In The Guardian, Seth Freedman writes:
Israel’s latest conscripts in the fight to improve the country’s image have been unveiled: ordinary Israeli citizens. Armed only with a government-issued hasbara pamphlet and a winning smile, they will be sent to wage war with their detractors, in an effort to present Israel as a benign, democratic utopia whose only achilles heel is poor public relations.
Into the breach has stepped a phalanx of Israeli spin doctors, who have devised a campaign in which they want all Israelis to participate when travelling overseas by “telling about the beautiful Israel you know”. To that end, three television commercials are currently being aired which mock the foreign media for its portrayal of the country. In one, a French newsreader is shown confusing Independence Day fireworks and flypasts with military action on Israel’s streets. “Fed up with how we’re portrayed abroad?” asks the advert. “You can change the picture.”
The ministry for public diplomacy goes to great lengths instructing Israelis how to conduct themselves when engaged in PR on behalf of the state: first listen, then speak; maintain eye contact; use relaxed body language and tone; don’t preach; ask questions; answer points raised; stick to two or three messages you want to convey; and maintain a sense of humour. If such rules are followed, the campaign literature suggests, there is a strong chance of winning over even the staunchest adversary.
Hasbara is seen as a vital weapon in Israel’s arsenal, both by government officials and ordinary Israelis. According to a poll, 85% of Israeli citizens want to help promote the country’s image abroad, and in itself there is nothing wrong with taking such a patriotic stance. However, as has been seen time and again with Israel’s attempts at hasbara, more often than not the campaigns are based more on witch-hunts and whitewashes than honest debate over the most thorny issues surrounding the state.
In order to enhance the efforts of its citizen diplomats, maybe Israel’s ministry of public diplomacy should set up a website where Israelis heading overseas can first validate the integrity of their passport information — provide that extra bit of reassurance for anyone who’s nervous about being mistaken as a Mossad operative. It could be tricky though. How does one government agency plausibly provide such a guarantee when it appears that two other government agencies have already been involved in identity theft?