ISRAHELL: Public Relations instead of saving lives

Sending portable toilets to Haiti would have been a better option, but this does not provide good photo opportunities. Israeli missions to disaster areas in the past have shown that such activity was in vain.

DR Yoel Donchin

I received my final exemption from the army after I published an article which said that the State of Israel acts like the proverbial Boy Scout, who insists on doing a good deed daily and helping an old lady cross the road even against her will. How ungrateful of me to publish such a column when I had participated in almost all the rescue missions to overseas disaster areas! Suddenly I am no longer suitable to take part in such heroic endeavours. But in light of the experience I gained in such missions…we have wasted our effort.

Generally speaking, we start preparing for such a mission within hours of the announcement of a natural disaster. Most often the Israeli mission team is the first one to land in the area. Like those who climb Mount Everest, it plants its flag on the highest peak available, announcing  to all and sundry that the site has been conquered. And in order to ensure that the public is aware of this sporting achievement, the mission is accompanied by media representatives, photographers, an IDF spokesman’s office squad and others.

I understood the purpose perfectly when the head of one of the delegations to a disaster zone was asked whether oxygen tanks and a number of doctors could be removed to make room for another TV network’s representatives with their equipment. (With unusual courage, the delegation head refused!)

The lesson learnt from the activities of those missions is that when there is a natural disaster, or when thousands of people are expelled from their homes by force, as happened in Kosovo, survivors may benefit from international assistance only if it responds to the region’s specific needs. Also assistance must be coordinated among the various aid agencies.

The competitive race to a disaster zone imposes a huge strain on the local health and administration authorities. Airports are clogged by transport planes unloading a lot of unnecessary but bulky equipment. Doctors and rescue organisations seek ways to utilise single carriageway roads and in fact they are a burden.   The correct way to help is to send a small advance force to gauge the dimensions of the disaster…

Would they still call that child Israel?

Three components are crucial:  shelter, water and food — these things are crucial in order to save the largest number of people. Water purification equipment, tents, basic food rations are needed. But they do lack the desired dramatic effect. If we went down that track we would miss out on seeing that child who was born with the assistance of our physicians. Most certainly, the excited mother wouldn’t give her child (who knows if he will ever reach a ripe old age?) the name Israel or that of the obstetrician or nurse. (Would he get citizenship because he was born in Israeli territory? There would be many opposed to that.) The drama is indeed classy, but its necessity is doubtful.

It being Israel, our current force contains a Kashrut supervisor, security personnel and more.

In the present disaster, which is of a more massive scale than anything we have encountered to date, the need is not so much for a field hospital but field, ie portable, toilets. There is more of a need for digging equipment to dig graves and sewage pipes.

A country which wants to provide humanitarian aid without concern for its media image should send whatever is required by the victims, and not whatever it wants to deliver. But would the evening news show the commander of the Israeli mission at the compound with 500 chemical toilets? Unlikely. It is much more media savvy to show an Israeli hospital, replete with stars of David and of course the dedicated doctors and nurses, dressed in their snazzy uniforms with an Israeli flag on the lapel.

…It is quite likely that financial assistance commensurate with Israel’s resources would be preferable to the enormous expense and complicated logistics involved in the maintenance of a medical unit in the field…

But apparently a minute of TV coverage is much more important…and in fact Israel is using disasters as [military] field training in rescue and medical care. After a fortnight, the mission will reportedly return to Israel. To be truly effective a field hospital needs to remain for two or three months, but that’s a condition that Israel cannot meet.

…It is only in the Israeli aid compound in Haiti that large signs carrying the donor country’s name hang for all to see.

Prof. Yoel Donchin is the director of the Patient Safety Unit at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem.
Translated by Sol Salbe, who directs the Middle East News Service for the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.


Haiti: An Israeli Public Relations Moment?

Critics accuse Israel of exploiting the disaster in Haiti for public diplomacy.

It’s been a tough year for Israeli public diplomacy.

In the aftermath of the Gaza war, for over 12 months the Jewish state has been slammed by international media, think tanks, rights organizations and the United Nations.

Ambassadors have been recalled from Tel Aviv, arrest warrants have been issued for senior Israeli politicians and leaders, a Holocaust survivor led a fast for Gaza, dozens of human rights reports on Israel’s conduct in the war have been widely distributed and the international campaigns to launch boycotts and sanctions against Israel have seen measured success.

Israel has without question been in dire need of an image makeover.

They got it: for better or worse, Israel has received its public relations knight in shining armor in the form of an earthquake in Haiti.

Israel sent more than 200 Israeli doctors, nurses, soldiers and volunteers to Haiti soon after the gravity of the damage in Haiti became apparent. Within two days of arriving, the Israeli delegation had set up a field hospital, administered emergency medical aid from the Port-au-Prince stadium and rescued over a dozen living survivors from collapsed buildings.

Jewish state’s rapid and extensive response has hardly gone unnoticed by the country’s media, diplomats and foreign advocates. Updates from Israel’s delegation in Haiti have been sent regularly to hundreds of Israeli and foreign journalists via email, video, blogs and social networking sites.

Journalists were even sent a video of ZAKA volunteers somewhat unsuccessfully leading a group of Haitians in singing the Jewish song “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem”, literally meaning “We have brought peace upon you.”

Israeli newspapers and TV news programs have dedicated extensive space to coverage of the Israeli delegation in Haiti. Former President Bill Clinton’s thanks to Israel made the front page of Israel’s leading daily on Wednesday, followed by an article on the effects of Israel’s aid entitled “Now They Love Us.” When a Haitian mother who gave birth in the Israeli field hospital decided to name her child Israel it was the leading news item in most news outlets.

“Israel sent a very large delegation and we were one of the first to arrive,” Mati Goldstein, head of the ZAKA Israeli rescue delegation, told The Media Line on the phone from Haiti. “We built a hospital, are treating 300 to 400 people a day, and rescued 19 people from the rubble, more than any other delegation.”

Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister, said rescue operations were one of Israel’s shining lights.

“Whenever there is a disaster happening in any part of the world, Israel is reacting,” he told The Media Line. “We unfortunately have a lot of experience and well trained personnel that can help a civilian population suffering the consequences of earthquakes, floods, any kind of disaster. Israeli forces, rescue teams and medical teams operated in Armenia, in Mexico, in certain parts of Africa, all over the world.”

“The response in Haiti was very quick,” Edelstein said. “Before most of the countries managed to prepare their field hospitals for action, the Israeli doctors and nurses were already practically saving peoples lives… at this stage we are talking about hundreds of lives saved in Haiti by the Israeli team… From the reactions we are getting from different crews, delegations, teams from all over the world in Haiti, they basically all admire the work of the Israeli team.”

But while praising Israel’s response, critics say Israeli attempts to accent their aid to Haiti have been over-the-top, and accuse Israeli public relations officials of exploiting the disaster for political ends.

“The extreme right wing in Israel is using the Haiti operation to reframe the fallout from the Goldstone report in the eyes of the world,” Dr Yoel Donchin, an Israeli anesthesiologist and a veteran of Israeli rescue operations told The Media Line. “They know the Haitians are not part of the agenda and this is just for propaganda. But if it’s good for Israel they don’t care.”

“You can’t save everyone, and anyone who has studied mass casualty situations knows that the first thing you have to do is not rush in but to send a small team to evaluate what is the best way to help in the long run,” he said. “So the fact that Israel wants to race to be the first to be there means nothing in the big picture, because Israel is usually the first to arrive but also the first to leave.”

“If, for example, Israel were to bring water purification systems and chemical toilets it would be much more helpful,” Dr Donchin said. “But their logic is that then it wouldn’t get on the news.”

Dr Donchin told of an incident in which the head of one of the delegations to a disaster area was asked to move oxygen tanks and doctors to make room for an additional TV crew, and argued that Israel had become a state that “insists on performing a good deed each day and helping the old lady cross the road, even against her will.

“Like Everest climbers, Israel places her national flag at the peak to prove that the site has been conquered,” Dr Donchin wrote in a Tuesday opinion piece in Israel’s leading Hebrew news site YNet. “To publicize this physical achievement, media representatives, photographers, Israeli Defense Forces Spokespeople and others are brought along with the delegation.”

“Are we going to see the commander of the Israeli delegation on the evening news beside a compound with 500 chemical toilets? Unlikely,” he wrote. “It is much more “media friendly” to show an Israeli hospital, Stars of David and of course the staff of dedicated doctors and nurses wearing their uniforms with an Israeli flag on the lapel.”

600 readers responded to the article in its first 24 hours online and a number of other Israeli publications ran opinion pieces Monday and Tuesday accusing Israel of using the disaster for publicity points or of ignoring a humanitarian disaster on the country’s front step in Gaza.

Shlomo Aronson, professor of politics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, took issue with such assessments.

“Yes, it gives another image of Israel to those thinking about the rubble of Gaza,” he told The Media Line. “Here Israel is lending help to people who have been victims of natural disaster.”
“But it’s not a matter of political benefit nor a deliberate response to Gaza because Israel did similar operations before Gaza,” Aronson said. “We are simply better equipped and better trained than most of the others.”

“They say salvaging a few people from the rubble is not necessarily worth it,” he said of Donchin’s argument. “But Donchin deliberately omitted the fact that we don’t have the ability to do what he wanted to do and we need to acknowledge what we can and can’t do.”

Minister Edelstein said that while Israel was not offering aid as a tactic of public diplomacy, he hoped the positive images would change perceptions of Israel.

“Israeli is not assisting the Haitian population in order to get some brownie points,” he told The Media Line. “We are doing that because we are Jews, we are Israelis, and because we were brought up with this famous Talmudic perception ‘Saving one life is like saving the entire world’.”

“But definitely I wouldn’t deny that pictures of Israeli teams, uniformed Israeli doctors and soldiers helping, saving, rescuing, are positive pictures,” he said. “I sincerely hope that for people with open minds a question will at least appear: ‘How come the same people who have been portrayed as cold-hearted murderers are right now risking their own lives and definitely their living standards in order to save people and to help people they don’t know and people basically that are thousands of miles from our country?'”

Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli public opinion researcher and political strategist, argued that the reaction to Dr Donchin’s criticisms was born of a long standing Israeli sensitivity to their perception in the outside world.

“What I have learned over many years of public opinion research is that Israelis are quite sensitive to their image abroad,” she told The Media Line. “Israelis hate when they are seen only in light of the conflict, especially when they are seen as aggressors, and they feel that most of the world is against them, with the possible exception of America.”

“As a result, Israelis are extremely supportive of anything that shows them in a better light because it’s so rare that they get any good news about how they are viewed in the rest of the world,” Scheindlin said. “We see this whenever there is global attention towards Israel for anything other than the conflict. This happened recently, for example, when an Israeli won the windsurfing gold medal or when an Israeli astronaut died.”

“That said, do I think the government participated in this aid effort for publicity? Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t think it was a cynical move. Israel would have participated anyway. But Israelis do try to use these things to try to leverage a better image for themselves around the world.”

Ref: Medialine

Thought-police is here – israeli state-propgaganda HASBARA

The Foreign Ministry unveiled a new plan this week: Paying talkbackers to post pro-Israel responses on websites worldwide. A total of NIS 600,000 (roughly $150,000) will be earmarked to the establishment of an “Internet warfare” squad.

The Foreign Ministry intends to hire young people who speak at least one language and who study communication, political science, or law – or alternately, Israelis with military experience gained at units dealing with information analysis.

Beyond the fact that these job requirements reveal a basic lack of understanding in respect to the dynamics of the online discourse – the project’s manager argued that “adults don’t know how to blog” – they are not too relevant either. An effective talkbacker does not need a law degree or military experience. He merely needs to care about the subject he writes about.

The sad truth is that had Israeli citizens believed that their State is doing the right thing, they would have made sure to explain it out of their own accord. Without being paid.

Foreign Ministry officials are fighting what they see as a terrible and scary monster: the Palestinian public relations monster. Yet nothing can be done to defeat it, regardless of how many foolish inventions will be introduced and how many bright communication students will be hired.

The reason is that good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved. Yet nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry wants to try to change the situation. And they have willing partners. “Where do I submit a CV?” wrote one respondent. “I’m fluent in several languages and I’m able to spew forth bullshit for hours on end.”

Anti-democratic initiative

Any attempt to plant talkbacks online must fail. Especially if the State is behind it. Not only because it’s easy to identify responses made on behalf of someone, but also because it’s anti-democratic. When the Israel Electric Company or other companies do it, it’s annoying. Yet when the State does it, it’s dangerous.

Imposters on behalf of the government are threatening free discourse even if they only wander through the virtual space. The Internet was meant to serve as an open platform for dialogue between people, rather than as a propaganda means.

Something worrisome is happening here lately. We see the accumulation of silencing attempts. The Nakba Law, the bill calling for a ban on protests outside the homes of politicians, Lieberman’s Loyalty Law, and the biometric information database. The free speech hunting season is on.

Thankfully we have the Internet, and it enables us to identify processes, discuss them, warn about them, and join forces against them. We can assume that soon we’ll see the establishment of a website opposed to this new initiative, unless such site already exists. Perhaps even a group on Facebook. I wonder whether all its members will be Foreign Ministry agents, or whether it will also include some real people.

This is not a police state: This is a thought-police state.

Israel to mount emergency international PR effort in wake of Gaza campaign (here it comes, get ready for the “genocide apologist”)

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people
will eventually come to believe it.

Joseph Goebbels

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Saturday instructed the Foreign Ministry to take emergency measures to adapt Israel’s international public relations to the ongoing escalation in the Gaza Strip.

Livni instructed senior ministry officials to open an aggressive and diplomatic international public relations campaign, in order to gain greater international support for Israel Defense Forces operations in the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched Saturday morning the start of a massive offensive against Qassam rocket and mortar fire on its southern communities, targeting dozens of buildings belonging to the ruling Hamas militant group.

Palestinian medical sources said that at least 230 people had been killed in the strikes, which began at around 11:30 A.M.

Livni instructed ministry officials currently on vacation in Israel to return immediately to their posts abroad, and to immediately mount public relations campaigns in their station countries, focusing on local media and public officials.

In addition, Isr
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. (Jini)
aeli officials stationed abroad have been put on high alert.

Livni will hold a series of talks with foreign officials in the coming days, in which she will attempt to explain the rationale for the expanded IDF operations in the Gaza Strip.

The Foreign Ministry is also looking to recruit speakers of foreign languages, in particular Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and German, in order to expand Israel’s public relations campaign with the representatives of foreign media outlets currently in Israel.

An international media broadcast outlet will be opened in Sderot on Sunday, and the Foreign Ministry will organize a series of tours of Sderot and the Gaza envelope communities for foreign media and diplomatic figures.

Speaking in English at a press conference Saturday, Livni said Israel “expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and co existence to determine the agenda of this region.”

Ref: Haaretz