This week, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned that Israel will face intense campaigns to label it an apartheid state in 2022.
“We think that in the coming year, there will be debate that is unprecedented in its venom and in its radioactivity around the words ‘Israel as an apartheid state,'” Lapid said during a Zoom briefing with Israeli journalists. Lapid called the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state “a despicable lie.”
Against that backdrop, I have released the following book excerpt from my best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release” regarding Israel’s PR, especially relevant against the backdrop of Lapid’s comments.
“The state of Israel is, for me, a personal passion, and with love I will say that Israel does a horrible job when it comes to PR. The simple message that Israel is a tiny, democratic country surrounded by murderous despots doesn’t get through—not to governments, the media, or the public.
Case in point: Many people don’t understand the difference in size between all of the Arab states and the Jewish state. The total area of the state of Israel is 8,019 square miles, and it’s surrounded by Arab nations—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt alone covers an area of 386,662 square miles. Israel has a population of about 8.3 million people, and the Arab nations surrounding her total 428 million people.
Everyone can relate to concepts about distance and size, such as the fact that Israel is the size of New Jersey and is completely surrounded by much larger countries with huge swaths of land and bigger populations who would like to see the tiny country destroyed. Still, the media worldwide writes of the “Jewish settlements” and “West Bank” as key conflicts between the Arabs and Israel. Leaving aside the perspective of just how tiny these areas actually are, or that Israel won them in a defensive war that started before there were any so-called “occupied territories,” is like blaming a flea for a pit bull’s aggressive behavior.
The state of Israel puts itself in danger because of its flawed public relations and communications work. In contrast, terrorist organizations Hamas, Hezbollah, and certain Arab nations have hired PR agencies to lobby for them in the press and on the world stage. Terror groups have engaged reporters and journalists, share meals with them, drink with them, and win their favor. Israel doesn’t even pay for its diplomatic employees to use cell phones after hours or on weekends—a necessity in today’s 24/7 media world—because of archaic and bureaucratic rules
Israel’s PR has gotten better in recent years, but it can still do better at framing the debate by using more spokespeople who are fluent in the English language. Israel regularly sends diplomats who don’t speak the native language to other countries. That means there is still much that can be done to fight and influence. It’s a question of shaping concepts and of speaking in terms and metaphors that the world understands.
Look at what happens when private investors legally buy property in eastern Jerusalem and legally build homes for Jews. An Internet search reveals that the media see such construction as evidence of Jewish “occupation” and a primary reason why there will never be peace in the Middle East. Why not create messaging about how a Jewish person can legally build a home and live anywhere in the world—except Israel? Jews can buy and build in Harlem or East Los Angeles, Paris, or Moscow, but not in Jerusalem. They can buy real estate and coexist elsewhere—why not there? That is the message Israel should be sending.
Israel, like any country (or brand or business) needs to make its own case, and cannot depend on others to do this work. The advice I have for Israel stands for any organization or group with an “underdog” status or that is suffering the consequences of being misunderstood. The following points are useful for any brand or business that wants to control its own narrative:
-Make your own case. Be proactive and passionate in educational PR efforts. In Israel’s case, for instance, there should be a concerted PR effort to continually refute “moral equivalency” myths that are perpetuated in many corners of the press and taught in college classrooms around the world, myths that equate Palestinian suicide bombings with Israeli efforts to stop bombers before they act. Refuting the myths can be done through op-eds, reports, videos, blogs, outreach programs, and so on. But it can’t be saved for a crisis; it has to be ongoing.
-Argue on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Harmful framing by the media or others can be handled effectively only with counter-framing—presenting your narrative without debating the negative frame (thereby giving it credibility) or trying to justify yourself against it. In doing so, you give credence to and reinforce a point of view you’re actually trying to dismiss. In this case, Israel needs to start a conversation on her own terms and provide the media with multiple stories that discuss its innovations in technology, security, and other advances. Israel needs to talk about how it “made the desert bloom.” From its founding in 1948, it transformed a land that is 65 percent desert into a country rich in diversity and teeming with technology—Intel, Microsoft, and IBM have all developed robust, profitable, and innovative businesses in the country. Israeli doctors have won important prizes in the medical development field. The country today thrives financially as well, with a booming economy and an independent stock market. It also has the only true democracy in the region.
-Consistent and united PR. There is nothing more counterproductive and irritating to a spokesperson than having to compete with a colleague who is operating with a different message. This is the case with Israel—spokespeople for the state often speak at cross-purposes with the press and contradict each other. The same goes for a company. Can you imagine what would happen if the media had to compare two or three different sources within the same organization to discover the firm’s stance on an issue? Always make sure those who speak to the press are on the same page and understand and communicate a unified message.
Act with rapidity. Israel is agile and dynamic. It can use this to its advantage. Imagine a boat the size of the Titanic, which takes considerable time and effort to change course and redirect. In comparison, imagine Israel as a small lifeboat that maneuvers quickly and easily within the waters of world affairs. In PR terms, Israel can change key messages quickly and deftly when necessary. The ability to respond quickly has many benefits.
-Engage social media frequently. Social media should be used on a daily basis, and in a positive way. In the long run, it is the daily actions of a brand that determine its overall image. A daily blog post helps build a reputation, as do regular speaking engagements and consistent outreach and public events. Social media, in cases like this, allows you to at least go directly to your supporters and customers."