Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Israel is losing its PR battle

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora, days before the Free Gaza Flotilla, set up a contact center for the Jewish community abroad to inform them about the incidents and defend Israeli actions in the media. 

The details of the report indicate that the Israeli government set up a team to contact the Jewish community and another team to contact the media. The aim of the efforts was to win over the public through sharing the Israeli version of the story. The public diplomacy center set up various websites and opened accounts on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc., to defend the Israeli government’s actions. In the media, it was stated that the Israeli government did not want to identify the websites as official sites.

On Saturday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan castigated some Turkish media outlets for their pro-Israeli coverage of the story. Some Turkish journalists also accused Hurriyet, the most influential daily, of taking a stand with Israel. I am sure Israeli officials from the contact center reached out to the Turkish Jewish Diaspora to defend the Israeli government’s action. What I am not sure of is how much of the Turkish media reporting is influenced by the Jewish community in Turkey.

When it comes to the mechanics of the Israeli PR campaign, it seems that they would get a positive outcome. With this strategy the Israeli government would win some support from leaders as well. Yet when it comes to the language of the PR campaign, Israel is not on the side of the winners. There are a few problems in the Israeli PR language.

First, the Israeli government tries to portray the Turkish human rights activists as terrorists. I have been closely monitoring the activities of the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), who cannot be labeled terrorists. Such language would only help al-Qaeda or other terror organizations justify their actions. In fact millions of Turks consider the İHH to be a humanitarian organization and would not buy such an argument. Once a country like Israel or the US starts accusing organizations like the İHH of being a terror organization, it would automatically make people think, if the İHH is a terror network, who are the terrorists? Not distinguishing the İHH from terrorists would harm the US war on terror around the world, as well.

Second, the government of Israel, thanks to Erdoğan’s angry rhetoric, tries to portray the flotilla incident as if it is a problem between Turkey and Israel. Israel will not be the winner of this strategy because the continuing confrontation between Israel and Turkey would benefit the Erdoğan government and make it stronger than ever. It means that Israel would have to wait yet another four years to have normalized relations with Turkey.

Third, the continuation of the crisis is increasing the pressure to have normal relations with Israel. As the confrontation continues, the Turkish press is digging down into the history of the bilateral relations and is finding tons of absurdities in favor of Israel. The deepened relations during the Feb. 28, 1997 coup period are especially full of absurdities. For instance, the Turkish press has found that Turkish military facilities were open to Israeli soldiers. In a normal country it would perceived as part of a common procedure but In Turkey, noncommissioned military officers and many Turkish citizens are not allowed enter into those facilities. If the Israeli government thinks that Israel could afford to lose Turkey, they should continue to use the tone of language they have been using in the last two weeks. But if they think that at any time in the future Israel may need Turkey, they should reconsider their language and try to dampen the tone of the rhetoric they have been using. 

15 June 2010, Tuesday


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