Jeff Seidel

The Battle Beyond Borders: Israel and the PR War

People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Last week, the BBC issued a public apology on-air for a misreported story which falsely stated that IDF forces were targeting medical staff at a hospital in Gaza. The original report, it turns out, dangerously misinterpreted the IDF’s actions, which were aimed at bringing medical staff to the hospital in order to assist with evacuation efforts and medical needs. The BBC’s acknowledgment of this serious reporting error, stating that it “fell below our usual editorial standard,” opens a window into the broader challenges Israel faces in the realm of public relations.

This wasn’t the first time that the BBC, or any major news outlet for that matter, falsely represented Israel in their reporting. In the area of global discourse, Israel often finds itself at the epicenter of media scrutiny. The narrative that unfolds in the press frequently paints Israel as the aggressor, with reports swiftly amplifying incidents where its actions are cast in a condemnatory light. Anyone who has followed news about Israel can attest that there’s a persistent bias, as exemplified by the quickness to assign blame to Israel for acts during conflict, sometimes even before the fog of war has cleared to reveal the underlying facts. This skewed representation raises important questions about the readiness of some reporters to assign blame to Israel for conflicts it did not initiate and defensive actions it deems necessary for the protection of its citizens.

We were all appalled at one of the most recent examples of severe media misrepresentation – the coverage of the hospital bombing incident just a few weeks ago. Within seconds of the event, several media outlets rushed to report that the cause of the hospital bombing was an Israeli airstrike. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry had reported that the explosion caused 500 Palestinian casualties, and the media felt no need to confirm the claims or hear Israel’s side of the story. Not surprisingly, after careful inspection by both Israel and the US, it was confirmed that the explosion was caused by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket, and that the death toll was closer to 12. Vicious lies like these are meant to demonize Israel and destroy its reputation.

The immediacy of social media amplifies this PR issue, as platforms transform into echo chambers for rapid, uncritical dissemination of information. Infographics, hashtags, and viral posts can distort public opinion instantaneously, particularly among the youth, who may not take the time to delve into deeper investigation. This poses a significant challenge, not only to Israel’s public image, but also to the broader pursuit of an informed and balanced understanding of a deeply intricate conflict.

Amidst this challenging landscape, Israel’s public relations strategy in the digital age is multifaceted, with significant efforts to engage a global audience by leveraging strong and diverse representatives. Voices like Yoseph Haddad, an Arab-Israeli activist, and Noa Tishby, an actress and author, have taken prominent roles in articulating Israel’s perspectives to international audiences. Haddad’s representation of the Arab community living in Israel and Tishby’s advocacy in the entertainment industry exemplify Israel’s strategic use of relatable figures to counter prevailing narratives. Meanwhile, the IDF also maintains an active presence online and through the media, as they share operational details, strategic objectives, and humanitarian efforts, aiming to provide transparency and counteract allegations of misconduct. Despite these efforts, the reception of this information often diverges globally or is often overpowered by the loud mass of opposing narratives.

It leads one to consider the underlying reasons for this pervasive negativity. When transparency and advocacy are met with skepticism and denial, and when misrepresentations are quick to gain traction, one must ask whether there are deeper biases at play.

For me, the clear and only explanation is Antisemitism. Antisemitism, with its deep historical roots and its pernicious persistence into the modern era, insidiously influences the discourse surrounding Israel. Biases against Israel are always tinged with Antisemitic undertones, which manifest through disproportionate scrutiny, criticism, and double standard compared to every other nation in the world. This conflation overshadows legitimate debate on the actions made by Israel.

Antisemitism is the only explanation for why news outlets are ready to accept information from terrorist organizations rather than that of the State of Israel. It’s the only explanation for why so many people still refuse to believe the atrocities that Israel experienced on October 7th. It’s the only explanation as to why criticism of this conflict is solely focused on Israel, when other parties are involved and at fault. And it’s the only explanation as to why the Israel-Hamas conflict dominates public discourse, when almost every other humanitarian crisis around the world is overlooked.

Such biased narratives do more than misrepresent events; they fuel the flames of Antisemitism and contribute to the cycle of endless prejudice and misinformation. In this context, Israel’s struggle in the PR arena is not just about countering misinformation but also about challenging the underlying current of Antisemitism that shapes global perceptions.

So, will Israel ever be able to turn the tide in this PR war? While our soldiers fight this war on the battlefield, it’s imperative that we continue to fight on the digital front. We may not be able to eradicate all the Antisemitism that exists in the media, but we must advocate for a more informed and fair portrayal of Israel across those outlets. The responsibility is on each one of us to hold the media, journalists, reporters, and even colleagues accountable when disseminating false information. We should continue to call out the media when they are misrepresenting Israel. Only through such an approach can we hope to arrive at a more complete and fair understanding of global issues, especially those that are as complex and emotional as this war. We must commit to fostering dialogue over division and education over ignorance in our continued quest for truth and fairness in the global narrative.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.
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