Israel to launch global public relations blitz

Israel intends to launch an unprecendented global propaganda blitz within days in a bid to reverse what it sees as its rapidly diminishing image following 10-months of conflict with the Palestinians.

High-ranking officials have been dispatched to France to hire a major public relations firm to restore the Jewish state’s reputation across Europe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ deputy spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, told AFP Tuesday.

High-profile intellectuals and artists, including author Amos Oz and conductor Zubin Mehta, will also be called on to influence colleagues and the masses, Nahshon said.

And a “back to basics” campaign will be carried out in North America where government officials are hoping to gather hundreds of thousands of people to support Israel at major rallies in cities including New York, Memphis and Toronto.

More than 540 Palestinians have died since the intifada, or uprising, began last September, and Nahshon conceded that television images of the deaths were hurting Israel’s international reputation.

“We believe there’s been a devaluation of the image of Israel and we want to restore a more positive image,” Nahshon said.

“We have the feeling the perception of the general public, particularly in Europe, is being judged mostly according to television reports of the conflict, which reflects only a very small part of reality.

“It’s portraying a David versus Goliath syndrome. Israel is being portrayed as a strong side and the Palestinians the weak side. We believe this is not a full picture.”

Nahshon said Israel had never before hired a public relations firm to carry out such a task in Europe and the final decision came only after a top-level meeting involving, among others, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Monday.

He said Israel was in final negotiations with an unnamed French firm and a deal could be signed within days, with the campaign to start shortly after.

Nahshon said the duration of the campaign was dependant on the feedback the French company received.

Israel already employs a PR firm in the United States, the New York-based Howard J. Rubenstein Associates, to win the hearts and minds of Americans, the Jerusalem Post reported.

This has already resulted in more women and less people wearing army uniforms in Israeli PR campaigns and the Israeli Defence Force hiring a spokeswoman who speaks English fluently, without an Israeli accent.

Nahshon said the beefed-up propaganda push in North America would include major rallies throughout September and October, and possibly until the end of the year.

He said Israel hoped hundreds of thousands of people would turn up at these rallies to support the Jewish state.

Peres is also expected to call on nearly 2,000 rabbis in the United States to emphasise during their Yom Kippur sermons the Jewish state’s historic links to the land of Israel.

The propaganda blitz follows unusually heavy criticism from the western world over Israel’s policy of killing alleged Palestinian militants.

Even the United States, Israel’s closest and most important ally, said it was opposed to last week’s slaying of six Hamas activists and two young brothers in the West Bank town of Nablus, describing the rocket attack as too aggressive.

The public relations offensive comes on top of what is already regarded by the western media as an extremely slick Israeli propoganda machine.

In contrast to the approach of Sharon’s predecessor, Ehud Barak, who kept his government at a distance from the foreign press, the Sharon government sends pager messages to journalists around the clock while spokespeople and “sources” are also on hand 24 hours a day.

The Palestinians are outraged over some of Israel’s PR successes and this week accused the British Broadcasting Corporation of succumbing to Israeli pressure and diluting its reports of the killings of Palestinian militants.

© 2001 Agence France Press