Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Vatican and Israel

Haven't blogged in a while (new job, not enough time), but I've just begun posting to the Zio-web list on Yahoogroups (see the new link), and a subject of interest has come up.

The question of hasbara, which may be loosely translated from Hebrew to English as public relations, has always been a controversial one in the Jewish community.

Right up front I'll say there is the problem of, well, the way we call hasbara hasbara. It's tawdry to say so publicly, as Zionists I know tend to do, "we've got to improve our hasbara". It's like saying, "we've got to improve our propaganda." In reality, everyone has a hasbara campaign, Zionists, anti-Zionists, Palestinians, Americans. Only we seem to talk about it as a hasbara campaign.

Anyway, every once in a while, the Israel government hits a hasbara low and does something completely stupid like it did last week by starting up with the Pope over his failure to mention the bombing in Netanya in his condemnation of recent terrorist acts . Israel charged it was intentional. This transparent attempt to twist the Pope's words naturally angered the Vatican, and now there is war of words going on, with escalating barbs on both sides. Israel criticizes the Pope. The Pope gets mad and protests that he's been a good friend. Israel summons the Vatican ambassador. The Vatican gets more mad and releases a memo giving reasons why it doesn't always condemn Palestinian terrorism, something they would not say otherwise, but now say because they have been backed into a corner. Now, undoubtedly, it will get still worse, and all because some idiot spokesman in the Foreign Ministry (there seem to be no shortage of them, which is a hint) decided to be petty with the Pope and the Vatican.

The end result is that any Catholic who cares what the Vatican says (which, admittedly, is probably a small minority) has just been told that Israel is a state that sometimes violates international law in a statement that has been widely described as extraordinarily blunt. We didn't win this one.

Hasbara in our community is sometimes a horse that is dead, entombed, that we continue to beat, but there are a couple of common sense things Israel ought to do more religiously. The first is to set the Foreign Ministry up like the US State Department. One spokesperson, not twelve. This, at least to me, is much more important than whether the spokesperson is a man or a woman. Everyone who cares knows that the State Department spokesperson is Richard Boucher. (M0st people don't care, but that is a different issue.) Having a single spokesperson with maybe a couple of deputies ensures a message that is above all consistent. You repeat the same thing day after day. You give the impression that you believe what you are saying. When you change your mind every day and say something different, people tend to take you less seriously.

Stay on message. This is very difficult because of the blunt nature of Israel society and the many opinions people hold even among high government officials. Ariel Sharon, as a minority in his own party, has no concept of "keeping discipline" like, say, President Bush has. The problem with Israel's political culture is that it's simply not disciplined. There are too many parties, too many special interests, and of late, too many disagreements on the fundamental assumptions about society that have come to the fore.

Pick your fights carefully. What is Israel gaining from this tiff with the Vatican? Is the Vatican going to change its ways or its policy? Will ratcheting up the right-wingers, who like nothing more than to be angry over something and use that anger to become irrational, help, especially at this time?

There are many other suggestions that I could make, but I'll stop here.


At 7:51 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Gee, thanks for your objective assessment of right-wingers.

But overall, I think you're right. I at first got pretty angry myself when I heard the Vatican's statement, but Israel should know better than start a fight *publicly*.


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