of visiting French President Francois Hollande, said he would return the favor and speak in Ramallah in service of a two-state solution.”

In summary: our Prime Minster (at least in public) favors a ‘two-state solution.’

Several months earlier (and other times since then), Economics Minister Naftali Bennett was cited by TOI as saying:

“The idea of a Palestinian state has run its course and Israel must seek another solution to the conflict with the Palestinians,” Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said Monday, joining a growing number of coalition members who have recently expressed firm opposition to the two-state solution.

And just this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also the minister tasked with negotiating with the Palestinians said that

“Israel should take steps to advance the diplomatic process with the Palestinians in order to ensure the best possible deal between the world’s leading countries and Iran.”

She added that rather than complain about the interim deal reached with Iran in Geneva, Israel can help get a better deal by doing its part in the peace talks.

“I suggest that we stop whining because of what was signed in Geneva and use the six months to make sure Iran doesn’t fool the world into enabling a final-status deal that would be dangerous for Israel,” said Livni, “and to reach a significant breakthrough on two states for two peoples that will be good for Israel.”

So what is a pro-Israel activist to do?

Should he/she

  1. push forward Netanyahu’s vision of two-states for two-people?
  2. go with Bennett who says that the idea of two-states should be dropped (which I do agree with, but that’s another blog entry within itself)?
  3. Or take a page out of Livni’s book who apparently is linking the Israel/Palestinian conflict with the Israel/Iran issue, something us hasbara folk have been repeatedly told is a big no no, since then the world will think ‘if only Israel gives the Palestinians a State, then Iran will be ready for a little Kumbaya with the ‘Zionists.’

And this my friends is the main problem as to why Israel can’t get its message out effectively – nobody truly knows what that message really is.

Whether we need more government cooperation whereas a message is set, and all government ministers follow it to a tea, or perhaps we change the entire Knesset electoral system so instead of dozens of small parties with so many different interests pandering for votes and then trying to join the coalition, there are only several parties representing the people whose policies on the issues are crystal clear (well at least before the election), either way, something has to give.

If not, we’ll continue down this path, and concerned Israel supporters who are trying to understand what’s going on this country and help out will continue getting this discombobulated message.

Without true change all of our ‘hasbara’ efforts are greatly hampered and are less likely to succeed.

About the Author
Joshua Hasten is the International Spokesperson for Gush Etzion. He is host of the weekly “Israel Uncensored” radio broadcast on The Land of Israel Network, as well as an international Middle East Correspondent in print and on television. Joshua is also a sought-after speaker around the world. His workshops and lectures on pro-Israel advocacy have impacted thousands. Joshua was the CAMERA organization’s 2009 Letter Writer of the Year, and is a member of the Judea and Samaria Speaker’s Bureau. Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, he resides in Gush Etzion, Israel.