Israel’s Unofficial Ambassadors

Just at the moment Israelis heading “l’chul” (that’s an acronym for “l’chutz la’aretz,” meaning outside of Israel) get seated in their airplane seats and try to relax and do some “nikui rosh” (head clearing), they are now being handed a pamphlet full of information on how to supposedly make them public relations agents for their country. Sure, many Israelis are fed up with how the world views them and their country, but does one really want to have to be a semi-official representative of the good ‘ole blue and white while on vacation with the family or focusing on the work of a business trip?

Israeli tourism posters by graphic artist Jean David, 1950's

I suppose that it doesn’t hurt to have everyone pitch in and help the government on the hasbara (public relations/information) front, but it really isn’t so helpful that the website and materials prepared by the information ministry for use by the public  fail to address the biggest misperceptions of Israel out there in the world. “This country’s main challenges are the false comparison people make with an apartheid state and the questioning of its right to exist,” Eytan Gilboa, director of the Center for International Communications at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv and a longtime advocate of improved public diplomacy for Israel, was quoted as saying in a related New York Times article yesterday.

It would seem that the ministry should focus on bringing the traveling Israeli public more up to speed on Israeli policy. To give the campaign credit it does provide background and talking points on Israeli history, achievements, and basic facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the place of Israel in the Middle East. It’s too bad that more resources did not go into beefing up this part of the website, as well as including more on Israeli governmental processes and policies. Somehow, I think that the average Israeli can figure out for him or herself how to dispel incorrect notions out there in the world that the country’s main mode of transportation is camel, Israelis eat nothing but hummus and falafel, and they barbecue outside (affectionately known as mangal) because they’re so primitive that they don’t have kitchens in their homes. Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that these will not really be the most common misconceptions that will come up in conversation with people they meet abroad, anyway.

And if you are wondering why people might think that all Israelis eat is falafel, you might want to see this video that was entered in “The Best Reason to Visit Israel” contest and is available on YouTube for viewing by the entire world:

Well, let’s give it a try and see what happens. At least this is a step beyond a campaign I remember from about twenty years ago. It now appears that the government has confidence in the public, entrusting it with the job of speaking on the country’s behalf. Back then, there were posters on the walls of the stairways leading to the tarmac (back when we had to take buses from the terminal to the planes) reminding Israelis to behave themselves while abroad – to be courteous, gracious, non-argumentative, unobtrusive and quiet. Well, I guess we can see some progress here. It’s better now to have the world think you are primitive and backward than rude and boorish, right…?

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Update: It appears that Israelis who are unhappy with their government’s suggestion that they become ambassadors for their country have started a Facebook page saying so. The page, called (in Hebrew), “The New Website of the Ministry of Information Does Not Represent Me.” In particular, the page’s administrator and “friends” object to the position expressed on the website that the West Bank is essential for Israeli security and that the Jewish settlements there are not an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. The email address given for the page is hasbara.acheret@gmail.com (hasbara acheret basically translates as ” a different public relations message.”

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One Response to “Israel’s Unofficial Ambassadors”

  1. Rose Barlow Says:

    What’s wrong with eating falafel anyway?????

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