How Israel Can Win the PR War

By Evelyn Gordon
19 July 2010

In yesterday’s post, I focused on a disturbing incident described by PR guru Frank Luntz in a Jerusalem Post interview — an incident in which American Jewish college students proved utterly unwilling or unable to defend Israel. But Luntz also offered a constructive strategy for how to improve this situation.

Again, he used an example to illustrate his point: a meeting with a group of “high income, high education, politically connected” Brits who were “so hostile to Israel” that “I’d given up … There was no message that resonated remotely well with them. And I finally said ‘to hell with it. We’ll give them the Hamas Charter’” — or, more accurately, a “word for word” version taken from Hamas’s website and then “edited down to one page.”

The results surpassed his wildest expectations: at the end, “28 of the 30 said, ‘How dare Israel negotiate with these people?’” Luntz’s point is simple: when people have preconceived notions about Israel, it’s very hard to dislodge those notions — to convince them, for instance, that Israel did not wantonly target civilians in last year’s war in Gaza, or has not created a humanitarian crisis there by its blockade. But it is possible to persuade them that no matter how bad Israel is, its enemies are much, much worse — and therefore even someone who dislikes Israel should nevertheless back it against those enemies.

Though Luntz did not elaborate, it’s not hard to see why this should be so. First, people generally know much less about Hamas or Hezbollah than they think they do about Israel, so there are fewer preconceived notions to try to dislodge. Second, Israel’s enemies truly are evil and make no effort to hide it, so the case is easy to prove.

The third, and perhaps most important, reason was excellently explained by another PR professional, Sarah Kass, in a Jerusalem Post article last month. The title says it all: “It’s all defense, all the time.”

Israel’s enemies, Kass explained, are conducting a classic PR offensive, designed to keep the focus relentlessly on Israel and away from themselves. Thus they never talk about themselves; they talk only about Israel.

Israel, however, does the opposite: it talks almost exclusively about itself, constantly trying to defend its own actions rather than focusing on its enemies’ actions. And to listeners, Kass noted, this just sounds like “whining.”

What Israel should be doing, she argued, is exactly what its enemies do: focusing relentlessly on the other side. For only in that context — a battle against a truly evil enemy — can Israel’s defensive measures ever be understood.

“The country has a winning story that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or the Holocaust,” Kass concluded. “It has to do with the degeneracy of globally coordinated fanatics who seek their own death and wish to take the world down with them.” Essentially, that’s the same point Luntz was making.

But this is a story the world doesn’t know — and never will unless Israel and its supporters start telling it.

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First published in Commentary’s blog: Contentions Copyright by the author.

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