The Public Diplomacy of Israel


The world has certainly become a global village requiring the countries and nations residing in it to build up strong relationships that can protect and safeguard their interests; at least for continued existence. Therefore, countries require diplomacy and firm foreign policies to ensure the potential favor of nations at different international fronts. This research study focuses on Israeli public diplomacy, the need and importance of it for Israeli existence, and the targets that Israel anticipates achieving by using and manipulating different tools in its favor to acquire public appeal and support.

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What is Diplomacy and Why do Countries need it?

In place of the above statement, it is crucial to consider when, why, and how countries develop their foreign policies and relationships with other nations. These relationships are not made based on issues as it is not favorable for countries to change their stance whenever a different situation arises regardless of any strategy. Thus, they need to set a direction in foreign policy and interaction to support the cause of the country’s benefits at the highest level and this is what we call diplomacy. The word diplomacy doesn’t stand in a negative sense; rather it is the expression of nearness and alignment with someone to acquire the outcomes in one’s favor.

Many countries around the globe especially focus on diplomacy and relationships with other countries to acquire their potential support in different issues that are prevailing or are expected to occur in the future. Such issues may be at the individual level as well as against any other country or region. Since all countries build up relationships with other countries and nations across the globe, the more “diplomatic” a country’s policies and strategies are, the more it is expected that they will get the support of most countries or nations on its issues at the international front. For democratic countries, there is a requirement for the build-up of a strong positive image inside the country amongst its people as well as nationals residing outside the country to ensure that the people of the land do not reject or rebel against the democratic government that requires foundational support of the public.

Israel – Strategic Importance and need of Diplomacy

The existence of Israel has been a major cause of conflict between the Arab world and the United States of America. Its strategic location in between Arab countries like Palestine, Iran, Egypt and Lebanon, the US’s unwavering support for the Israeli cause and the emergence of an Israeli (predominantly Jewish) state destroying the old Palestinian state is extremely worrying and annoying to the Arab countries. This requires Israel to build up a positive image among other countries, and more essentially among its own citizens as well as the foreign public to get the favour and support for its existence, development and progress as an independent state (Saranga, 2009).

Although Israel did not worry much about public image from 1948 to 1967, much has changed since the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. Prior to 1967, Israel was just a little state living harmoniously amidst the Arab community. In order to acquire public support and uplift the image of Israel as an independent and secular state, it is crucial for Israel to carefully observe its foreign policy and diplomatic strategy (Bussel, n.d).

The Israel-Palestine issue has remained one of the hottest issues since 1967. The fact that Israel has taken an upper hand control of Palestinian land has made it more challenging for Israel, than perhaps any other country, to maintain and uplift the public support and soft image of Israel across the globe (Cook, 2010). After 2000, when Israel fiercely invaded the Palestinian localities to occupy their land, many people compared Israeli leaders to the conservative German Nazi leaders making it difficult to soften the image of Israel among the foreign public.

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Israeli Diplomacy-Target

The US has been the greatest supporter of Israel since its formation and later struggles (Gissin, 2006). Gilboa (2006) states that this is logical since it is in the interest of the United States to have allies in the Middle East so as to maintain its strategic surveillance over the countries in this region. Despite the fact the United States is remote to this region physically, the existence and progress of Israel gives it the satisfaction of closeness to the region making it possible to exercise control over the Arab and Eastern countries.

In consideration of the above facts, it is only reasonable that the main focus of Israel’s diplomacy resides with the audience of the United States of America. In addition, Israel’s diplomacy targets the support of European countries and other non-Muslim nations such as India, Australia and Japan. The bane of Israel’s diplomacy has been the depiction that the Arab world wants to dislocate the only emerging Jewish state on the globe. Israel also appeals to the United Nations towards for support in order to gain favour in different issues raised at International front; mostly to limit and suffocate the Palestinian state and expand the span of Israel’s jurisdiction over the land.

Tools That Israel Uses

Evidently media is the best diplomacy tool in today’s modern and narrow world to attract the foreign public towards a country’s culture, ideology, values or common interests. Israeli media does not only propagate the goodwill of the Israeli state as a nation, but it also strongly influences the U.S. and other Western media such as Fox News to build up a positive and prospering image of Israel in the Western region (Nir, 2010).

Israel’s foreign policy has substantially changed in the recent past and it has now expanded its scope to focus on other non-Western countries. Israeli success in getting support through this new foreign diplomacy is evident from its pact with Egypt that is a Muslim country. Another example is Israel’s relationship with India which is strengthening day by day, especially in the area of defence. However, the drop in foreign public support is a big challenge for the Israeli government and the media (Gerberg, 2010).

Israel’s PD Strategy

As earlier stated, Israel enjoys the support of the United States media which it employs in its public diplomacy (PD) to build up a positive and prospering image of Israel amongst the public of the Western World as well as across the globe (Public Diplomacy, 2006). While Israel has not succeeded in uplifting its public image through public diplomacy despite the support of western media, the Israeli press remains in close touch with the U.S. media to assist in the delivery, manipulation and propagation of a pro-Israeli image in the media (Said, 2001).

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Israeli culture also acts as a means to attract foreign public opinion towards the linearism and modernism of Israel as a secular and non-conservative state that protects and safeguards the interests of the public regardless of any belongings. Since its existence, immigrants from over 60 countries have made Israel to become a cultural hub of diverse regions, language, values and norms. This gives the Israeli government fodder to propagate and improve the public image of Israel by reiterating the protection it has accorded to all these people from different cultures. In other circles, Israeli artists, singers and entertainers have merged in order to build up the soft image of Israel among people from different cultures; taking away the perception of Israel as an offensive, brutal and forcibly occupying state towards one of a friendly, prospering and welfare state for people of all values, cultures and languages. Israeli artists like Chime Moshe, Sarit Hadad and Ofra Haza play music with an Eastern touch thus influencing and inspiring the public of Eastern countries towards it. This supports the overall Israeli public diplomacy to build its soft image among the people of this region.

Similarly, Israel promotes the agenda of liberty in living style, supporting the modern image of the western world. Jews from America coming to Israel reside in as if America and Israel are part of a single country which strongly influences the image of Israel to the United States and by extension; the Western world. The feeling of oneness achieves more than a soft image of Israel- it even yields support for Israel in its conflict with Palestine, Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel strongly needs this support to prevent public opinion turning against it as it invades the liberty and locality of the Palestinian people claiming a right to expand its lands (Gilboa, 2006). In fact this has been the main focus of Israel’s public diplomacy.

Although the media is a strong tool for Israel as a weapon to manipulate the issues and pictures of realities in order to mould them in its favour, it has proven to be insufficient judging from the dip in Israel’s perception in the international arena. It continued focus on the United Nations and Human Rights NGOs to the exclusion of all other bodies has deteriorated Israel’s image among the foreign public. This has forced Israel to improve its strategies so as to align its PD in a manner that captures good public perception. Its new PD seeks to build up support for its continued existence and improve its international image. Israel therefore struggles to improve its image through public diplomacy employing the so-called liberal and more traditional policy and culture to attract the support and soft corner of the foreign world (Bound, Briggs, Holden, & Jones, 2007).

While Israel seems very intent on improving its reputation abroad especially in the US and among European nations, it has failed miserably in its relations with neighbouring states (Gilboa, 2006). The reason for this failure as Gilboa explains is the fact that Israel’s diplomacy is mainly about victimization where the Arab world is perceived as being hostile and unwilling to accept Israel’s right to exist.

New Tools for Public Diplomacy

Gilboa (2006) states that Israel’s failure in PD is because of its reluctance to employ new methods of PD. The two new methods are New Public Diplomacy (NPD) and World Standing Index (WSI). The NPD involves intellectual efforts to adjust all research and analysis to fit into the information age.WSI is used to measure a country’s standing in the eyes of the international community using the variables of public opinion, media coverage and international organizations. In classic PD, which Israel uses, the main tools that are used include friendship leagues, trade associations, international broadcasting, cultural centres, scientific and cultural exchanges between scholars and students and language. Israel has been known to encourage its citizens to market its image whenever possible which explains the large number of activist Israeli students in the US.

Gilboa (2006) states that the major difference between classic PD and NPD is that the latter appreciates that there has been a major shift in politics, communication and international relations while the former does not. Politics in the world is moving from autocracies to democracies thus more people are participating in shaping foreign policy. Communication technology has brought new levels of interaction with social networking literally causing a revolution. International relations have also changed since the Cold War where most countries were more interested in upholding sovereignty over everything else, the scene has changed and governments are now being questioned as to their practices in the international arena.

Another significant difference is that while traditional diplomacy involved feeding selected information to the masses, there is a new demand for debate and dialogue before the public accepts any information. NPD is thus a two way communication between the people of one state and those of another. NPD therefore demands a more strategic approach that utilizes persuasion techniques and tools for measurement of public opinion. In the PR world, countries are increasingly being viewed as products which need branding. Branding involves presentation in an emotionally captivating manner such that the audience can identify with the product.

Cyber PD is emerging as another major form of NPD. The internet has brought so many people to one forum and only those states that present a good case can win the hearts and minds of users worldwide. Countries are now putting up websites that show their history, culture and values in a way that invokes positive support. The best example of the power cyber PD holds is the success of terrorist organizations and NGOs to recruit and communicate with members. Perceptions about the internet have changed and states are now as concerned about their image in the internet as they would in traditional media.

Israel needs to use the best tools at its disposal to promote its ruined image. Gilboa (2006) states that even for authoritarian regimes that have raised the eyebrows of the international community, their right to exist as a state has never being questioned except for Israel. Israel’s problems are worsened by the perceived support for Palestine from the world with only the US being sympathetic towards Israel. In the UN for example, the US has had to veto almost two thirds of the resolutions made against Israel which have been many. In 1975, the UN passed a resolution that equated Zionism to German Nazism. Such equations have been made before with Israel being compared to the apartheid regime in South Africa in its treatment of Palestinians.

Gilboa’s main point is that Israel’s reputation is as low as it can be. He states that the only logical thing for the Israeli to do is to launch a massive PR campaign using the latest tools in PD such as NPD to improve their image internationally. Israel has realized that it is not winning the PR war with Palestine and has changed tact with its PR campaign. It is now using Twitter, Facebook and You Tube to present its case and encouraging its citizens to do so. A good example is the message from a government representative explaining Israel’s PD on You Tube.

Israel’s media strategy and activities

After the invasion of Lebanon, Israel learnt its lesson in PR after everything went wrong the climax of which was a recording of the Deputy Minister for Defence Matan Vilnai threatening Palestinians with a ‘holocaust’. In its recent Gaza offensive dubbed Operation Cast Lead, Israel was very particular about press conferences especially on what message was to be conveyed and who was to convey it. The strategy seemed to work and not much damage was done to Israel’s reputation that could be attributed to the operation.

This seems to be the new media strategy. More women in the military are being called to give briefings during conferences and those known for their hard-line stance are advised to stay away from the camera. Pfeffer (2008) states that the strategy ensured that there was even coverage of the operation. Another key to the success was the number of interviews given by Israeli diplomats and officials. Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor gave 25 interviews during the period of the operation which helped in giving a fair coverage in the British press which had been very hostile in its coverage of the Lebanon War.

Peraino (2007) also states that the Israel government is now spending top dollar to market itself. Peraino finds that in actual fact ‘hasbarah’ which is the Hebrew word for explaining is more of a national obsession. The public opinion in Israel is that the story of the Jewish state should be told so as to justify current Israeli activities. The government is hiring top PR strategists to lobby the western media to soften its stance on Israel and accord it a fair coverage. The strategy is to promote Israel as a tourist destination with fine beaches and holy sites. However, some American critics have compared selling the brand Israel to selling Phillip Morris which is a tobacco firm that has been accused of selling products that cause the deaths of about 75,000 Americans annually. The PR campaign is also being sponsored by organizations such as the Israel21c organization and the America Israel Friendship League.

Analysis of Israel’s Strategy

Is Israel’s strategy working?

Opinion is divided as to whether Israel’s reputation can completely recover without any kind of peace deal being reached between it and Palestine. Gilboa (2006) believes that Israel’s perception that the world was against it led it to abandon PD which would have actually helped to raise its perception. He quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres who was of the opinion that a country’s policies are its best PR and if it adopts bad policies, then the best PR would not help its reputation. Indeed this seems to be the view that most Israeli’s had hence the use of the word ‘hasbarah’ instead of PD (Mazel, 2005).

Mazel (2005) finds that since Israel changed its diplomatic approach towards PD and away from ‘hasbarah’, there has been a significant change in its coverage especially in the western media. Nevertheless, the damage done to Israel’s reputation during its years of ‘hasbarah’ cannot be undone overnight. Instead, Israel has to continue building on its PR campaign to change public opinion. According to Ron Kitrey, an IDF spokesman, the reason for Israel’s poor international perception is the negative coverage it has received and its failure to counter ‘graphic’ photos and images released by Palestinians with their own (Stephens, 2002).

Stephens (2002) adds that the reason why Israel’s perception went down was because it had no clear message. While the message from the Palestinians was simple-end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state, Israel’s messages were more often than not botched up, incoherent and often contradictory. This helped to build the ‘villain’ tag that Israel carries and the ‘victim’ tag that Palestinians have successfully acquired.

Conclusive remarks

While going the PD way is clearly a good thing for Israel, Weinberg (2005) is of the opinion that it will not help Israel if its policies and PD continue to point in opposite directions. One case in point is the unjustified blockade of Gaza that is denying many residents access to some of their basic needs. Another thing that is seemingly ruining Israel’s chances of success in recovering its reputation is its non-consideration of the Arab world in its PD yet this is where it should be channelled. While Israel might recover its reputation in the eyes of European countries, this will not help its cause since the conflict is a Middle East affair that must involve all parties if it is to be resolved.


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