When the State of Israel recently revealed to the international community the true terrorist nature of the six Palestinian human rights organizations it expected the world’s thanks, and reproach and condemnation for these organizations. These NGOs were collecting funds from international donors under the guise of human rights organizations when in fact they engaged in terrorist activities. Yet, instead, it was Israel that was heavily condemned. From the US Congress to the European Union, via organizations world over and even those based here in Israel, Israel received severely strong reactions to the declaration.
Israel did nothing wrong in making this declaration. In fact, after a lengthy investigative process led by the General Security Services (GSS), these same NGOs were proven not only to have served as branches of the terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and to have raised funds for it, but also that a number of its high ranking members have blood on their hands, having been directly and indirectly involved in terrorist attacks in Israel.
The State of Israel has another problem, hasbara, self advocacy or the lack thereof. Sadly, even after 73 years, Israel has not learned that it is not enough to be in the right, we must also be smart.
The declaration calling out these terrorist groups needed to be accompanied with visuals and content easily understood by people around the world. The information and proof that Israel had about these terrorist organizations needed to be revealed right away, both abroad and here at home, because even in Israel, there were ministers and members of Knesset who condemned it. It needed to be laid out clearly for everyone to see immediately.
In recent days, social media has been flooded with the campaign, “StandWithThe6#”.
Why didn’t Israel preempt this with a campaign of its own that would have accompanied the declaration? Why wasn’t there a social media campaign ready to roll out that would have been a buffer in face of all the opposition? Are we saying that Israel has good enough intelligence to uncover these terrorist organizations, yet not good enough intelligence to know that the world would never accept the declaration in the way it was delivered, without attacking Israel? Even schoolchildren know that when taking an exam and answering questions they have to explain their answer, prove their points and show their work.
The country must learn its lesson from all of this. It is not the first time that we fail in delivering our message or in advocating for ourselves. We have failed too many times in the realm of hasbara. A half a year ago, during Operation Guardian of the Wall, Israel failed to explain why it downed the AP’s media building in Gaza, another incident that went without proper hasbara. For 11 days, Israel looked for the “winning” photo and in the end the picture the world remembers is the one on the cover of the New York Times of dead children.
In this day and age, the fight for the minds and hearts of people is the most important battle. The failure to act immediately with a social media campaign hurts us. The main area of Israel’s battle these days is not in Gaza, Syria, or Lebanon, but on social media. We are not only fighting terrorist operatives. We are very much battling influencers with millions of followers. The State of Israel must establish its might here too against the tremendous scope of anti-Israel activities. It must have a hasbara system that can make its mark and be part of its diplomatic efforts. It must be able to go both on the offensive and defensive immediately and effectively.
Our national resilience is dependent on our hasbara fortitude. In the 21st century, even the most powerful army and a significant military budget are not enough to win over the hearts and minds of the public. A country that prided itself with victory after the Six Day War cannot allow itself to be defeated in the “Six Organization War.”
Israel needs to create an effective hasbara system now that communicates well the rightfulness of its actions, and shows what truly is happening on the ground, backed by facts and data, in all languages. It is on this front that Israel has been failing time and again, yet this is the most important battle front today and this is where Israel needs victories more than ever.