The Israeli concept of public relations, or hasbara, has failed to meet many of the needs required to explain the position and policies of the State of Israel. It is clear that classic hasbara doesn’t work; what is less apparent is that hasbara cannot work, as it is inherently reactive.
To win the war of public opinion Israel needs to be proactive in its messaging, marketing Israel as a product and not an apology. Classic hasbara needs to be replaced with a radically new model of PR. To win the media war, a dramatic paradigmatic shift must take place.
Why does classic hasbara not work?
6. Hasbara = explanation = failure
Israelis continually putting out the PR fire, seeking to justify a military reaction whilst a new crisis is already breaking out. It is the dog so busily chasing its tail that it has not noticed that there is a fire in the lounge. How can you explain yourself in a proactive manner?
If you translate the word “hasbara” into English it is very apologetic, translating as information or explanation. We have a strong case, we have a just case and we have to be proactive.
5. Hasbara and the culture of the Sabra
Zionism is the rejection of Diaspora and the rejection of an image of a perceived weak Diaspora Jew. Many of the early socialist Zionists came to Israel to build and be rebuilt.
Many Sabras, Israelis born in Israel, refuse to play the game of pandering to public opinion. A distrust of the non-Jewish world is deeply rooted in the psyche of many Israelis, and originates from a post-Holocaust mentality.
This suspicion is deeply entrenched in the Sabra psyche, especially within the political right. Ben Gurion is rumored to have said: “It’s not what the Goyim (non-Jews) think; it is what the Jews do.”
A modern version of this misled belief is that the world is just anti-Semitic — so why bother explaining Israeli policy –- the world will hate Jews and the Jewish State regardless.
For those who hold this view, the possibility of Israel becoming a pariah state is of little concern, as it would reconfirm Israel’s chosenness and reassert the biblical Balaam of “a nation that shall dwell alone.”
In more recent times this attitude has been challenged, particularly with the growth of support for Israel from American evangelical Christians.
Ingrained within the identity of the Israeli is a rejection of being a fryer, a sucker in English.
For many Sabras it is difficult to consider themselves as victims of terrorism or to graphically use personal experiences of terror. To do so would undermine a Zionist self-image of a strong reborn Jew inbred from an early age.
Palestinian spokespeople have no problem with their self-image as victim, speaking freely in terms of victimhood. Consequently the only victims of terror in the conflict seem to be Palestinians.
4. Two Jews – three opinions
There is an old joke that says that wherever there are two Jews there are three opinions.
In Israel, wherever there are two Israelis there are four opinions, two political parties and a government crisis! The issue of hasbara is dealt with by a plethora of departments with conflicting interests. The problem is not just a lack of funding but also a lack of coordination.
Synchronization of information is crucial for an effective PR campaign and remarkably problematic, especially between the army, the Foreign Ministry and the so-called Ministry of Public Diplomacy.
3. The medium is the message
Classic hasbara fails in its task to advocate the case for Israel because it fails to understand the impact of television and internet on the way people receive their news.
If researchers are correct, the average American 16-year-old student has a concentration span of seven minutes, the same time that television programs run before breaking for advertisements. Television has influenced and changed the cognitive ability of the viewer and America is moving from a fast food to an attention deficit nation. Immediacy has become the ultimate value in the “ready to go” society. Whether it is a modem or a diet, speed is of the essence.
For the Israeli advocate explaining the case for Israel in an emotive language is a fundamental challenge. For the Sabra it is more of a challenge as it requires a contradiction of many inherent cultural norms. Historic facts alone are not enough to convince the flick-click generation, but without them Israel’s case is worthless. The flick-click generation is rational and irrational and the advocate for Israel must appeal to both elements.
The flick-click generation bases its opinion on a combination of visual and emotive memory and not facts or knowledge. It remembers how it felt about an event not the information concerning the incident. If entertainment is the outlet of emotion, then for the flick-click generation entertainment and information has been combined to form entertaininfo. Information is provided as entertainment.
For Israel to be more effective in its messaging it will have to stop explaining its policy and start creating messages which are short, simple, emotive and easy to remember.
2. Good policy makes good hasbara
Israel fails to be effective in advocating its position because many people believe that hasbara is just propaganda, not educational, and is what the other side does. Using these techniques of persuasion would, it is argued, be lowering Israel to the standards of the Palestinians and is therefore not appropriate. Ironically these people are usually the first to complain about the effectiveness of Israel’s PR campaign.
There are many differences between Israeli PR and that of the Palestinians, the most obvious being that the Palestinian campaign is more effective. Israel has a number of clear red lines that it will not cross.
Israel does not lie for hasbara, whereas Palestinians have no problem creating a massacre in Jenin that never took place. Israel is more sensitive regarding the use of photographs of dead bodies whether out of respect for the dead or a rejection of being perceived as victim. Palestinians are more open to the use of such photographs as it reinforces a sense of victimhood.
This argument is fundamentally flawed. Messages need to be consistent and repeated to be remembered. Despite their success, McDonalds and Coke spend millions in advertising their products.
The Israel advocate is opening the minds of the audience to the complexity of the issues of the Middle East.
1. Political correctness
One of the greatest challenges to effectively explaining the case for Israel, especially for young Americans, is political correctness (PC). PC is the alteration of language to redress unjust discrimination or to avoid offense. In the world of PC the English language has been stripped of its masculinity and the use of the word man has nearly disappeared. Firemen are now firefighters, policemen are Law Enforcement Officers and postmen are postal workers. Obese people are no longer fat but are gravitationally challenged and the disabled have special needs — even mankind has been replaced by earth’s children.
Deeply rooted in the mindset of the politically correct is a wish not to upset. In such an environment it is hard to seriously advocate for Israel. Having an opinion is seen as bias and even intolerance. Democracy allows people the freedom to say what they think; it does not mean that every opinion is as valid as the other.
The politically correct pity the victim and naturally ally themselves with the Palestinian cause. They are also particularly susceptible to arguments of moral equivalency, where Palestinians and Israelis are concerned. In their world there is a cycle of violence in the Middle East that is perpetuated by Israel and if only Israel would stop building settlements everything would be just fine.
The case for havashook
Don’t try to find havashook in an English Hebrew dictionary, it doesn’t exist. Nor is it the name of a quaint English town in Surrey, England. Havashook is a new concept combining two Hebrew words: havana (understanding) and shivook (marketing). If Israel is to be successful at PR it does not need to explain every policy, but it does need to proactively create an understanding of Israel’s security situation. How can Israel explain the need for a security fence if there is not an understanding of Israel’s security needs, or what it is like to travel by bus in Israel on the day a bus has been targeted by suicide bombers?
The second part of the word havashook comes for the Hebrew word shivook: or marketing. Israel needs to market itself as a product and use many of the concepts associated with selling any product.
The concept of havashook has been implemented by many diplomats, Jewish and Christian religious leaders, students and friends of Israel worldwide in an attempt to replace many of the disproved attempts at media spinning and public relations. The Five Rules of Effective Israel Advocacy will enable the reader to practice Havashook.
The Five Rules of Effective Israel Advocacy are:
- Use emotion and personalize
- Refute and redefine
- Speak their language
- The logic of yes
- Get to yes
Logos, ethos and pathos
The five rules of effective Israel advocacy have been proven to work and are an important tool for Israel and its friends worldwide. Yet in reality the rules are rooted in the wisdom of the classic Greeks. If Aristotle was asked by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advise on hasbara he would have advised three major pillars of advocacy — Logos, Ethos and Pathos.
Logos is the appeal to reason. Aristotle believed that by appealing to simple reason, a speaker could convince his audience of the cause. Ethos is an appeal to character and a judgment of what is fair. By appealing to an opponent’s sense of justice, a speaker would prevail. Pathos is the appeal to emotion, a force that was as powerful as logic. When logic did not work then a careful and considered use of emotion was prescribed.
It would be interesting to ask Aristotle what he thought of hasbara and Israel’s attempts to explain its cause.
This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.