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The Molad Report on Israeli Public Diplomacy

February 27, 2013

In the annals of public diplomacy there can’t be very many reports on a country that conclude that its external communications are working well so I was pretty surprised to see this report on Israel’s hasbara that summarizes its findings as follows

Public diplomacy may be evaluated based on seven independent criteria. A thorough evaluation of the Israeli hasbara apparatus demonstrates that it satisfactorily, if not exceptionally, fulfills each of these criteria. Further, this study shows that the Israeli hasbara apparatus is an elaborate, well-coordinated, sophisticated mechanism that adjusts to emergency situations and is able to facilitate cooperation between a varied set of players. This study also reveals that Israeli public diplomacy is particularly effective in using new media and informal communication; it has successfully internalized the importance of “soft power”.

Two quick comments; firstly on the context of the report and secondly on its approach.

The research comes from Molad: The Centre for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, a new think tank that accuses Israeli politicians of failing to address real political issues –  I would read it as leaning to the left.  The basic thrust of the report is to argue that Israel’s image problems are a function of its policies not its communication of those policies.  The report closes with a quote from the British ambassador

Anyone who cares about Israel’s standing in the world should be concerned about the erosion of popular support. The problem is not hasbara. The British public may not be experts but they are not stupid and they see a stream of announcement about new building in settlements, they read stories about what’s going on in the West Bank and Gaza, they read about the restrictions in Gaza. The substance of what’s going on is really what’s driving this.

Hence the basic logic is to demonstrate that contrary to what is often claimed Israel does have a functioning hasbara set up thus the image problem is down to the policy not the presentation.

How do they do this?  Their baseline is the middle of the last decade when the State Comptroller issued a critical report on Israeli PD and Eytan Gilboa published his Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component (2006).  Running through the report is claim that the intervening period has seen a major reworking of the Israeli organization which is now working pretty well.  The take their criteria for making this judgement from the strategic recommendations in Mark Leonard’s (2002) Public Diplomacy

  1. Coordination & management of messages

  2. Informal hasbara

  3. Engagement and branding

  4. Long-term cooperation

  5. Multi-dimensional media strategies

  6. Dynamism and management of crises

  7. Strategic Targeting

They then review performance of the new system under each of the headings and conclude that it’s doing pretty well.  A comparison with Israel’s critics concludes that they are doing pretty poorly against these criteria.

So what do I think? This is quite a useful report in that in pulls together a lot of recent developments in one place  but it deal with  activities rather than their local results or strategic outcomes.   I suspect that a more detailed investigation would throw up the normal PD problems of poor coordination, unclear strategy and limited resources.   However  I also think that the basic conclusion that the problems are about policy are correct – William Hague has said basically the same thing as the UK ambassador.

On a side note its interesting that  ten years on the Mark Leonard/Foreign Policy Centre reports on public diplomacy continue to be widely cited.  Rereading them suggests that tend to deal with PD  as a set of communication techniques abstracted from any political context and displaying an unfashionable concern with ‘the message’.  It’s probably time to give them a thorough critical rereading.

Molad (2012) Israeli Hasbara: Myths and Facts. Jerusalem: Molad.

Gilboa, E. (2006) ‘Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel’s Foreign Policy’, Israel Affairs, 12: 715–747.

Leonard, M. (2002) Public Diplomacy. London: Foreign Policy Centre.

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