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September 5, 2011 2:00 am

Israel’s Silent PR

avatar by Ronn Torossian

IDF Spokesperson's Unit military photographer. Photo: Etan J. Tal.

Labor Day marks the end of summer and first official week back at work for schools, businesses and government. For Israel, it will also reignite fierce anti-Israel media attention worldwide, with the September UN sessions approaching. The General Assembly is poised to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ nonvoting observer “entity” to that of a nonvoting observer state. The change would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of UN bodies and conventions, and could strengthen their ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court, a sure recipe for even more disaster for Israel.

As owner of one of the 25 largest U.S. PR firms, I speak regularly with my colleagues about Israel – and their reactions often terrify me. I read of colleagues in Europe, from U.S. PR giant Burson-Marsteller, stating in reaction to Israel’s request for a meeting, “We will not deliver tender to such a project… we are running a commercial venture. If we accept this project, this will create a great amount of negative reactions…Israel is a particularly controversial project.”

Another U.S. agency, French-West-Vaughn, responded to recent media reports about Gaddafi issuing a request for a PR firm, stating, “We received that same Gaddafi inquiry, as well as ones from Israel and Afghanistan, and it wasn’t a difficult decision to pass on any of them. We won’t work for any government whose interests are contrary to those of the United States, because all of my people live and work in this country and believe in its principles.” (Translation: Israel is the same as enemy states and against American interests.) If that’s the reaction amongst those of us influencing the media, and with one of the most anti-Israel administrations ever in the White House, Israel’s PR machine should be rocking.

The CEO of one of the largest PR agencies in the world vacationed in Israel this summer. Upon his return, he called me, aghast. He’s a Jew who wants to assist Israel and had appointments [at their request] with a number of politicians. Across the board, each of the politicians showed up late, repeatedly interrupted him and informed this PR expert, how misinformed he was. I am sure that he was reporting accurately when he told me that in the Far East, Latin American, and elsewhere, where he charges for his expertise, no one would ever come close to treating him in that manner. Needless to say, his strong desire to help Israel has begun to weaken.

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Israeli Government Ministers, major American Jewish organizations, and notable Jewish pro-Israel philanthropists all pay lip service to publicity problems, yet do little more than talk. They hold meetings, where people converse, but put forth very little money and  almost no follow-up action. So, very quickly, the vast “PR committee” goes away. In the U.S., there are crisis PR firms and CEOs of PR agencies that are pro-Israel who would welcome volunteer work for the government. Yet, shamefully the Israeli Government does not have a U.S. PR agency.

With all the talk about Jewish control of the media, reality is that most of the media is far from supportive of Israel, and it will only get worse — the Arabs are smart, organized and ready to pay large sums to communications professionals.

As the Algemeiner recently reported, the PLO Mission in the U.S., in advance of the upcoming September vote, has hired Bell Pottinger, a leading International PR agency to provide “advice on strategic communications, public relations, media relations and congressional affairs.”

Fenton Communications, an American public relations firm works for “Al Fakhoora,” a Qatar-based pro-Palestinian initiative that has “launched an advocacy campaign to file legal charges against Israel and change the public perception in the West about its actions.” They have been paid at least $240,000 for communications services.

Meanwhile, Israel plays internal politics and continues to be ineffective in world media, with the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government scoring few points. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is perceived as uninterested in making peace, FM Avigdor Lieberman an extremist and Barak is a non-issue in the U.S.

And if one wants to review “insider politics,” there’s a slew of agencies within the government supposedly dealing with public relations. To name a few, there is a directorate for PR in the National Security Council, and PR divisions in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. Of course they don’t coordinate with one another, and they have limited contacts in the U.S. But rest assured that when the world’s media representative come calling they [Israel’s PR] will be commenting – in less than perfect English and with no context for the U.S., local expertise, or relationships.

It pains me greatly to speak so bluntly and have to paint such a disastrous picture of Israel’s public relations, but the fact remains that today’s wars involve media as much as tanks and military prowess. Until Israel recognizes it and stands up they will continue to get slammed in the media. Here’s to better Israel PR.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest PR Agencies in the US.

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