Six Lessons of the Gaza Conflict

Holding Fire, Hasbara and a Photo of Slain Palestinian Kids

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By Chemi Shalev (Haaretz)

Published November 22, 2012.
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  • Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quick to take credit for maintaining Israel’s good image, ascribing it to the “excellent work” that was done in what he described as the “hasbara front.”

But with all due respect to eloquent ambassadors, suave spokesmen, telling talking points, persuasive Facebook posts or the tantalizing tweets that everyone was so enamored with in the first few days of the campaign – they had only a marginal effect, at best, on Israel’s success in the battle for image supremacy. Pitted against an internationally recognized, Iranian-inspired terrorist group that glorifies martyrdom, worships death, celebrates massacres, enslaves its own people, seeks Israel’s destruction and hasn’t desisted from its so-called “armed struggle” for a single day of its existence – Israel won the public relations war almost by default.

And even with the deck stacked in its favor, Israel would have had a hard time maintaining its PR edge, Hamas or no Hamas, if the army had invaded Gaza, fought house-to-house and evoked unpleasant memories of Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report.

Israel has a much harder time defending itself when it is confronted by a moderate Palestinian leadership or by rock-throwing demonstrators or when it is forced to explain the killing of Turkish “civilians” aboard a ship at sea or to rationalize the undeniable contradiction between its stated support for a two-state solution and the mass settlement of Israeli Jews throughout the territories supposedly earmarked for one of those states. Israel’s image, to a much larger degree than most Israelis would care to admit, is often determined on a case-by-case basis. Biases and double standards notwithstanding, what matters the most are the merits of each individual case.

But many Israelis will draw the wrong conclusions, unfortunately, from this week’s brief fling with world public opinion. It wasn’t our product that was defective all these years, they will tell themselves, but our marketing strategy. All we need now are a few more social media specialists, a reinforced creative department, new recruits of English-speaking front men and one or two brilliant slogans. (And if that doesn’t work, then we will know for sure that the world hates Jews and is fundamentally predisposed against us.)

  • Israeli observers reported that there was a subdued atmosphere at the press conference convened in Jerusalem on Wednesday night in which Netanyahu, Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced the ceasefire. This wasn’t a joyous celebration of victory, they said, but a carefully managed effort in damage control. Many Israelis, these politicians knew, were going to be disappointed. They had expected more.

The reason, of course, is that they had been led to believe that there would indeed be more. “We will agree to a cease fire only when Hamas begs for it,” anonymous ministers told the press in the first few hours of the operation, even though Hamas, as far as anyone can tell, was never the begging type.

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