With worldwide Palestine solidarity and the BDS movement growing in strength, Israeli propaganda efforts intended to counter the "peace with justice" call have also come under the spotlight. We’ve seen Reut’s "delegitimization" report, crass campus hasbara, and a host of other initiatives (both "engagement" and "offensive").
With that in mind, a new article in The Jerusalem Post makes for interesting reading:
In 2001, IDC [Inderdisciplinary Center] Herzliya students Gur Braslavi and Ariel Halevi won the Oxford Union Debating Competition for teams from foreign countries. Nine years later, their joint company, Debate Ltd., was chosen to carry out the Israeli government’s new public diplomacy initiative.
The company recently took on a contract to conduct 200 workshops in which its instructors teach regular Israelis the arts of rhetoric and persuasion. If the pilot proves successful, it will likely be extended and multiplied. By creating an army of amateur ambassadors, Israel hopes to counter negative media portrayals and improve its image abroad.
A "senior instructor" at Debate, Ran Michaelis, is extensively quoted as he gives his advice on how to defend Israel in discussions abroad. The company’s website says that Michaelis has previously spent a year in the UK as an intern for Labour Friends of Israel, as well as two years in Virginia working for the Jewish Agency. Which just goes to show that no matter the hasbara credentials, the end result is wearingly familiar.
Michaelis’ advice boils down to the following, well-worn Zionist :debating" strategies:
1. Avoid inconvenient nasty words like "wall" and "human shields".
2. Make irrelevant analogies.
3. Distract attention by talking about anything except Israel/Palestine.
4. Appeal to emotion.
So far, so normal.
The article does, however, offer some useful insights into strategies being deployed against "delegitimization". According to Debate co-founder Ariel Harelvi, the Israeli government is "using regular Israelis as an army of guerrilla advocates":
In an interview for Metro, Ronen Plot, director-general of the [Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs] ministry, laid out his office’s activities and presented its plans for the future.
“Ultimately what we are interested in is that every Israeli who goes out of the country knows how to advocate on behalf of Israel,” said Plot. “Obviously we can’t train all of them to be at the same level, and we can’t expect them to be professional spokespeople overnight, but we can give them the tools to become effective advocates on Israel’s behalf by preparing them for the type of questions they are likely to meet and providing them with talking points that reflect Israel’s positions.”
For that purpose, the ministry has printed hundreds of thousands of small booklets outlining Israel’s position on a wide variety of topics. The booklet is handed out free to passengers flying out of Ben-Gurion Airport, and travelers are urged to read it on the flight.
Then there are the Israeli sports figures, celebrities, artists and business people, who are part of a hasbara "elite unit":
Where the ministry is really focusing its attention, though, is on filling the ranks of Israel’s hasbara army.
“We have created a cadre of 50 notable people, leaders in their field, who have taken upon themselves to help represent Israel proudly,” said Plot. The list includes professional athletes, actors, actresses, successful business executives, artists and other public figures.
Members of the “elite unit” undergo extensive training and are urged to speak about Israel in public when abroad, and meet with groups of incoming visitors, when at home.
“People like Olympic gold medalist Gal Friedman, renowned actress Noa Tishbi and respected businessman Ya’acov Peri were happy to answer our call and enlist in our service,” said Plot. “They understand the relative weight that their word carries, and were kind enough to lend it to the cause.”
And what about tourists coming to Israel? It’s another opportunity…
Recognizing that a trip to Israel can do more than anything to shape people’s perspectives of the country, the ministry recently invited a group of 70 licensed Israeli tour guides to take part in one of Debate’s workshops.
“The tour guide workshop was different than the others,” explained Adi Balderman, the head trainer for Debate. “Whereas with most groups we train we have to provide the participants with information on what they can expect to encounter on their visits, the tour guides came to us with a wealth of experience from the field, and with concrete examples of difficult cases they encountered.”
And so it goes on.
Reading an article illustrated by a picture of the illegal Separation Wall about tired arguments dressed up afresh to "improve" Israel’s "image", I’m reminded of Mazin Qumsiyeh’s remarks about being in the "endgame".