Thursday, January 15, 2009

15-Jan-09: Public Relations and Gaza

One of this blog's two authors has an op-ed that appears as the Jerusalem Post's lead guest blog, and also on the FrontPageMag website.

PR and Gaza

Israel is stuck in a PR morass. All of the logical arguments that its spokesmen have been hammering away at leave the foreign press cold.

The Economist's former Israel correspondent, Gideon Lichfield, wrote last week of Israel's PR: "[It] is so sophisticated that there is still no adequate word for it in English." The Palestinians, on the other hand, are so inept, he adds, that they "barely know what a spokesman is.".

Hyperbole aside, Lichfield is on target when he explains why Israel's media blitz for Operation Cast Lead has fallen flat on its face: "Partly, of course, it's because the numbers are against it... On television, what looks bad looks bad."

Lichfield, like most foreign correspondents, isn't interested in the background to those numbers. Hamas' use of human shields, and of homes, schools, mosques and hospitals as arsenals and launching pads are out of the equation. This selective blindness leads them to Lichfield's "deeper reason" for Israel's PR failure: "The consistent impression Israel leaves is that it kills people because, at best, it simply doesn't have any better ideas, and at worst, because some Israeli leader is trying to get the upper hand on one of his or her rivals."

Such assessments only aid and abet the carnage. Relentless media focus on the shocking civilian numbers and images from Gaza are the best incentive for Hamas to pursue its barbaric tactics. The payoff in global sympathy is invaluable.

At the helm of those reporters are the Israelis Amira Hass and Gideon Levy.

Early into this war Levy attacked Israel's pilots: "Good boys from good homes are doing bad things - they bomb the graduation ceremony for young police officers... a mosque, killing five sisters... a police station, hitting a doctor nearby..."

Hass contributed her predictable litany
of Palestinian suffering minus any context. "A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent." And "Two women... eighty years of age, and three of their grandchildren... have treated their injuries with water and salt, though their wounds have become infected."

Levy thinks Israeli pilots have become "callous, cruel and blind people." and implicitly urges disobedience of orders. Given Hamas' stated intention to continue bombarding Israeli cities and its refusal to recognize Israel, Levy's advice could spell the end of the Jewish State.

But that is not an eventuality he or Hass would lose sleep over.

Hass, who has lived in Ramallah and Gaza since 1993, likes to label the Jews "a Diaspora nation". In 2005 she participated in a public debate organized by the British Evening Standard. The thesis was that "Zionism is the worst enemy of the Jewish People". Hass defended it so effectively that her team won.

This week Levy anointed the Gaza correspondent of Al Jazeera English his "hero of the Gaza war". The blatantly pro-Hamas bias evidenced by that station's harassment of its pro-Israel interviewees, somehow washed over Levy. The station, he pronounced, is "balanced [and] professional".

The pair's prolificness is testimony to their unfettered freedom of speech. But facts are no match for popular myths; "heroic" is always the adjective preceding their names when mentioned by their supporters.

Another persistent myth about Hass and Levy is that their work is driven by compassion. In reality neither has ever written a sympathetic syllable about Jewish victims. Throughout the Second Intifada, when Hamas was targeting and murdering hundreds of innocent Jewish children in bombings and shootings, this duo pointedly ignored Israel's suffering.

Several years ago Levy hosted a Ninth of Av television special. He shamelessly abused that platform. "Jews have focused on their own grief for long enough," he preached. "The time has come for them to mourn Palestinian losses instead."

Despite all of the above, Levy and Hass are pegged as mainstream leftist journalists rather than political activists. Their articles appear, often on a daily basis, not only on opinion pages but on the front pages as hard news. Hass herself has confessed: "There is a misconception that journalists can be objective." Nevertheless, their own and their sources' credibility is never doubted. And that's the heart of the problem.

Once upon a time, reporters wrote words like these:
"The Jews with their backs to the sea, fighting for their very homes, with 101 percent morale, will accept no compromise... they plead only for the right to make this fight themselves... They are fighting for their very lives and must act accordingly."
Robert Kennedy penned the above on June 6, 1948, as the Herald Tribune's Israel correspondent.

Today, such liberal defenders of Israel are like needles in a haystack and support like Kennedy's is rare. Not even Israel's most brilliant spokesmen can alter that.

But at least we can remove the red-carpet from under Levy and Hass; their hate-filled articles belong on our opinion pages -­ and nowhere else.

Frimet Roth, a freelance writer, lives in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered at the age of fifteen in the Sbarro Jerusalem restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation in her name provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.

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