Public diplomacy (Israel)
Meaning of the termPublic diplomacy in Israel (also hasbara) (Hebrew: הַסְבָּרָה hasbará, "explaining") refers to public relations efforts to disseminate information about Israel. The term is used by the Israeli government and its supporters to describe efforts to explain government policies and promote Israel in the face of negative press, and to counter what they see as delegitimisation of Israel around the world.Hasbara means "explanation", and is also a euphemism for propaganda.
While hasbara literally means "explanation", its exact import in its current usage is debated. Gideon Meir has said that there is no "real, precise" translation of the word hasbara in English or any other language, and has characterized it as public diplomacy, an action undertaken by all governments around the world with the growing importance of what Harvard professor Joseph Nye termed soft power. Gary Rosenblatt describes it as "advocacy".
Hasbara has been described as "pro-Israel propaganda," but while "propaganda strives to highlight the positive aspects of one side of a conflict, hasbara seeks to explain actions, whether or not they are justified."
HistoryHistorian Giora Goodman considers "hasbara" to mean "propaganda" in practice, explainingThe term "propaganda" acquired a pejorative sense during the first half of the twentieth century. Accordingly, British and American propagandists used "information" to describe their work and the positive-sounding word hasbara has generally been preferred in Hebrew. "Propaganda", ta’amula in Hebrew, is mostly reserved for what opponents do, but the term was often used by the Zionist movement to portray its own efforts to influence mass audiences.
The early mentions of the term hasbara in English mainstream print media date from the late 1970s and describe hasbara as “overseas image-building.” According to The Washington Post, this work "is called hasbara when the purpose is to reshape public opinion abroad.” In the early 1980s, hasbara was defined as a "public relations campaign," In Newsweek it was described as “explaining.” In 1986, the New York Times reported that a program for “communicating defense goals” was started in the late 1970s, and a 1984 implementation of a “Hasbara Project” to “train foreign-service officers in communications by placing them with American companies.” Carl Spielvogel, chairman of Backer & Spielvogel, traveled to Israel to advise the government on communicating its defense goals.The trip led to the Hasbara Project, an internship program established to train foreign-service officers in communications by placing them with American companies. Shmuel Katz's book Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, published in 1973, was described as “an encyclopedic source-book for those involved in Israel's hasbara (public relations) effort.” In 1977, Prime Minister Menachem Begin named Katz "Adviser to the Prime Minister of Information Abroad."
In May 1992, The Jerusalem Post reported that American Jewish leaders hardly reacted to news that the Foreign Ministry's hasbara department would be eliminated as part of a sweeping reorganization of the ministry. Malcolm Hoenlein noted there had been talk of streamlining the ministry's hasbara functions for some time. He said that merging the hasbara department's functions with those of the press department did not portend any downgrading in the priority the Likud government gives to hasbara abroad. Abe Foxman, reacted similarly, saying he was "not distressed or disturbed", and noted that disseminating hasbara has always been the responsibility of every Foreign Ministry staff officer, especially those working abroad; if eliminating one department means everyone will assume greater responsibility for his or her own efforts in distributing hasbara, then he is all in favor. It also reported that personnel in foreign hasbara departments would be shifted to press departments, which is where much of the work currently done by hasbara officials properly belongs. He explained that Israel's efforts to provide hasbara abroad would focus on media communications.
In 2001, Shmuel Katz published a retrospective of Israeli hasbara efforts and said that the task of Israel's hasbara "must be tackled not by occasional sudden sallies but by a separate permanent department in the government." Sharon did increase hasbara efforts, but did not create a cabinet-level ministry for that purpose.
Also in 2001, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry, the diplomatic arm of the Government of Israel, was an original co-sponsor of the Hasbara Fellowships activities of Aish HaTorah. The Jewish Agency for Israel, Department for Jewish Zionist Education, operates a campaign called "Hasbara, Israeli Advocacy, Your Guide to the Middle East Conflict". In May 2007, the Hasbara Fellowships asserted that
"Wikipedia is not an objective resource but rather an online encyclopedia that any one can edit. The result is a website that is in large part is controlled by 'intellectuals' who seek re-write the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These authors have systematically yet subtly rewritten key passages of thousands of Wikipedia entries to portray Israel in a negative light. You have the opportunity to stop this dangerous trend! If you are interested in joining a team of Wikipedians to make sure Israel is presented fairly and accurately, please contact [our] director".
A similar advocacy campaign on Wikipedia was later launched by the CAMERA in May 2008; it resulted in administrative action by the project, and several editors were blocked indefinitely.In 2002, the Israeli State Comptroller's office issued a report critical of Israel's PR efforts, "A lack of an overall strategic public relations conception and objective" and lack of coordination between the various organizations were mentioned. Funding levels are modest; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spent about US$8.6 million on these efforts in 2002, and the Government Press Office was only budgeted at US$100,000.
In 2008, Yarden Vatikay was appointed to coordinate Israel’s domestic and foreign media policy.In 2009, Israel's foreign ministry organized volunteers to add pro-Israeli commentary on news websites. In July 2009, it was announced that the Israeli Foreign Ministry would assemble an "internet warfare" squad to spread a pro-Israel message on various websites, with funding of 600,000 shekels (c $150,000).
A 2010 report produced for the Israeli cabinet by the Reut Institute, and cited by the newspaper Haaretz, exemplifies the common Israeli view that hasbara efforts are needed to respond to what it describes as a diffuse "delegitimization network" of anti-Israel activists. As Haaretz put it, "The network's activists - 'delegitimizers' the report dubs them - are relatively marginal: young people, anarchists, migrants and radical political activists." The newspaper also cites the report as saying this network promotes pro-Palestinian activities in Europe as "trendy," and calls for it to be monitored by Israeli intelligence services, and for the cabinet to treat the network as a strategic threat. It concludes that Israel was not prepared to meet the threat posed by this diffuse network, and that a counter-effort must be more vigorously undertaken to respond to its activities.
MethodsHasbara advocate Neil Lazarus says that what he calls "low budget, grassroots Hasbara 2.0" has come of age, and commends web sites that keep track of what supporters see as anti-Israel media bias, and that promote e-mail campaigns on behalf of Israel. He observes that "Israel’s hasbara seems to be becoming more dynamic, as the Diaspora takes responsibility", and that, "Even day schools and MASA programs have been conscripted to the task."
The Israel Citizens Information Council (ICIC) says its purpose is "to assist efforts to explain Israeli life from the vantage point of the average Israeli citizen. Towards that end, the ICIC enlists Israelis from all walks of life to participate in its various projects ... One of our major activities is the production of special Powerpoint presentations which we post on our website. These presentations review specific aspects and issues related to Israel and the Middle East."
Some hasbara experts study methods used by Palestinian activists and offer advice on how to respond. Describing demonstrators as "youths," for example, creates a different impression from calling them "children." They draw attention to the subtle differences of meaning between words such as demonstration and riot, terror organization and Palestinian political organization. They advise against name calling and point scoring.
Hasbara FellowshipsEdward Said wrote that hasbara methods used during the Second Intifada included lunches and free trips for influential journalists; seminars for Jewish university students; invitations to congressmen; pamphlets and donation of money for election campaigns; telling photographers and writers what to photograph or write about; lecture and concert tours by prominent Israelis; frequent references to the Holocaust; advertisements in the newspapers attacking Arabs and praising Israel.
Hasbara Fellowships is an organization that brings students to Israel and trains them to be effective pro-Israel activists on college campuses. Based in New York, it was started in 2001 by Aish HaTorah in conjunction with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The organization claims to have trained nearly 2,000 students on over 220 North American campuses.
StaffStudents in the program have the opportunity to meet high-level Israeli officials. A sample itinerary given by the organization includes meetings in Jerusalem with the foreign press advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, the mayor of an Israeli city, a member of the Knesset, and the foreign minister of Israel
ActivitiesHasbara Fellowships was founded and is, as of 2011, still run by Rabbi Elliot Mathias, who has a degree in communications from Northwestern University.
Activists trained by Hasbara Fellowships have been involved in several campus rallies. In 2002, Hasbara Fellowships organized a rally at the National Student Palestinian Conference at the University of Michigan. In 2007, Hasbara Fellowships members at Brandeis University protested against former US President Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
In May 2007, Hasbara Fellowships (co-sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry) called for volunteers to counter a "dangerous trend" of Wikipedia entries portraying Israel in a "negative light". Interested readers were encouraged to consider "joining a team of Wikipedians to make sure Israel is presented fairly and accurately".
In 2008, Hasbara Fellowships helped to organize "Islamic State Apartheid Week" at York University to counter the rival "Israeli Apartheid Week".
In 2010, Hasbara Fellows created Israel Peace Week as a response to Israel Apartheid Week. In its first year, the program reached 28 campuses in the US and three in Australia.
18 August 2010 20.52 BST
Wikipedia editing courses launched by Zionist groups
Two Israeli groups set up training courses in Wikipedia editing with aims to 'show the other side' over borders and culture
Since the earliest days of the worldwide web, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen its rhetorical counterpart fought out on the talkboards and chatrooms of the internet.Now two Israeli groups seeking to gain the upper hand in the online debate have launched a course in "Zionist editing" for Wikipedia, the online reference site.Yesha Council, representing the Jewish settler movement, and the rightwing Israel Sheli (My I srael) movement, ran their first workshop this week in Jerusalem, teaching participants how to rewrite and revise some of the most hotly disputed pages of the online reference site."We don't want to change Wikipedia or turn it into a propaganda arm," says Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council. "We just want to show the other side. People think that Israelis are mean, evil people who only want to hurt Arabs all day."Wikipedia is one of the world's most popular websites, and its 16m entries are open for anyone to edit, rewrite or even erase. The problem, according to Ayelet Shaked of Israel Sheli, is that online, pro-Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinian voices. "We don't want to give this arena to the other side," she said. "But we are so few and they are so many. People in the US and Europe never hear about Israel's side, with all the correct arguments and explanations."Like others involved with this project, Shaked thinks that her government is "not doing a very good job" of explaining Israel to the world.And on Wikipedia, they believe that there is much work to do.Take the page on Israel, for a start: "The map of Israel is portrayed without the Golan heights or Judea and Samaria," said Bennett, referring to the annexed Syrian territory and the West Bank area occupied by Israel in 1967.Another point of contention is the reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a status that is constantly altered on Wikipedia.Other pages subject to constant re-editing include one titled Goods allowed/banned for import into Gaza – which is now being considered for deletion – and a page on the Palestinian territories.Then there is the problem of what to call certain neighbourhoods. "Is Ariel a city or a settlement?" asks Shaked of the area currently described by Wikipedia as "an Israeli settlement and a city in the central West Bank." That question is the subject of several thousand words of heated debate on a Wikipedia discussion thread.The idea, says Shaked and her colleauges, is not to storm in, cause havoc and get booted out – the Wikipedia editing community is sensitive, consensus-based and it takes time to build trust."We learned what not to do: don't jump into deep waters immediately, don't be argumentative, realise that there is a semi-democratic community out there, realise how not to get yourself banned," says Yisrael Medad, one of the course participants, from Shiloh.Is that Shiloh in the occupied West Bank? "No," he sighs, patiently. "That's Shiloh in the Binyamin region across the Green Line, or in territories described as disputed."One Jerusalem-based Wikipedia editor, who doesn't want to be named, said that publicising the initiative might not be such a good idea. "Going public in the past has had a bad effect," she says. "There is a war going on and unfortunately the way to fight it has to be underground."In 2008, members of the hawkish pro-Israel watchdog Camera who secretly planned to edit Wikipedia were banned from the site by administrators.Meanwhile, Yesha is building an information taskforce to engage with new media, by posting to sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and claims to have 12,000 active members, with up to 100 more signing up each month. "It turns out there is quite a thirst for this activity," says Bennett. "The Israeli public is frustrated with the way it is portrayed abroad."The organisiers of the Wikipedia courses, are already planning a competition to find the "Best Zionist editor", with a prize of a hot-air balloon trip over Israel.Wikipedia warsThere are frequent flare-ups between competing volunteer editors and obsessives who run Wikipedia. As well as conflicts over editing bias and "astroturfing" PR attempts, articles are occasionally edited to catch out journalists; the Independent recently erroneously published that the Big Chill had started life as the Wanky Balls festival. In 2005 the founding editorial director of USA Today, John Seigenthaler, discovered his Wikipedia entry included the claim that he was involved in the assassination of JFK.Editors can remain anonymous when changing content, but conflicts are passed to Wikipedia's arbitration committee. Scientology was a regular source of conflict until the committee blocked editing by the movement.Critics cite the editing problems as proof of a flawed site that can be edited by almost anybody, but its defenders claim the issues are tiny compared with its scale. Wikipedia now has versions in 271 languages and 379 million users a month.