Give PR a Chance

August 9, 2009 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Israel_mapThe New York Times reports that the White House “will begin a public-relations campaign in Israel and Arab countries to better explain Mr. Obama’s plans for a comprehensive peace agreement involving Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world.” This follows a trend in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict of multiple parties placing increased priority on public relations.

Israel’s PR issues have grown with its military primacy. The country’s underdog status dissipated in 1967 with its resounding victory in the Six-Day War. The 1970s brought Israel the last major assault on its territory in the Yom Kippur War and peace with its leading adversary, Egypt, in the Camp David Accords. In the 1980s, Israel began projecting its power–the airstrike on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor to prevent his development of nuclear weapons; the invasion of Lebanon to eliminate the presence of the PLO and its allies along the northern border.

Today, many cast Israel as aggressor and occupier, viewing its efforts to stop suicide bombers (the West Bank barrier) and rocket attacks (military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) as disproportionate. Ron Dermer, an American-born advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, validates Israel’s PR crisis, which peaked with its Gaza campaign at the beginning of the year. Per an article in The Age containing Mr. Dermer’s remarks, the Israeli government will centralize its messaging and media strategy and improve its use of public opinion research. In the same piece, Professor Eytan Gilboa, considered Israel’s premier authority on public diplomacy, calls for a 10-fold increase in the country’s PR budget with a focus on Europe and the Arab nations.

In the wake of the Gaza campaign, Hamas has abandoned rocket attacks for a “culture of resistance,” stressing the arts and positive media coverage as tools in its cause. After winning a majority in the 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas clashed with the older Fatah faction, taking control of Gaza while Fatah maintained power in the West Bank, creating a de facto “three state” scenario between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas’ cessation of rockets and emphasis on public image is seen as capitalizing on international condemnation of Israel’s Gaza invasion and bombardment. Concurrently, Fatah has convened its first convention in 20 years, centered on a revamped, more conciliatory platform and framed by Palestinian President Abbas’ call  for “new forms of resistance to attract universal public opinion.” 

The Obama administration seeks to change perceptions among Israelis and Arabs and reverse dissatisfaction regarding American policy and actions. The President will give TV interviews to clarify his vision for the region and propose ways to solve differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Regarding public sentiments in the Middle East, US envoy George Mitchell cites Israelis believing that American pressure for concessions falls solely on them and Arab nations seen as rejecting US efforts, contrary to signals received in direct meetings with their leaders. Mr. Obama’s media push is meant to shift these assumptions.

At this juncture, all sides are acknowledging the importance of image and information, investing more in so-called “soft power.”  Will improved public relations employing the 21st century’s communications platforms drive lasting change and peace? American, Israeli and Palestinian leadership say “yes.”

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Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership, Public Affairs, Public Relations. Tags: , , , , , , .

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