Israel’s public relations initiative: Vital to its cause
Spin control is crucial in this modern age of media hype and orchestrated public attacks. As a nation perpetually under siege, Israel has smartly hired one of New York City’s premier public relation’s firms, Rubenstein Associates, in NYC, in order to favorably mold world opinion, via media of all types including myriad print venues and broadcast news organizations. This beleaguered nation seeks to create a positive image and accompanying reputation, while simultaneously informing and persuading the international community, especially in relations to its conflict with the Palestinians. As a tiny sovereign entity surrounded by enemy Arab nations in the Middle East, Israel is vitally dependent upon the cooperation and assistance of other nations, most notably the United States and its salient financial support. The struggle for Israel is no less than its quest for survival.
And what is essential for Israel to communicate to the international community through the media? The Israelis must successfully convey the truth of the matter that they are not only fighting for their lives, but for their very existence as a nation as well, in an extremely hostile sector of the world. Moreover, the Israelis must emphasize that they truly seek a peaceful solution in the Middle East, within an atmosphere that guarantees its safety and security, and that of the Palestinians, too. It must also be definitively stated that Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat is palpably disingenuous, a liar and promoter of terrorism, not a true peace partner in the Middle East. And lastly, the Israelis must continue their appeal to the world community, urging them to keep the pressure on the Palestinians to change their ways and work toward peace, even withholding foreign aid monies to the Palestinians, if necessary.
As indicated, Israel’s battle with the Arab world must be waged not only “on the ground” but also in the trenches of the media. Integral to their work, public relations experts will ensure that “Israel’s story” (its point of view) is widely disseminated in an expansive effort to garner the upper hand in the realm of worldwide opinion. Well-articulated, accurate and prompt information from the Israeli team must be promulgated assiduously. Furthermore, efforts to thwart Palestinian propaganda will be set in place, systematically challenging mistruths and misrepresentations. Given its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, which poses the very real threat of spinning out-of-control into regional warfare, crisis management and crisis communication will undoubtedly continue to be the modus operandi of Israel’s PR firm. Eliminating or diminishing damage is key, with these communications experts tackling problematic media situations head-on, not permitting them to fester. Honesty and openness curries favor over the long haul among the journalistic communities and worldwide public as well. No doubt, that is what the Rubenstein organization aims to accomplish.
How do PR people effectively deal with negative stories and publicity out in the press? When there is a bad news that must be overcome, Democrat spinmeister Lanny Davis is among the most proficient. Although this writer disagrees with Davis’ partisan viewpoint, and it is questionable whether Davis always follows his own advice, his words nonetheless are insightful and valuable. In his book, “Truth To Tell”, Davis admonishes to “Tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself” as the best overall strategy to deflect the effects of deleterious information that can hurt your side. (Regarding the Condit-Levy case, or scandal du jour, note that Congressman Gary Condit has not taken this path, and has instead engaged in a stream of “rolling disclosure” that has proven to be a public relations debacle. He is now viewed in an extremely suspicious light by the public, and as “acting guilty”. This risky tactic of “rolling disclosure”, putting out tidbits of information over time in order to desensitize the public to particularly odious information, should be eschewed since it can terribly backfire).
In cases where the facts are potentially very damaging, and very complicated, Davis recommends the use of a baseline or “predicate” story, to be generated by an individual reporter or news organization. “The advantages of the predicate story as a critical tool of damage control cannot be overestimated…If it is complete and accurate, it will likely kill or at least diminish follow-up stories, since there won’t be much more to report”. On the other hand, Davis warns that if the information is “incomplete and wrong”, that it will grow “like a virus” causing tremendous difficulties. Clearly, cultivating journalists is imperative in the media world, with public relations people providing them with data and insights as to the situation at hand, and answering all questions. In this way, it maximizes the opportunity to get out the “interpretation or characterization of the facts most favorable” to a particular camp or PR client.
Media images are profoundly powerful and often the fulcrum of public relations efforts. Distressing scenes that grip the collective psyche have viscerally impacted and mobilized nations. Who could forget harrowing imagery such as the rescue worker carrying out the dead child at the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing? Or how about the tragic and shocking sight of the Somali warlord’s minions dragging the naked bodies of our dead soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu?
Clearly, massaging outgoing visual content is essential to any successful PR campaign. The Palestinians have made significant inroads with videos and photos ostensibly demonstrating the cruelty of Israeli soldiers beating down upon a weak Palestinian population, which must defend itself with “rock throwing” at elite Israeli forces. These distorted images have clearly hurt the Israeli cause. In light of these representations, the Rubenstein firm has suggested that Israeli rifles (that shoot rubber bullets) be painted purple or orange to help television viewers understand that non-lethal rounds are being fired at Palestinian rioters. It has also been recommended that post-rioting areas be immediately cleaned up by the Israelis, thereby depriving newsmen from a ready scene at which to tape. “The fire-scarred street, which reaches a virtual dead-end at Israeli controlled territory, is strewn with burned-out cars and littered shrapnel…a convenient backdrop for television news crews based in nearby Jerusalem who need quick video to illustrate an uprising” (Baltimoresun.com, 7/27/01). Although cosmetic in nature, these represent helpful and practical advice by PR experts to help improve Israel’s reputation.
An issue that is unfortunately resonating throughout the international community, and also damaging Israel’s image, is the nation’s policy of “targeting killing” of Palestinian terrorists. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has spoken with world leaders noting that these actions actually save lives and prevent terrorist activity that would escalate the overall conflict. “Israel reserves the right to defend its citizens, just like the US, Sharon told (Secretary) Powell, explaining that Israel’s position would be unnecessary if Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat would arrest wanted terrorists” (Jerusalem Post website, 8/2/01). The United States has issued a condemnation of Israel, citing the recent deadly strike upon several Hamas members.
A few weeks ago, Israel was supported by Christian leader Pat Robertson regarding its policy of surgical strikes against “known terrorists”. He stated, “Which is more righteous? To make war against one person who is an architect of terror, or is it more righteous to wage war against an entire population?” (Jerusalem Post website, 7/4/01). Clearly, Israel’s PR efforts must involve the participation of respected figures, coming to the forefront and publicly buttressing the notion that only dangerous terrorists in the act of perpetrating violent activities will be targeted for death. And it must be impressed that the net effect would be to save many lives.
In conclusion, the media/communication effort to mold international opinion is just another tool to be utilized by Israel in its ongoing battle with the Palestinians, with military and diplomatic efforts representing other strategic endeavors in the mix.