In August 1982, with the Israeli military wreaking massive destruction on Beirut, politician and diplomat Abba Eban wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on the “price … [Israel has] had to pay” for the attack on the Lebanese capital. Eban’s list of “items of loss in the balance sheet” included the following devastatingly frank assessment of the PR damage done to Israel. The way Eban wrote these words gives them a remarkable longevity – and is a reminder why all the millions thrown at “rebranding” and hasbara initiatives in recent times is just pouring money down the drain.
But the chief casualty for Israel, beyond the battlefield itself, lies in the transformation of what the word ‘Israel’ conveys to many of its friends as it flashes across their consciousness. The immediate association in recent weeks has been the crash of steel against buildings, the screams of bereaved and wounded, the children lining up for water denied by an Israeli ‘blockade’, the rat-infested garbage heaps, the collapse of those thin layers of civility which shelter human beings against their own human vulnerability. It is little short of idiotic to believe that this movement of opinion could have been arrested by technical means such as a transfer of responsibility for ‘hasbara’ from one Cabinet desk to another, or the enlistment of people abroad skilled in the propagation of exaggeratedly favourable publicity for tooth-paste or automobiles. The erosion has occurred among the well-informed, not the ill-informed. [Abba Eban, ‘A negative balance’, The Jerusalem Post, August 13 1982]