Gaug­ing Gaza

Will this week’s dam­ag­ing split-screen images have a last­ing ef­fect?

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By GIL HOFF­MAN

For a while it seemed like ev­ery time Is­rael was men­tioned in the foreign press it was good news for the Jewish state.

It started with the Giro d’Italia bike race that showed off the coun­try to the world. Then, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and his Greek and Cypriot coun­ter­parts fi­nal­ized an agree­ment to build a gas pipe­line to Europe that could bring Is­rael a huge wind­fall.

Hours later, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took Ne­tanyahu’s ad­vice to can­cel the Iran deal that a con­sen­sus of Is­raelis strongly op­posed and gave Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence credit for the de­ci­sion.

Iran at­tacked Is­rael, and none of the 20 mis­siles fired landed in Is­rael. Is­rael re­tal­i­ated by hit­ting 50 Ira­nian mil­i­tary targets in Syria suc­cess­fully, set­ting back the Is­lamic Repub­lic sig­nif­i­cantly.

And then, the crown­ing achieve­ment: Netta Barzi­lai won the Euro­vi­sion song con­test early Sun­day morn­ing Is­rael time, prov­ing that a proud Is­raeli can win the sup­port of the Euro­pean peo­ple with a pos­i­tive mes­sage and a few clucks. She brought next year’s con­test to Jerusalem by win­ning on Jerusalem Day.

The big­gest news was sup­posed to take place the fol­low­ing day, when the Amer­i­can em­bassy for­mally moved to the for­mer US consulate in Jerusalem’s Arnona neigh­bor­hood. Com­ing less than a year and a half af­ter the pre­vi­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tion fa­cil­i­tated the pas­sage of an anti-Is­rael res­o­lu­tion at the United Na­tions, the im­por­tance of the Amer­i­can de­ci­sion can­not be un­der­stated.

But it could be over­shad­owed. And just like any time you get too much of a good thing, what goes up must come down.

It came way down. Dur­ing the Amer­i­can cer­e­mony, TV net­works around the world aired a split screen of Is­raeli and Amer­i­can smiles in Jerusalem and bod­ies car­ried on stretch­ers in Gaza. Since then, the per­cep­tion of Is­raeli cal­lous­ness and bru­tal­ity has con­tin­ued. The eas­ily-proven-to-be-false mes­sage that the deaths in ri­ot­ing came as the re­sult of the em­bassy open­ing was ac­cepted as fact by the in­ter­na­tional main­stream me­dia, even though the Ha­mas March of Re­turn had started weeks ear­lier with nu­mer­ous clashes with IDF troops and dozens of Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties.

The Ha­mas ad­mis­sion that 50 of the 62 dead from Mon­day’s border at­tack were af­fil­i­ated with the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and Ha­mas’s printed or­ders to those ap­proach­ing the fence to try to kid­nap Is­raelis could have made Is­rael look some­what bet­ter had they been more widely re­ported. But the “Is­rael kills 60 Pales­tini­ans” head­lines, like the one splashed across the front page of The New York Times, are the only ones etched into the minds of the read­ers around the world.

Is­rael’s rapid fall from com­mended to con­demned, its back­ward ped­al­ing, and the Jewish state once again be­ing treated like the world’s toy raised key ques­tions.

What direc­tion is the coun­try go­ing in? By be­ing too close to Trump, is Is­rael turn­ing off much of the world and US Jews? Could and should Is­rael solve the Gaza prob­lem? Was it smart to hold the US Em­bassy cer­e­mony amid the Ha­mas threats? Was it in­sen­si­tive to be so fes­tive as peo­ple were dy­ing nearby in Gaza? How should Is­rael have han­dled that split screen?

Zion­ist Union MK Nach­man Shai said the events of the past week in­di­cated once again that Is­rael’s pub­lic diplo­macy sys­tem is in­her­ently flawed. In his book Hearts and Minds: Is­rael and the Bat­tle for Pub­lic Opin­ion, Shai rec­om­mended form­ing a na­tional pub­lic diplo­macy author­ity that would syn­chro­nize the efforts of all relevant bod­ies in Is­rael and its in­stal­la­tions around the world.

“There are les­sons from the two In­tifadas and two op­er­a­tions in Gaza that have yet to be learned,” he lamented. “We con­tinue to find that we do not know how to deal with bad pictures. Even now when we know that ev­ery­thing is re­lated to pub­lic diplo­macy, we still don’t know how to han­dle it – not in main­stream me­dia or so­cial me­dia.”

Shai said it was im­por­tant to take an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ap­proach to pub­lic diplo­macy that takes into ac­count its diplo­matic, le­gal and eco­nomic ram­i­fi­ca­tions, as well as its im­pact on such non-life-or-death mat­ters as cul­ture and sports. In this case, he said he would have op­er­ated a 24-hour emer­gency pub­lic diplo­macy head­quar­ters ac­com­pa­ny­ing the press and get­ting out Is­rael’s side of the story.

“Our nar­ra­tive of defending our peo­ple from terror was ei­ther not drafted or not pre­sented the way it needed to be,” he said. “Some­thing got lost. We had so many re­cent diplo­matic achieve­ments, yet we fell from the high­est peak to the low­est val­ley.”

Shai re­jected the ar­gu­ments of Is­rael ad­vo­cates that the split screen on foreign TV net­works was in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause the events in Gaza and Jerusalem were un­con­nected. He said Is­rael should have braced for an in­evitably tough time in its pub­lic diplo­macy ef­fort.

“The split screen proves that diplo­macy and se­cu­rity hap­pen to­gether and are in­ter­twined, whether we like it or not,” he said. “The em­bassy open­ing and the Gaza protests were very con­nected, be­cause our diplo­matic achieve­ment was a slap in the face to the Arabs. In a fight be­tween two-dol­lar kites and mis­siles that cost $50,000, and 60 dead ver­sus none wounded, we should ex­pect crit­i­cism. With two mil­lion peo­ple with­out enough wa­ter and food, it’s clear where sym­pa­thies will lie.”

But Shai praised the IDF for han­dling the sit­u­a­tion on the Gaza fence care­fully and re­spon­si­bly, try­ing to avoid loss of life. He said the only so­lu­tion in Gaza is a diplo­matic deal with a united Pales­tinian lead­er­ship, be­cause there is no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion.

He said Is­rael must work to strengthen ties with young, pro­gres­sive Amer­i­can Jews and Democrats in gen­eral, but says close­ness to Trump is good for Is­rael and that mat­ters most.

“Cer­tain Amer­i­can Jews might not like it, but we won’t apol­o­gize for hav­ing good re­la­tions with the US pres­i­dent,” he said. “Trump wanted to sym­bol­i­cally hold the cer­e­mony on the day David Ben-Gu­rion de­clared Is­rael a state. I wouldn’t say we should wait a day when we are fi­nally get­ting an Amer­i­can em­bassy in Jerusalem.”

Deputy Foreign Min­is­ter Tzipi Ho­tovely (Likud) went fur­ther. She said Is­rael got bad press in Gaza be­fore Trump and would con­tinue to get bad press due to the world’s hypocrisy, so there was no rea­son to con­sider post­pon­ing the em­bassy cer­e­mony.

“Not let­ting our best friend rec­og­nize our cap­i­tal on such a historic day would have been wrong and would have been sur­ren­der­ing to ter­ror­ists,” she said.

Ho­tovely, who strongly op­posed the 2005 with­drawal from Gaza, said the world lied about Is­rael ben­e­fit­ing from with­draw­ing com­pletely to an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized border. She said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has con­tin­ued hold­ing Is­rael re­spon­si­ble for Gaza de­spite dis­en­gag­ing, and the United Na­tions Gold­stone Re­port proved it nine years ago.

“The world must do some soul search­ing, be­cause we left Gaza, yet they still don’t rec­og­nize our border,” she said. “We won’t pay twice by with­draw­ing and re­main­ing the pa­tron for Gaza that has a hos­tile terror regime. The world must un­der­stand that forc­ing the dis­en­gage­ment on us was a big mis­take that led to Ha­mas tak­ing power of Gaza. They cre­ated the Gaza prob­lem, so it is up to them to solve it.”

Ho­tovely de­fected crit­i­cism of Is­rael’s pub­lic diplo­macy dur­ing Mon­day’s skir­mishes on the Gaza border. She said she briefed am­bas­sadors and sent out key mes­sages about the cyn­i­cism of Ha­mas send­ing the masses into harm’s way, us­ing civil­ians as hu­man shields, and the goal of the campaign that be­gan in March be­ing Is­rael’s de­struc­tion. She also told them about the leaflets Is­rael dropped warn­ing Gazans in ad­vance, which proved that Is­rael did pre­pare for a pub­lic diplo­macy chal­lenge.

“The world is hyp­o­crit­i­cal, be­cause they re­spond more force­fully than us to se­cu­rity threats,” she said. “In­no­cents die at the hands of the US and Europe, too. It’s un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect zero deaths in war. We did pre­pare our pub­lic diplo­macy. Those who wanted to un­der­stand un­der­stood.”

(Mo­hammed Salem, Ro­nen Zvu­lun/Reuters)

A WOUNDED Pales­tinian is evac­u­ated dur­ing Mon­day’s border at­tack in Gaza. Right, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, his wife, Sara Ne­tanyahu, and se­nior White House ad­vis­ers Jared Kush­ner and Ivanka Trump ap­plaud dur­ing the ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony of the US Em­bassy in Jerusalem. ‘We con­tinue to find that we do not know how to deal with bad pictures.’

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