The PLO has long recognized that in successful strategic communications, the truth is less important than one’s ability to shout loudest.
Typically this concept has manifestly found expression in the pages of the New York Times and other liberal mouthpieces. But of late, Palestinian Arab propaganda has also made its way to print in the Wall Street Journal’s venerable editorial page, culminating last Friday with a thoroughly dishonest column by Maen Rashid Areikat the PLO’s chief representative in the United States, entitled “The Time for a Palestinian State Is Now.”
Last December in a letter from his Senior Advisor Ron Dermer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined an invitation from the Times to pen an op-ed for the paper citing the fact that 19 of the paper’s 20 op-ed pieces on Israel of the previous three months were negative. In my opinion the one op-ed referenced by Dermer as positive, was not so either. Listing a litany of editorial crimes, Dermer accusingly quoted former Senator Daniel Moynihan’s admonition that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but… no one is entitled to their own facts.”
On the other hand, of the major American publications, The Wall Street Journal has for the most part carried the banner of accuracy and authenticity on matters relating to Israeli-Arab relations. Granted over the last decade it has published a handful of articles by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, which are always notably fantastical. They were however among the more conciliatory that he has written and came at moments of very particular relevance. The timing and the quality of the Areikat piece on the other hand makes its placement particularly out of character leading me to speculate that another factor is at play here that should be of some concern to Israel.
Last September The Algemeiner reported that the PLO mission in the U.S. had contracted London based Public Relations firm Bell Pottinger to provide “advice on strategic communications, public relations, media relations and congressional affairs.” The letter of agreement promises to draft and continually refine “messages that tell the story of Palestine, your challenges and your objectives in a way that is concise compelling and effective.” The agreement includes a monthly retainer of thirty thousand dollars to be paid to the company which reports to none other than Maen Rashid Areikat.
Interestingly, only three months ago, Bell Pottinger announced the launch of a Strategic Advisory Committee which includes among others Baroness Patience Wheatcroft who was the Editor-in-Chief of The Wall Street Journal Europe until February 2011. The establishment of this relationship with a former senior staffer at the paper is an indication of the kind of access Bell Pottinger would have in the event that it was involved in the placement of the piece.
I am not suggesting that anything untoward took place, and even if Bell Pottinger was involved in the placement of the piece, which the facts appear to indicate is a distinct possibility, PR efforts and pitches are a widespread and accepted component of the information industry. However as a reader I am somewhat disgusted, as with its respectable track record, one would have hoped that even in the event that it was approached by the firm or a senior ex-employee, the Wall Street Journal would be impervious to their pitches on behalf of the falsehood and demonization of the Jewish State that Areikat’s article is riddled with.
Over the last number of years, many caring Jewish readers have made the Journal their paper of record as a result of its Israel coverage. In some circles, conversion from a New York Times subscription to the Wall Street Journal is somewhat of a Zionist rite of passage, usually prompted by the moment’s particularly venomous assault on Israel’s defensive policies.
Those readers that care should certainly be sure to express their dissatisfaction and disappointment with the publication of the op-ed, by writing and calling the Wall Street Journal through its established avenues for comment.
As far as Israel is concerned, this episode must serve as yet another reminder that in the Information Age, having the truth on your side is simply not enough, and all tools of influence should be harnessed when it comes to conveying Israel’s narrative in the battleground of ideas. Most importantly, the aid of sophisticated communications institutions could be fundamental in shifting Israel’s efforts from their current perpetual defensive stance to one that is proactive and progressive.