So, Yuli Edelstein has decided to turn every Israeli in to an ambassador. As part of a new campaign called “Explaining Israel” he is putting out pamphlets, running television advertisements and operating a website asking citizens to get involved in a public diplomacy drive for Israel. “We decided to give Israelis who go abroad tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people, media appearances and lectures before wide audiences,” Edelstein, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister, told the Jerusalem Post close to the start of the campaign. “I hope we succeed together in changing the picture and proving to the world that there is a different Israel.”
Last week his office said that the campaign’s Web site Masbirim (“explainers”) received 150,000 hits in its first fortnight, and revealed that an English-language site is in the pipeline.
Some are excited by the initiative — as much for its potential effect on Israelis as on the country’s PR. Hagai Segal, a right-wing columnist on Ynet, wrote that a “lethal virus of skepticism has been running wild here for years and pulverized our faith in the righteousness of our way.” He believes that “these public relations efforts are not directed at the international arena, but rather, are aimed inwards. Israel’s citizens, who are supposed to use the Web site’s help in order to promote the country abroad, are the real target audience of this new venture, and rightfully so.”
But this sense of Edelstein trying to influence the internal Israeli discourse as part of external PR has evoked the fury of some. A Haaretz editorial charged that the campaign points to the government’s “baseless faith that hasbara - public diplomacy - will lead the international community to abandon the Palestinians and begin supporting the settlers.” Jeff Barak, former editor of the Jerusalem Post and now a regular columnist, wrote today:
Not only is the Web site an abuse of trust, the whole concept behind it is deeply troubling. There’s something essentially Stalinist in attempting to persuade every citizen to see himself as an ambassador for their country. Couple that with the attempt to then overload the would-be interested “ambassador” with ridiculous, incorrect facts and a heavily biased right-wing view of the conflict and of how the world sees Israel, and one ends up with a propaganda tool that is more fitting for some of the world’s darker, totalitarian regimes, and not the modern, free Israel it ironically wants to promote.