Saturday, January 22nd | 20 Shevat 5782

May 16, 2011 10:30 am

New Gaza flotilla, Same Hasbara Problems

avatar by Arik Elman

For years, spokesman Mark Regev has been the face of Israel to the foreign media. Photo: Voxrov.

The upcoming attempt of the Turkish jihadists and their European and Jewish co-conspirators to repeat their amazing success on the high seas near Gaza raises, beside the issue of military preparedness, the perennial question of hasbara. Just as the poor planning and execrable tactics of the IDF had turned the lawful and routine naval interdiction operation into a diplomatic and media debacle, the lack of timely and coordinated Israeli response in the first hours after the incident had doomed the subsequent efforts to disseminate the truth about the bloody events on board the “Mavi Marmara”.

The main reason for this impotence and confusion was quite simple – at the time, Prime Minister Netanyahu was out of the country. Would he have been in Jerusalem running the show, the media response of the Israeli government would look different. The chaos that ensued in his absence only illustrates the need to create a clear-cut, hierarchical, top-down structure for the distribution and control of information. By rights, such control should stem from the Prime Minister’s Office, which has a National Communications Staff already. It is imperative that the briefing authority will be organized accordingly. In the ideal situation, first briefing to the media (Israeli and foreign) on any sizeable emergency should take place in the PMO, which will then direct the reporters to the relevant governmental authority, be it Ministry of Defense, Foreign Affairs or military.

In this context, it is important to realize that the Army Spokesman can no longer be relied upon as an agency for independent hasbara efforts. There are inherent deficiencies in the functioning of Army press office – namely, it is controlled and mentally conditioned by the army, which simply cannot grasp the needs of the modern information war (not least because they are inimical to the successful waging of conventional warfare, especially where the need for secrecy is concerned). Moreover, in the situation which develops around an unsuccessful military operation, the first instinct of the “top brass” is to restrict the flow of information even beyond what is necessary, in order to prevent any preconceived notions of guilt and responsibility arising in the public mind.

It is therefore necessary to execute the principle of civilian control over military and to subject the Army Press Office to an appropriate oversight in cases of emergency. While an important source of information to all the other hasbara structures, the Army Spokesman cannot be a first responder to an event that has wider national and international significance and possible long-term implications, than a routine airstrike on a Kassam crew in Gaza.

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However, no reorganization of the information structures will be able to prevent the anti-Israeli agitators, accredited journalists or not, from slandering the Jewish state deliberately. Since one cannot stomach the spectacle of the Jewish state going to court to claim libel, which will incur heavy costs and bring uncertain results after considerable delays, Israel should look at the other means of deterrence against those who build and sustain the worldwide campaign of wild accusations, malicious lies and deligitimization.

It is not widely advertized by the European “human rights” missionaries to Israel, but several members of the EU have laws protecting the state as a whole and its symbols and dignitaries against willful and malicious defamation in disguise of free speech. Poland’s Penal Code makes it an offense to insult the Polish nation, its president, foreign and public officials. In France, Press Law of 1881 forbids insults against the President, courts, armed forces and other public bodies. Italian law penalizes insult to the Republic, its institutions, army and indeed the Italian nation, Pope and the President. Some forms of insult laws exist in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden. Here is the relevant section from the Criminal Code of Germany:

Section 90a

Defamation of the state and its symbols

(1) Whosoever publicly, in a meeting or through the dissemination of written materials (section11 (3))

  1. 1. insults or maliciously expresses contempt of the Federal Republic of Germany or one of its states or its constitutional order; or
  2. 2. insults the colours, flag, coat of arms or the anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany or one of its states

shall be liable to imprisonment of not more than three years or a fine.

Section 90b

Anti-constitutional defamation of constitutional organs

(1) Whosoever publicly, in a meeting or through the dissemination of written materials (section 11 (3)) defames a constitutional organ, the government or the constitutional court of the Federation or of a state or one of their members in this capacity in a manner detrimental to the respect for the state and thereby intentionally supports efforts against the continued existence of the Federal Republic of Germany or against its constitutional principles, shall be liable to imprisonment from three months to five years.

In the face of the concerted campaign of slander and defamation, Israel must follow this example in enacting its own laws enabling criminal prosecution of those who deliberately and intentionally spread lies and insults against the Jewish state, no matter the nationality of the offenders. Today, Israeli public officials and scores of dedicated volunteers here and abroad spend countless treasure and efforts combating accusations of “apartheid”, “organ theft”, “intentional murder of civilians” etc. Israel-haters generate an endless stream of editorials and opinion pieces, where the Jewish state is compared to Nazi Germany, its soldiers – to Wehrmacht, its policies are routinely called “genocidal” and “murderous”. Passing the defamation law will at least deter any and all of those mudslingers to cross Israel’s borders, and will lay down a clear red line for the foreign press corps and the local citizens employed by foreign media outlets. It doesn’t need to be frequently applied, but it should be on the books. Today, the Israeli law protects the employees of the state from slander and insult, yet the state itself, the embodiment of hopes and dreams of its own citizens and millions of Jews worldwide, stands legally helpless.

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