It seems like only yesterday that I wrote a horrified post about how stupidly Israel handled the last flotilla, which ended with the death of 9 Muslim activists and the injury of a number of Israeli commandos, a couple of whom were lucky to get out alive.
In a short while, Israel’s comptroller is coming out with his review of the last operation and it has already been reported that he finds fault with the handling of the entire orchestrated event by the highest echelons of the Israeli government. Specifically, he is critical of the way Barak handled the preparations and actual execution of the Israeli response to the flotilla and he accuses Netanyahu of not having handled the matter seriously enough or putting a serious team in charge during his absence abroad.
Those, however, are not the critical mistakes regarding the last flotilla. The real mistakes were made on the media side. The IDF wasn’t prepared to tell its side of the story until the next day and didn’t release the video which showed the violence instigated by flotilla activists until almost two news cycles had passed all over the world. Additionally, the IDF and the government of Israel were not on the same page regarding their claims about the flotilla or about the event at sea.
Permit me to put this as simply as I can: THE FLOTILLA IS NOT ABOUT GETTING GOODS INTO GAZA, IT IS ABOUT POINTING MEDIA ATTENTION TO THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE IN ORDER TO GAIN SYMPATHY AND SUPPORT FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA.
Now you’re saying to yourself, “Of course it is. I didn’t need some anonymous blogger to yell at me in order to figure out the obvious.”
You are, of course, completely right, dear reader. This is not hard to figure out. So then the question arises, what do you do in order to combat the primary mission of the flotilla – pro-Palestinian propaganda?
I’ll answer in a minute, but first I’ll tell you what not to do. Don’t do what Israel has done.
What did Israel do this time? Well, so far, it has alienated the free world’s press by threatening to severely punish any reporter that climbs aboard flotilla ships. There are reporters from serious publications planning to travel with the flotilla and Israel is essentially saying that it will punish them for doing their job. It took less than two days for Netanyahu’s office to claim that he didn’t know the IDF was going to do this to reporters and that he rejects this approach. Reporters may come aboard.
Needless to say, the damage has been done and it is severe. Instead of recruiting reporters to its cause, Israel has already alienated them and their publishers, indicated that its freedoms of the press are not as evolved as other Western countries and has given a heads up to all these reporters that the IDF is anticipating violence. If violence does take place, the IDF will now only be able to act defensively because otherwise, it will be accused of having planned the violence in advance.
Second, the IDF and certain government officials are now labeling the flotilla a terrorist flotilla with hints that there are people aboard who plan violence against IDF soldiers. This is after the Turks pulled out and virtually all the boats are from the West. Sure, there are Muslims aboard, but in case nobody in Israel’s media offices has noticed, there is great sensitivity in the West to automatic accusations of Muslims being terrorists. They need to think carefully about who is reporting and who is reading this stuff. Hint: it’s not AIPAC supporters who are going to support Israel regardless. The target audience here is the same one the flotilla organizers are trying to convince by reaching out to their sense of sympathy: the general, uncommitted public of Western democracies. Perhaps Israeli spokespeople should take this audience into consideration? Instead of taking such an aggressive, hard-line approach, they should soften it up considerably and remind everybody about Hamas rockets landing in Israeli neighborhoods.
Third, yesterday Yediot (Ynet on the ‘Net) reported what had already been floating around the Internet, that a video which had been circulated by Israel supporters including an intern from the Prime Minister’s office, was a fake. In this video, a supposed gay activist who sought to join the flotilla claimed that he was rejected because of his homosexuality. The geniuses who came up with this over-produced insult to intelligence thought they were going to get a two-fer here. They expected to convince people of the inherent bias of the flotilla organizers to evildoers such as Hamas, and highlight the flotilla’s immoral connection to a government in Gaza that is unfriendly to homosexuals (in contrast with Israel’s relatively open society regarding homosexuality).
What did they actually accomplish? Well, they showed themselves to be the unsophisticated amateurs they are. They undermined and trivialized the real case Israel can make about how it differs significantly in its treatment of all minorities including the LGBT crowd. They strengthened the hands of those pro-Palestinian gay activists who go around claiming that Israel uses its openness to gays as a fig-leaf hiding the supposed horrors of its occupation.
They also managed, and this is the worst part of all of this, to show that at the highest levels of the Israeli government, the truth is being manipulated and what is being said by those offices may not always be trustworthy. This is an extremely problematic outcome of this fiasco because Israel MUST understand that its integrity is being challenged all the time and therefore it has to go above and beyond being truthful to maintain the perception and acceptance of its integrity when it dissembles information to the public and the press.
Trust is a hard commodity to acquire and an easy one to lose. Once lost, it required three, four times the effort to regain. Israel has taken three steps to undermine its own credibility and case against the flotilla and all three steps were unnecessary -self-inflicted wounds by people who so disrespect the other side, they fail to see how over and over again, their enemy emerges victorious in the propaganda wars. Don’t blame poor “hasbara” for this. Blame stupidity, disrespect for the opponent and amateurishness.
What should they have done?
They should have focused on the law-breaking nature of the flotilla, without the terrorism hyperbole.
They should have welcomed reporters to board the ships to show the IDF’s and Israel’s peaceful intentions.
They should have played up the violence instigated by the Turkish activists about the Mavi Marmara and done so at every opportunity.
They should have made it a point to show how this flotilla has not been able to secure large numbers of activists in large part because the cause is absurd.
They could have shown the cause is absurd by funneling information about Gaza and their quality of life.
And so on and so forth. Everything I’m writing here is simple to figure out and requires basic common sense. Of course, it also requires being straightforward, honest and on-point, which sadly is not the way the Israeli media-handling apparatus has dealt with this flotilla.
The media war is as important, if not more so, than the real war and the flotilla is nothing more than a propaganda ploy. Israel, for the second time, is playing right into the hands of the Palestinian propagandists. It makes the blood boil!
UPDATE: Jerusalem Post is reporting that the number of activists planning to sail has dropped from an anticipated 2500 to around 350. One assumes that the Israeli pressure on other governments and the fragile attempt to rebuild relations with Turkey have been a success. The report also mentioned all types of mechanical problems causing delays for some ships. Of course, the last major flotilla also experienced many mechanical problems which is how it ended up with “only” 6 ships. These are effective methods – diplomacy, covert operations, intelligence gathering – to deal with the flotilla and only highlight how foolish these public relations mistakes have been on the part of the Israeli government.