David and Goliath – Israel and the Media

August 20, 2010 by Elly Shalev
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Three of Israel’s foremost advocacy experts packed the Beth Weizmann auditorium  to capacity recently for a panel discussion on Israel and the Media.

Danny Lamm, Michelle Rojas-Tal, Ron Ben-Ishai, Scott Copeland, Zeddy Lawrence and Philip Chester

Moderator and Australian Jewish News national editor Zeddy Lawrence introduced guest speakers Ron Ben-Ishai, Michelle Rojas-Tal and Scott Copeland describing “all three as outstanding in their field”.

Lawrence opened the discussion explaining his own dilemmas as editor of the community newspaper that advocates and stands up for Israel while applying the professional responsibility of balanced journalism.

This year more than every other year advocating for Israel in the face of public relations crises and blunders has been a challenge he said. “Does Israel really care what the rest of the world thinks?” Lawrence asked.

Michelle Rojas-Tal from the Israel education organization StandWithUs addressed the issue of words and images shaping world opinion. “How do you challenge the image of a small (Palestinian) boy throwing a stone at an (Israeli) tank? How do we turn that around?” she asked.

As Director for Diaspora Education working with 14 international offices she said that the number one question she gets asked, especially on university campuses around the world is “Why is the media so biased against Israel?”

Michelle says that Israel is most definitely attuned to the very different and aggressive new front of psychological warfare it faces. Referring to the recent Flotilla to Gaza raid where the Israeli navy documented its entire interaction with the violent “activists” on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, she asked “What country in the world not only needs to physically protect its borders but also set up cameras and record a violent confrontation in an effort to get the truth out into PR war?”

Rojas-Tal says that Israel faces major challenges when dealing with international media because foreign correspondents get their stories from the local uncensored Israeli press. “Even the Israeli press can get it wrong” she said.

NGO’s are particularly well known to be a source for hostile pieces against Israel. For example during Israel’s Operation (Cast Lead) against Hamas last year NGO’s were consumed with making statements condemning Israel. More than 500 statements were made by 50 international NGO’s while the conflict in the Congo conflict had 6 statements made, even after a shocking incident when 400 people were burned alive in a church.

“Israel’s enemies do not play by the rules and they constantly win” she stressed.

Spokesman for Israel in his military reserve duty, teacher, tour guide and educator in a wide variety of Israeli and Diaspora settings, Scott Copeland brought a different element to the discussion.

Copeland backtracked on Michelle Rojas-Tal’s stance that we must respond vigorously to anti-Israel coverage in the media and other external forums, proposing that first; we need to understand there are tensions between education and “Hasbara” which he defined as Israel’s external public diplomacy efforts.

As Director of Israel Travel Education at Makom, a Jewish Agency organization, Scott Copeland advocates for education within our “internal family organization”. Young Jews should be given the tools to deal with the tough questions and not necessarily answer them in short sound bites, he said.

“The over emphasis on external (communication) has the potential to undervalue internal education for our students and families” he stated.

Whereas Michelle cited the importance of pro-Israel activity on social media as “this generation has a seven second attention span”, Scott proposes that “our internal family will no longer accept such quick answers”.

Copeland cited the rabbinic concepts of “Da La’anot” meaning “Know what to answer” and “Tshuva” which he defined as “the ability to look at ourselves and say this is how we ought to act” as ways to move forward with our Israel education.

Award-winning commentator on national & international affairs and Special Assignment Correspondent for “Yedioth Achronot” Daily, and its news website Ynet, Ron Ben-Yishai brought a further perspective to the discussion.

With 44 years in journalism including covering Afghanistan for Time magazine, Ben-Ishai has the insider’s perspective.

“Media is only 1 aspect of the soft war, the war of words” because it disseminates the words, he said.

Ben-Ishai cited the 3 problems he sees with the international media: disproportionate attention given to Israel when it has used force; coverage of Israel spanning critical to hostile, and a constant preference by journalists given to the Palestinian narrative, often devoid of even the most basic fact checking.

The veteran journalist cited a recent example he viewed on the new ABC 24 news channel where a man who claimed to be on the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza was interviewed by a female journalist who did not question any of the assertions he made about being attacked by Israeli soldiers. “I could not believe that I was watching was Australian television and not Soviet propaganda” he said.


One Response to “David and Goliath – Israel and the Media”
  1. Kevin Bacon says:

    If only Germany had Israels public relations ability during WW2. They could of had Britain and the United States sending them aid and telling those Polish Jews to stop harrassing poor, poor Germany.

    Perhaps even use the same propa-uh, truthganda methods and start sending out pictures of happy concentration camp members playing in the pool as evidence nothing bad is happening, just like Israel is doing with it’s “Gaza is a happy, prosperous place” campaign right now.

    Hmm? Don’t you think that would have been wonderful?

    Oh, you don’t? Well, before you cry anti-semite at the top of your lungs, perhaps you should actually ask yourselves why that’s any different. Israelis, you’ve become what Jews the world over fled and promised to always remember.

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