Public Diplomacy: The Missing Component in Israel's Foreign Policy
By: Prof. Eytan Gilboa
Since the outbreak the second intifada, AKA: The Palestinian–Israeli war (PIW) in September 2000, Israel's reputation abroad has dramatically deteriorated. Israel is the only nation in the world whose right to exist is constantly being challenged, and whose ancient capital, Jerusalem, is unrecognized by all but a few states. Israeli leaders are often compared to leaders of Nazi Germany, and Israeli actions against the Palestinians are often described as Nazi-like policies. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories are often compared with those that existed in apartheid South Africa. The main goal of these comparisons is to demonize, dehumanize and de-legitimize Israel.
The UN, and most other international organizations, has systematically discriminated against Israel and disproportionately attacked its policies. NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, frequently criticize Israel while ignoring serious human rights violations on the part of Arabs and 'Palestinians'. Politicians, policymakers, NGOs, journalists and scholars have too often adopted Arab and Palestinian terms used to describe the critical dimensions of the conflict. Media coverage of the PIW in the Muslim world and the West has been poisonous and anti-Semitic. With the exception of the US, much public opinion around the world sympathizes more with the 'Palestinians' than with Israel.
Given this grim reality, Israel should have aggressively pursued public diplomacy (PD). Yet the Israeli government has failed to prevent the deterioration of Israel's image and reputation in the world. The main reason is the lack of awareness and understanding of the critical role PD plays in contemporary international relations. In the information age, national reputation has become a critical asset and ‘soft power’ has become a major instrument of foreign policy.
This article begins with a brief introduction to the 'New Paublic Diplomacy' (NPD) and the ‘World Standing Index’ (WSI). The next section examines Israel's place in the world as seen in debates about its right to exist, in the ‘war of words’ and at the UN. The third section presents data and analysis on media coverage of Israel in the West and major trends in public opinion. The last section analyzes Israel's approach to PD, the failures of its past approach, causes for these failures and a few possible remedies. The article reveals a huge gap between the threat to Israel's national security and well-being due to its poor reputation abroad and the meagre PD programme designed to address this threat. Israel must develop and implement a major Public Diplomacy programme and this work suggests a few ways to accomplish the task.